All entries for February 2009

February 24, 2009

Bopara in the frame to replace Flintoff after brisk century

The biggest question mark surrounding England’s selection for the fourth test against the West Indies is centred around who will replace Andrew Flintoff. England’s talisman has been ruled out of the game with an ankle injury and the race is on to take his place.

As soon as Flintoff’s injury became apparent, two potential replacements were flown out to the Caribbean – Amjad Khan and Ravi Bopara. They were both thrown into action in the tour match against a Barbados Cricket Association President's XI and the latter in particular made a huge impression.

Bopara fired an unbeaten 124 in the match and was in a destructive mood throughout his innings. He did have a stroke of luck when he was dropped on 23, but overall he was extremely impressive and did his chances of playing in the next test no harm at all.

Speaking about his innings, Bopara said that he ‘didn’t think too much’ about what a decent performance meant for him and that he ‘tried to enjoy’ every second if it, something he certainly seemed to do.

What of a place in the team for the fourth test though? Well, the Essex man has admitted that the hundred has given him a ‘massive boost’ and could well result in an ‘opportunity’ to kick start his test career.

As for the other man called up as cover for Flintoff, Amjad Khan also made a significant impression on the selectors. The Kent seamer took two wickets in four overs as England restricted their opponents to 49-4 at the end of day one in response to their 351-8.

It is difficult to see which way England will play it in terms of replacing Flintoff. In theory, they need an all-rounder to make up for his loss. However, they also need someone capable of batting at number six in the order.

If Bopara is selected, he can comfortably bat in the top six. However, his bowling is far from the standard of a front-line seamer, so in theory England would be a bowler down.

However, if Khan was selected, Andrew Strauss wouldn’t have lost an option with the ball. The batting order would be weakened though with Matt Prior being forced to move up to No.6 and Stuart Broad to No.7.

It isn’t as simple as a straight choice between these two either. Should England decide to play two spinners, Adil Rashid – who is more than capable with the bat – could be the man to replace Flintoff.

Then, there is even a case for an Ian Bell recall even though the cricket odds will have this down as the least likely option!

Personally, my cricket betting money is going to be placed on Bopara getting the nod. England are desperate for him to start performing for the team and this will give him an opportunity to start doing so. We shall see.

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

February 17, 2009

Strauss of old helps England make amends

Before talking about Andrew Strauss’ marvellous innings in Antigua, let me get one thing straight – the hard work is far from over. England have done well to reach 301-3 at the end of day one, but there is still a long way to go in this test match.

The batsmen have gone someway to making amends for the rather dismal 51 all out in Jamacia with their batting display in this ‘third’ test and the cricket odds are starting to lean in England’s favour.

It could, of course, all go horribly wrong yet. However, as long as Kevin Pietersen is at the crease for the majority of the first session, a score of 450+ is definitely on the cards.

Instead of speculating about what might happen though, let us look at something that did happen – Strauss’ hundred. To say it couldn’t have come at a better time would be an understatement.

The Middlesex man was under pressure to perform himself, the team were determined to make amends for the Jamacia defeat and as captain, it was vital he led from the front. After his fluent 169, all of these boxes can be ticked and that is credit to the England skipper.

It wasn’t just the runs he scored though; it was the way he scored them. Unlike his career-saving 177 in New Zealand last year, Strauss was positive from the beginning and batted with an uncharacteristic flair throughout. Yes, he rode his luck at times, but he hit his first six in three years of international cricket, so that’s something!

In short, it was the Andrew Strauss of old. It was the man who first emerged on the test scene back in May 2004. There was a confidence about him that has been absent recently. Perhaps the responsibility of the captaincy in a ‘backs against the wall’ situation brings the best out of him.

As much as you can’t base everything on one innings, something else Strauss’ knock proved was that he has the attacking ability to perform in future One Day Internationals.

Many have questioned whether he is good enough to play in the ODI team, let alone captain it, so hopefully this will go someway to ending that argument.  Time will tell I suppose, but the innings as a whole has to be an extremely positive thing for the England team.

If Strauss is performing well at the top of the order, it makes the whole batting line-up seem much stronger. Pietersen is 8 not-out overnight and this is perfect. Hopefully while you are reading this, KP is helping the innings kick on with Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood to follow.

England need to score big in this first innings and can’t afford to suffer a batting collapse. Anything under 450 would be a real disappointment, but as long as KP hangs around, cricket betting is more likely to favour a total close to the 500 mark.

Whatever the total though, it is vital that the likes of Steve Harmison and James Anderson follow their captain’s example of recapturing their best form. England have 20 wickets to take and they won’t do that in the appropriate time if the two opening bowlers are off the pace.

Come on lads; make us proud of English cricket again!

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

February 10, 2009

Who is to blame for England’s humiliating defeat?

As embarrassing test match defeats go, the recent one suffered by England ranks extremely high. At no stage were England on top of the West Indies in Jamaica and this culminated in a batting performance that the majority of village pub team’s would have been ashamed of.

England were dismissed for just 51 in Andrew Strauss’ first official game as skipper as they lost by an innings and 23 runs to a team below them in the world rankings. It will go down as a dark day in the history of English cricket and rightly so.

As with anytime there is a poor performance from any England team, the blame has been placed on a number of people. Everyone is having their say on why the team capitulated so drastically as the overall opinion seems to be that it was more than a poor batting display.

So, where is the blame being directed? Let’s take a look…..

Kevin Pietersen - Inevitably, KP is going to take some stick. The way in which he handled his resignation, gave his opinions on the coaching staff and unsettled the dressing room may well have played its part.

The IPL auction - The timing of this wasn’t great. On the third day of the test match - the day before the dreadful batting performance - it was announced that Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff became the most expensive players in the Indian Premier League as they were brought for $1.55m each. A welcome distraction? I think not.

Alistair Cook, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood - Let’s be honest. Not one of these three players have shined with the bat in recent months. In fact, the overwhelming loyalty shown to them could have contributed to all this. Do they think they are untouchable?

The lack of leadership - With the lack of a first team coach, Andy Flower is the most senior man in the set-up. Considering he was on Pietersen’s hit list along with Moores, is he really respected by the England team? Compare his influence to that of Duncan Fletcher in the past and it is going to be minimal.

I could probably go down a lot more avenues in terms of why it happened, but the main reasons have been covered. Things aren’t well in the England camp right now and the second innings in Jamaica confirmed it. My suggestion that England are in better shape than Australia (see last weeks blog) may well have been wide of the mark!

This is sport though and things can change very quickly. The cricket odds will be expecting England to make a few changes for the next test that starts in Antigua on Friday and the critics will be demanding a response. Things, quite simply, have to improve. Otherwise, it is crisis time. Not ideal in an Ashes year.

In terms of cricket betting, West Indies are now overwhelming favourites to win the series. Hopefully Strauss men will prefer the underdogs tag!

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

February 02, 2009

England and Australia – who is in better shape for the Ashes?

England and Australia – who is in better shape for the Ashes?

Back in the build-up to the 2005 Ashes series, Australia were comfortably the best side in the world and England were the form team of international cricket having won several test series in a row. Even if the rankings didn’t quite suggest it, it was the battle between the best two sides in the world.

However, looking ahead to the 2009 Ashes series, everything is a little bit different. Australia are having their first shaky spell for a number of years and England made losing a habit prior to the controversial saga which saw their captain and coach leave their positions. Even if the rankings don’t quite suggest it, it is a battle between the third and fifth best sides in the world.

Does this undermine the significance of the Ashes this year? No, I don’t think so. Whenever these two sides meet, it will always be tense, competitive and eagerly anticipated. Besides, Australia will be determined to prove they are still the No.1 test team in the world and England will want to get the Andrew Strauss era off to the best possible start. If anything, there is more at stake than ever before.

Who is in the best shape ahead of this summer though? Obviously a lot could happen between now and the start of the series which could change this, but right now – which team is worse off? Which team is cricket betting favouring? Let’s take a look.

Five reasons why England are the team in trouble:

  1. Their bowling line up – Hopefully things will go well in West Indies, but right now, there aren’t many England bowlers on top of their game.
  2. The number three slot – This is a position that no England batsman can nail down. Ian Bell is in shocking form and the selectors don’t seem to trust Owais Shah enough.
  3. Pietersen’s Ego – How will things go with former captain Pietersen and Andrew Strauss? The party line is that they get on fine, but what if things start going badly?
  4. The uncertainty over the coach – At this time we have no idea who will be England coach come the Ashes. This should be a time where we are preparing for the summer, so this isn’t ideal.
  5. The losing habit – England, quite simply, have lost a lot of test matches over the last few years. The belief that was so apparent in 2005 seems to have gone. Can they recapture it after the West Indies tour?

Five reasons why Australia are the team in trouble:

  1. The loss of key personal – No team in the world could cope with the amount of senior players that Australia have lost in recent years. They are having to start again.
  2. The losing habit – Not quite to the extent of England, but two test series have been lost in a row. Plus an ODI series. This is quite something for Australia.
  3. Ricky Ponting – The Australia captain has been ruled out of the remaining two ODI’s against New Zealand to rest up ahead of the South Africa tour. Is he feeling the pressure?
  4. No Spinner – The loss of Shane Warne is obviously huge for them, but especially when they can’t seem to find a half decent replacement. The quality of Warne has often been the difference between England and Australia.
  5. Mike Hussey – Mr Cricket has had a tough time of late and this is causing problems for Australia’s middle order. Perhaps he is human after all.

Having weighed up all of these factors, I would say that England have the edge. Just. Barring a poor showing against West Indies over the next couple of months, I think the cricket odds will expect England to regain the Ashes. The atmosphere in England has to be taken into account as well because Australia are more fragile than last time and the ‘Barmy Army’ could affect them even more than usual.

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

February 2009

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