All entries for January 2009

January 26, 2009

Shah has to play in first test – but who will make way?

I have always been a fan of Owais Shah. Often labelled as one of the unluckiest England cricketers of all time, the Middlesex man has only played two test matches despite his undoubted talent to score big runs.

However, on this West Indies tour, Shah should more than double his test match appearances. This is because he was in fantastic form for England in their opening tour match against a St Kitts Invitational XI, smashing an unbeaten 125 on day one.

By hitting such an impressive century in the only warm-up match before the test series, Shah has done his chances no harm at all of being named in the team for Jamaica next week. In fact, considering his excellent ODI form in the latter part of the English summer and in India, he simply has to play.

Should this be the case, there are two questions that would need to be answered by whoever makes the final decision on England’s team for the first test. First of all, who does Shah replace? He hasn’t been playing test matches, so one of Ian Bell or Paul Collingwood will need to sit out.

Secondly, what number does he come in to bat? Admittedly, this will more than likely be answered by the conclusion drawn from the first question!

So, with this in mind – let’s tackle it. Who should Shah replace? At this moment, it would seem as though the cricket odds are backing him to come in for Collingwood. The Durham man is absent from the match against St Kitts and Shah excelled at number five, so that is the most likely scenario right now.

As for Bell, well he only made 36 in the first innings against St Kitts, but he may well get another chance to confirm his place in the team during England’s second innings. Should he make a valuable contribution, even a 40-odd not out, then he could well keep his place as Collingwood’s expense.

Overall, the only certainty is that Shah has to play. If he misses out this time, then he may as well give up trying to play test match cricket for England. It would be a scandalous decision to select someone out of form (Bell) and someone who hasn’t played the warm up match (Collingwood) ahead of him.

You will probably be aware that there are two other major talking points after day one of England’s tour match that I haven’t mentioned as yet. Kevin Pietersen’s hundred in his first innings since relinquishing the captaincy and Andrew Flintoff’s injury scare. This is extremely deliberate, for different reasons.

In terms of KP’s hundred, well I just wasn’t surprised! He is the type of character that will always, always respond to his critics. It was obvious that he would score a hundred in his first innings as captain against South Africa last summer and it was the same on this occasion. It is just business as usual for KP and long may it continue. A lot of my cricket betting money will be placed on him scoring big on this tour.

As for Flintoff’s injury, well to be honest it isn’t something I want to think about. Freddie is such an important player for England and has been slowly moving back to his best in recent months. To have an injury setback now would be so, so frustrating. For what it’s worth, the latest is that his side strain will result in him sitting out the rest of this match.

So, a mixed day for England, but one that will hopefully guarantee a place in the side for Owais Shah. As for who he will replace, that depends on two things – Ian Bell’s second innings and Andrew Flintoff’s injury.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about England cricket

January 19, 2009

Strauss backs Pietersen to shine in West Indies

After all the controversy surrounding English cricket over the last couple of weeks, it seems that the time has finally come to start previewing the West Indies tour. It is a very important series for Andrew Strauss’ England as they look to gain some momentum ahead of the Ashes and victory is an absolute must.

So, what have the English media decided to quiz Strauss on ahead of the tour? Kevin Pietersen of course! The former skipper – who has dominated the headlines since dramatically resigning from the role – will now play under new captain Strauss. This has got many people taking.

Can he revert back to just being a player? Will he allow Strauss to get on with the captaincy? How will the other players see him after the poor handling of his resignation? Will he get on with temporary head coach Andy Flower ok?

Well, as much as I am a big advocator of the notion that it isn’t about Pietersen anymore, the views of Strauss on the Hampshire man are worth mentioning.

The new skipper has backed Pietersen to ‘score millions of runs’ during the two upcoming test series against the West Indies. Strauss then went on to state how passionate Pietersen is about playing for England and that eventually, he can become a ‘legend’ of the game.

In all fairness though, nobody has questioned Pietersen’s ability with the bat during the last couple of weeks. He is England’s best batsman by quite some distance and nobody will disagree with that. What about his attitude though? That is, after all, what came under the most scrutiny as a result of all of this.

Strauss – who has been having lots of conversations with Pietersen since being appointed – has revealed that he has been ‘pleasantly surprised’ by his star batsman’s attitude.  So, if this is to be believed then there should be no problems inside the England camp as far as Pietersen is concerned.

Overall, it is Strauss’ view that the tour will ‘bring people closer together’ and go someway to recreating the unity that was so apparent during England’s victory in the 2005 Ashes series. Everything has to be about moving forward as a team from now on. No more talk of past events involving Pietersen and Moores please!

In terms of a final word on Pietersen though, it has to be said that he could do with some runs in the coming months. As much as his ability hasn’t been questioned, a couple of hundreds for England next month would probably win back some fans that he may have lost recently.

So, what are England’s chances of winning in the Caribbean? Well, the cricket odds probably expect them to come away with a series victory, but this is more to do with West Indies’ current plight more than anything. In reality, it could be a very close series.

Personally, I am going to place a cricket bet on it being a 2-1 victory to England in the four match series. I am happy with Strauss as captain and believe that he will lead the team to an important win. I’d also be tempted to stick a few quid on Pietersen being man-of-the-series. Simply because he is normally one to respond his critics in some style!

January 13, 2009

Who are the options for England’s new coach?

It has been a rather hectic week for English cricket. As we all know, Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen have moved on from their roles as coach and captain. Then, Andrew Strauss was appointed as the new skipper for the tour of West Indies. In a nutshell, these are the events of the last few days. Much bickering, speculation and fall out have occurred as well.

It seems appropriate to look forward rather than backwards now though. What has happened has happened and there is no way it can be altered. There are still articles around speaking about Pietersen’s role in all of this, but it isn’t about him now. It is about Strauss leading the England cricket team to a successful 2009.

The only thing Pietersen has to think about during this time is scoring lots of runs. That’s it. The England cricket team is much more important than KP trying to defend his role in everything. Time to move on!

With this in mind, it seems appropriate to speculate about the only missing piece of Strauss’ new era jigsaw. Namely - a coach to replace Moores. A full-time man is likely to take the hot-seat in time for the English summer, so this gives the ECB plenty of time to find the right man. So, who are the possibilities?

Andy Flower - The former Zimbabwe batsman is likely to take over the role on a temporary basis in the West Indies, although given his loyalty to Moores, it perhaps wouldn’t be ideal for him to get the nod. Especially when player unity is more important than ever.

Tom Moody - In my opinion, this is the man England should have turned to back in April 2007 when they appointed Moores. He is a very well respected coach and could excel in the high-profile role.

Graham Ford - The former South Africa coach is currently in charge of Kent has admitted that he would be ‘interested’ in the position.

Darren Lehmann - A surprise name perhaps, but many (including Shane Warne) believe that Lehmann would be perfect for England. He is currently coaching Australia’s academy.

Dav Whatmore - Anyone with the pedigree of this man is bound to be linked with a job as big as this one. The former Sri Lanka coach seems to be in the Duncan Fletcher mould, so England could do a lot, lot worse.

Ashley Giles - This is the least likely as far as I am concerned. Yes, he is coaching at Warwickshire right now, but this would be far too soon for him. Many of the players, including Strauss, Pietersen and Flintoff would struggle to consider him as a coach and not a team mate.

Overall, it is going to be an interesting couple of months for English cricket. It is a very significant appointment considering recent events and I just prey they make the right one. I’d personally go with Moody, but should the West Indies tour prove successful, the cricket odds will back Flower to get the job on a permanent basis.

Other than that, I am far more likely to place my cricket betting money on Whatmore or Ford than Lehmann or Giles.

By Thomas Rooney - A sports writer who blogs about England cricket

January 05, 2009

Why dismissing Peter Moores could be the best thing for England

There is only really one cricket story that I could have written about today. The increasingly frosty relationship between England captain Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores has led to the latter’s future being extremely uncertain.

The possibility of Pietersen being the man to step down is an unlikely one according to the cricket odds, so unless they settle their differences quickly – Moores could be on his way. Many people have claimed this would be bad news for England, especially when you consider the timing of it all. We are in an Ashes year, after all.

However, it is my opinion that Moores potential departure could be a blessing in disguise for the future of this England cricket team. Below are five reasons why this is the case.

His record isn’t the best – Since Moores took over as coach in April 2007, England’s record hasn’t been great. This isn’t all down to Moores, but if certainly doesn’t help his case for remaining in the role. In total, Moores has been involved in eight test match victories. Seven of these have been against teams below England in the rankings – West Indies and Zealand. Cricket betting always expected England to beat these two. Then, the other win was against South Africa once the series had already been lost.

Pietersen is vital – I think it is fair to say that Kevin Pietersen is England’s best batsman. By quite some distance. The one day series against South Africa and the way he led his team during difficult circumstances in India, also proved his worth as a captain. Therefore, it is probably best that the ECB aren’t seen to be unsupportive of his views.

We need 100% KP – If England are to give their all to the ‘Pietersen era’ they need to let him do his own thing. Anything that compromises this will have a negative affect on the team and therefore results. Pietersen wants his team to reflect his personality and this can only be a good thing in my opinion. Bring in a coach that is happy to take a back seat to captain KP.

Do the players trust Moores? As a result of this much publicised disagreement between captain and coach, the rest of the squad will be confused as to who has more authority. Naturally, they are more likely to side with their captain, so how much would they respect Moores views from now on if he stayed in the role?

The experts say so
– The future of Moores has provoked much debate in the press and a number of pundits or ex-players have had their say on the best solution.

   * David Gower believes that Pietersen will get his way.
   * Ray Illingworth says that it one man goes, if has to be Moores.
   * Graham Gooch believes Pietersen has been influenced by Shane Warne’s views on coaching being too highly thought of in the game.
   * Glenn McGrath admits that the captain should have the final say on most matters.

Overall, it doesn’t look great for Peter Moores does it? However, a new coach that would be prepared to let Pietersen do his thing may well be a positive thing for English cricket. It will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about England cricket

January 2009

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