December 24, 2009

Flintoff on the comeback trail

Andrew Flintoff is hopeful that he will resume batting in the New Year as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. The England all-rounder - who hasn't played since the final Ashes Test of the summer - doesn't expect to bowl for some time yet though.

Speaking about his progress to date, Freddie said that it will be 'great to start hitting balls again' as he looks to get himself in adequate condition to compete in the shorter forms of the game for Lancashire and England.

As for the first step in Flintoff's return to cricket, he says that he should 'start batting against a bowling machine' next month, although this is assuming he doesn't have any setbacks in the next couple of weeks. Something he is famous for, it has to be said.

Freddie says that he 'won't be doing anything daft' as this is obviously a crucial stage in his career. It is very important that he doesn't return too early as this could hamper what he is able to achieve in the rest of his life as a cricketer.

This is probably why he is remaining realistic about when he will return. Flintoff says that the prospect of bowling again is 'still some way off'. It could even be a 'good few weeks' until he is able to start practising this form of the game.

Overall, it seems like everyone involved knows how important it is that Flintoff gets the recovery process right. The next aim is to start batting, then he will look to pick up a ball again before hoping to join in with some of Lancashire's training sessions in February.

The 32-year-old will then aim to return to England duties next summer in the one day international and Twenty20 games. If he does return, his presence would provide a boost to England's ODI odds. This may well seem like a long way off, but he has to aim for something. It will be what keeps him going.

The thought of representing his country again and performing to the best of his ability will help him get through this latest bout of rehabilitation. Hopefully it will be a smooth process and he can get back to somewhere near his best before too long, something he thoroughly deserves for everything he has given to English cricket.

Meanwhile, his former international colleagues are preparing for the next match against South Africa as they attempt to enhance England's second Test chances.


Flower Criticises Review System

In my last piece for Silly Point, I spoke about my dislike of the review system. Now, in the aftermath of the first Test in South Africa, England coach Andy Flower has revealed that he is against the system.

One of the main talking points from the five days in Centurion was when Kevin Pietersen was bowled off a no-ball by Morne Morkel. Despite the introduction of technology, the decision could not be overturned under the current rules.

This seems to be one of the things that Flower has a problem with. He believes there are some 'illogical anomalies' with the system and that if technology is going to be used it should be 'done properly'.

Flower has a point, that's for sure. Why have someone sitting in the pavilion after being bowled off a no-ball when the third umpire could check this in a matter of seconds?

The Zimbabwean wasn't finished there though. He said that he would prefer it if 'the umpire made a decision and people get on with it'. Overall, Flower believes cricket has gone from a system that was 'nice and simple' to one that has 'more and more complications'.

Basically, he isn't a fan of reviews and his comments back up the fact that England have been against the system from the start. However, it is unlikely that the ICC will abandon the project any time soon, so England will have to get used to it.

Perhaps if they start having a bit more success with it, that will help things along. After all, they lost seven of their on-field referrals in Centurion. They were also unhappy with how long South Africa took to refer a decision regarding Stuart Broad's dismissal in the first innings.

The fact is Flower makes some valid points. It does make everything more complicated. Nobody is quite sure where they stand and it would be a lot easier if everything was moved back to how it was. However, as frustrating as the system might be, the team will have to make sure it doesn't impact onEngland's second Test chances.

In other sports news, pundits have already started casting their eyes over the runners and riders for next year'sGrand National.


December 18, 2009

Thoughts on the Review System

I am going to come out and say it straight away - I am not a fan of the review system. It takes something away from the greatest sport in the world.

I don't want to be celebrating a wicket, forget about the new rule and then be forced to wait for the decision to come through. Then, either the decision is overturned and my celebrations were a waste or the decision stands and it feels like a bit of an afterthought.

While the change won't have any impact on England South African Test odds, it does seem to have taken something away from the game.

To be honest, I didn't think there was much wrong with just the umpires doing their jobs, at least everyone knows where they stand. Yes, there may well the occasional wrong decision, but that's all part of the game.

The review system should only be used to prevent absolute howlers. In this sense, I think the power should be taken away from the players. At the moment, they are using the 'might as well challenge it' approach, which doesn't suit the game.

When one of a team's best batsman is given out, they think they should challenge it just on the off chance that they will be able to keep their star man in. Again, not quite what the system is intended for.

Likewise, the bowling side might challenge an LBW decision if it concerns an opposition player that is taking the game away from them. They might not think it is definitely out, but if there is an outside chance Hawkeye will say it is brushing the off stump, they will challenge the decision.

So, unless things improve in this sense, I think the decision to refer should be taken away from the players. Let the Umpires or whoever watches the replays decide if a decision should be reviewed.

Again though, there are flaws to this system. Which is why I think it should have been left how it was. If England take a wicket to 'win the series' and I celebrate like a mad man before realising the decision has been overturned – I'm not going to be happy.

The umpires are of the highest quality and they should be left to do their job.

In other sports new, the odds for the 2010 Cheltenham Festival are really starting to hot up.

Blog by Thomas Rooney, Professional Sports Writer


November 26, 2009

Trott happy to open batting

Jonathan Trott has revealed to England coach Andy Flower that he feels happy to remain at the top of the order for the 3rd One Day International against South Africa on Friday.

The South African born batsman opened the innings with captain Andrew Strauss in the second game of the series to great success.  He scored a crucial 87, playing anchor to the fantastic Paul Collingwood as England emerged victorious by 7 wickets.

Trott looked classy and assured throughout his innings and now it seems he is comfortable with trying to make a name for himself as an ODI opening batsman. He revealed that he has opened for Warwickshire on a number of occasions and that he ‘enjoyed batting there’ on Sunday.

The 28-year-old certainly provided a rare sense of stability at the top of the order in this form of the game. Over the past couple of years, Matt Prior, Ian Bell, Phil Mustard and Ravi Bopara have all tried their luck without consistent enough success to improve the sports betting oddsof the team. 

Hopefully, in the remainder of this series and beyond, Trott can keep making valuable solutions and solve a few problems for Strauss and Flower. He has certainly made an impressive start to his international career – averaging 43 in ODI matches and 80 in test matches  - with many seeing him in the team for years to come.

Should the rest of this limited over series go well, some have suggested that Trott could even open the batting in the test arena. However, he has been less enthusiastic about this prospect saying that he has never done so in first-class cricket and that he is most affective as ‘a number four’.

Thinking about it, this is probably better for England anyway. Trott is clearly more comfortable in the middle order during test matches, so why risk jeopardising the good start he has made by forcing him to open the batting?

If Alistair Cook is fit for the test series, he will open with Strauss. Then Kevin Pietersen, Trott and Collingwood will follow. That seems strong enough for England to be happy with their selections.

As for the remainder of the One Day International series, Trott will be opening the batting again on Friday as England look to go 2-0 up in the five match series.


November 04, 2009

Praise throughout the game for David Shepherd

Some of the most famous names from the world of cricket have had their say on the death of David Shepherd. The former international umpiredied last Wednesday after a battle with cancer, aged 68.

During his career as an umpire, Shepherd officiated in 92 test and 172 one-day international matchesbefore deciding to retire in 2005. Only Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen have stood in more tests than the Englishman who was famous for his aversion to ‘Nelson’.

Whenever the score was on a multiple of 111, he used to nervously hop at the crease between deliveries, much to the amusement of the crowd. In fact, it was one of many characteristics that made him a very popular character within the game.

Tributes have poured in for him as well since his death. Former England captain Michael Vaughan said he was a ‘respected individual because he got a lot of decisions right’ and because of his close relationships with the players, he will be ‘greatly missed’.

Dickie Bird – who umpired alongside him on many occasions – said that Shepherd was a ‘fine umpire and great friend’. ICC President David Morgan echoed these sentiments by describing Shepherd as a ‘true gentleman’ of the game.

Morgan also reminded everybody that Shepherd was a ‘fine player’ as well as a ‘match official of the highest quality’. David Graveney also had his say by describing him as ‘universally popular with players and crowds alike.’

So, there has been plenty of praise for a man that brought so much to the sport of cricket. To my mind, it is a shame that there aren’t more officials like him around today. An umpire that can have a laugh with the crowd and players is exactly what cricket needs.

He will be greatly missed


October 14, 2009

What has Matthew Hoggard done wrong?

What has Matthew Hoggard done wrong?

Matthew Hoggard comes across as a funny, down to earth, reliable and respected man. On top of this, he was a fantastic international cricketer in his day and is still a very, very handy county player. So what has he done wrong to be treated so badly by club and country in recent times?

Let me explain a little bit first what I am talking about. After being off the pace somewhat for ONE test match during England’s tour to New Zealand in March 2008, Hoggard was dropped from the team for the rest of the series and following summer. This, in itself, wasn’t that unexpected.

However, Hoggard never got a re-call (unlike Steve Harmison who got chance after chance to impress) and was basically cast aside by the England selectors.

Speaking about his lack of appearances for England at the time, he said that his contact with the ECB ‘had been zero’ and that it ‘breaks his heart’ how he lost his place in the squad. The quote “One minute I was sixth on England's all-time list of wicket-takers, the next I was told I'd lost my central contract and I was completely out on my ear” sums it up quite nicely.

Looking back, he was treated poorly. He always gave his all for England and more often than not this was with success. So why on earth wasn’t he given an explanation?

To make matters worse, the same thing has now happened for Hoggard with his County. He has been released from his contract with Yorkshire County Cricket clubdespite being the team’s leading wicket-taker and taking a hat-trick against Sussex only a few weeks ago.

The club have said that Hoggard turned down a contract to stay with the County, but he has denied this by saying that he feels ‘disappointed, gutted and angry’ about how he has been treated. According to the 32-year-old, the contract was ‘suddenly off the table”.

So, what on earth has been going on with Hoggard? Is he making a meal out of things? Has he been awkward in his reaction to England and Yorkshire’s actions? Something funny seems to be going on, that’s for sure.

Personally, I am going with the player and saying that he has been badly treated. He seems an honest individual and I don’t think he would come out and make accusations that aren’t true. Not long ago he was England’s opening bowler and one of Yorkshire’s most valuable assets in regards to improving their cricket betting odds.

Now, he will never play for his country again and he is on the hunt for a new County. I will ask it one last time – what has Matthew Hoggard done wrong?



October 09, 2009

Bopara can benefit from winter break

One of the biggest talking points after England announced their touring part of South Africa this winter was the omission of Ravi Bopara from both the Test and One Day International squads. The Essex batsman was heavily involved in all forms during the summer and now finds himself with a free winter.

This could end up being extremely beneficial for him though. His confidence is clearly low at the moment and maybe a winter away from international cricket is just what the doctor ordered. He can build his self-belief up again and work out his game.

It’s not as if he has to start from the beginning, he just needs to iron out a few technical glitches (that flick shot across the line which gets him out LBW for one) and realise what it takes to become an international batsman. It takes determination, it takes focus and it takes a lot of hard work.

It wasn’t that long ago that Andrew Strauss found himself out of the team and having to do the same thing. Now, he is one of the most consistent batsmen in the world, captaining his country to an Ashes win and being named in the 2009 ICC Test Team of the year.

I’m not saying that Bopara will go to this extreme, but it can make him realise that he can get back into the team and be successful. His talented is unquestioned; he just needs to direct it in the right way.

As for the decision to leave him out this winter, I think it is a sensible one all things considered. Was Bopara guaranteed a place in the team? No, he wasn’t. Therefore, would he have benefited from being the 12th man all winter? Not at all. It could have set him back even further.

The selectors probably looked at it and thought that the best thing for him would be to have a break from the stresses of International cricket. This is a very important winter for Bopara and as a big fan of his, I hope this time next year we are talking about what a fantastic 2010 he had for England.


October 01, 2009

Credit must go to Shah and co

Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say well done to a player
you may have criticised in the past. This is the case with myself and
Owais Shah. After the shocking displays of the England team in the One
Day International series against Australia, I questioned his place in
the team.

Then, when he was promoted to No.3 in the batting line-up, I
questioned the England selectors. However, I have to give credit to
Shah for how well he played against South Africa on Sunday. He hit six
sixes in his fantastic innings of 98 to help England post a
match-winning 323-8 against the hosts.

England went on to win the game by 22 runs to reach the semi-finals of
the ICC Champions Trophy competition

and in doing so, knocking South Africa out of the
competition. It has been a drastic turnaround since the Australia ODI
series and this is represented superbly by Shah’s change in fortunes.

Finally, after constantly getting himself in, Shah went on to get a
big score. It would have been nice if he made it to three figures, but
his innings was just as valuable as a century. It was what England had
been crying out for.

Both Shah and Paul Collingwood – who played well for his 82 – blended
maturity and aggression perfectly to set England on their way and
leave Eoin Morgan with the final power-play to blast the score above
300. It was a near perfect batting performance and boy did I enjoy
watching it.

Speaking after restricting South Africa to 301 to win the game, Shah
admitted that he was ‘low on confidence’ going into the game, but that
he and the batting unit showed just how ‘dangerous’ they can be on
their day.

The key for the Middlesex man (and the team as a whole) is that we
take things on from here. Shah must produce more innings like this and
they must perform with this freedom, aggression and purpose more
often to ensure that Englands cricket betting odds
keep increasing.

Let’s face it, if they manage to do so twice more in this competition,
we could be celebrating a very unexpected ICC Champions Trophy
victory.


September 24, 2009

Sympathy for Strauss as England trail 6–0

It seemed very unlikely that an extended One Day International serieswas going to put a dampener on England’s excellent Ashes win earlier in the summer.

However, after being humiliated again to go 6-0 down to Australia, England’s cricketers are doing their very best to make it happen. The performances in the limited overs series have got worse by each game and ‘embarrassing’ doesn’t quite do it justice.

The most worrying thing is that Australia have hardly slipped out of the comfort zone. The first game aside, they haven’t really been given anything like a test. They have been superior in every single department.

History does suggest that England have a rather poor ODI side, but they are outdoing themselves on this occasion.

Now, normally the blame would head towards the captain in this situation. However, I have a great deal of sympathy for Andrew Strauss who is in charge of a side that, quite simply, isn’t good enough.

How many ODI games has Owais Shah won for England? How many times has Ravi Bopara built on a decent start? How many times has Matt Prior looked like a top six batsman in the 50 over game? The reality is that you could count the combined total on one hand.

The batting from England has been nothing short of disgraceful. The tactic seems to be - get to 20 slowly and then, out of frustration, try and launch one only to get caught inside the ring.

I say this is what the ‘plan’ is, but to be honest I don’t think England’s batsman have anything like a plan in mind. Perhaps Strauss can take some blame for this, but there seems to be no intent. What is Bopara’s role at three for example?

Strauss has been England’s best batsman, but he hasn’t been supported anywhere near enough. With the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff in the side, there is no-one that wants to stand up for their country. There seems to be no pride.

I can accept that we are a decent test side, but not quite as good at the 50-over game. However, this is taking it too far. On home soil, to lose every single game to an Australia side in transition is not good enough.

The quicker this series is over the better. As for whether it will be 7-0, of course it will be. What would make anyone think any different? Certainly not the One Day Cricket betting odds. Even when the batsman somehow get 300, we forget how to bowl or field.

Strauss’ ODI side are a bunch of no hopers and the only thing they have achieved is taking the shine off a superb test series win over Australia. That takes some doing.


September 11, 2009

Bopara convinced he is the man for England


In what has been a successful summer for English cricket (despite the recent One Day International performances) Ravi Bopara has had a pretty rough time. He failed to make an impact batting at No.3 in the Ashes, was dropped from the side for the final test and wasn’t present for the series win celebrations.

Since then, he has been given the chance to redeem himself by opening the batting in the One Day International games, but so far it has been the same old story – Bopara is getting a start and then getting out. So, cna he overcome this nightmare run of form and establish himself in the England team?

Well, the man himself thinks so. Speaking after making only 10 in England’s defeat at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday, Bopara said that ‘there is a lot to come’ from him as a batsman yet and that it is just a case of getting his game ‘in order’.

It hasn’t just been Bopara that has been suffering in this series though. We have all been frustratingly put through three mediocre England batting performances in this series with Owais Shah, Matt Prior and Paul Collingwood all struggling to find form as well as Bopara.

It is the Essex man who has come and fighting ahead of the must-win match at Lords on Saturday though. He says that he is determined to ‘go out and get a big one’ and start to become ‘the main man for England’.

This would be a fairly drastic turnaround for the 24-year-old, but it is good that he is staying positive. There is no doubting his talentand every England fan will be hoping he comes good. Perhaps he just needs one decent innings in this form of the game to help him kick on.

Part of me feels sorry for Bopara anyway. He has to opening the batting with Andrew Strauss, with the captain’s role clearly to tryand bat through most of the innings. This means that for England to make a positive start, Bopara has to take plenty of risks.

This isn’t an excuse, but perhaps it explains his struggles a little bit more. The team are missing their best batsman in Kevin Pietersen as well let’s not forget. Again, not an excuse, but it does explain why the ‘X Factor’ is missing from England’s cricket batting line up.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, I would make a few changes. Bring in Joe Denly, Stuart Broad and Adil Rashid in for Owais Shah, Eoin Morgan and Tim Bresnan. Then change the batting line-up slightly to relive Bopara of his opening duties and to stop embarrassing Prior at No.3.

So, my team to give us a sniff in this series would be: Strauss, Denly, Bopara, Prior, Collingwood, Wright, Broad, Rashid, Swann, Sidebottom, Anderson.


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