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March 12, 2009

Plenty of criticism over England’s delayed declaration

First of all, it has to be said that England’s bowlers put in an almost heroic performance in the final two sessions of the final test yesterday. However, it proved to be too late for them to force a victory that would have seen them draw the series.

West Indies managed to bat out the final session to secure a 1-0 series win, their first in a major test series for five years. This isn’t the main talking point in the aftermath of the match though.

Instead, many have questioned England’s delayed declaration. Andrew Strauss waited until lunch to call time on the England innings, with many believing they should have declared when Matt Prior was out for an aggressive 61.

Had England chosen to end their innings here, they would have set the West Indies are more achievable target of 209. Surely it was worth taking a risk with the series at stake though?

Several former England players agree with this notion, in particular Ian Botham who described the declaration as ‘pathetic’. The Sky Sports commentator then went on to say that the England players have obviously ‘not got long memories of Antigua’.

Botham then went on to claim that England ‘lost the plot’ by failing to declare when prior was dismissed. The former all-rounder then questioned whether Strauss actually wanted to win the game at all.

Other players turned pundits to criticise the declaration were Alec Stewart who believes that England ‘missed a trick’ by not putting the West Indies before lunch and Bob Willis who said that the only way England were going to win was if the ‘West Indies were going for runs’.

Overall, Strauss and co can expect a lot of negative press for their decisions made in this series. Sticking with Ian Bell for the first test was a mistake, selecting a ridiculously unfit Ryan Sidebottom for the fourth test was a mistake and delaying the declaration in this final test was a mistake.

There were others as well though and in reality, England have caused this series defeat themselves. The cricket odds expected them to defeat the West Indies before the tour began, so it has to be disappointing that they have lost.

The most worrying thing though is that they appear to have forgotten how to win a test match. They got within one or two wickets of victory of two occasions, but failed to close it out. How can a team that declared five times in a series not win a test match?!

Next up for England is a home series against the West Indies in May. There is no doubt that cricket betting will have the home side down as favourites for this one and they should win.

Whether this will be enough to build confidence ahead of a much anticipated Ashes series though, remains to be seen.

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

March 03, 2009

Strauss refuses to blame bowlers as England are forced to bat our fourth test

The fact that Andrew Strauss has publically backed his under-fire bowling attack after England drew the fourth test with West Indies is no surprise. The England captain is hardly going to admit his attack never looked like taking 20 wickets is he?

Instead, Strauss pointed to the fact that he would struggle to blame his bowlers who ‘tried hard’ on a pitch that offered them very little assistance. He believes that they ‘stuck at their task’ and that their effort cannot be faulted in any way.

This may well be the case. However, the selection of a ridiculously un-fit Ryan Sidebottom has to be questioned. There is just no way on earth he should have played. If England were 1-0 up in the series, perhaps his ‘economical qualities’ would have been valuable.

The fact that England picked him for a must-win game as part of a four-man bowling attack though was ridiculous. What had he done to justify a place? Yes, he was excellent during parts of 2008, but he hasn’t hit those heights in quite a few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming Sidebottom. He, as Strauss suggested, will always give his all. The problem being that ‘his all’ on a flat pitch that offers little swing isn’t anywhere near enough.

The selectors knew about his fitness / form problems and they knew that West Indies would probably prepare a very flat pitch. Despite this, they still picked Sidebottom as part of a four man attack. The phrase ‘masters of their own downfall’ comes to mind.

In all honesty though, the selection of Steve Harmison or Amjad Khan probably wouldn’t have affected the outcome. However, Strauss would have been given more variety and Khan in particular would have given the bowling attack a much needed fresh face.

With the West Indies on 281-4 in their innings, England were one decent spell away from getting into the West Indies tail sooner than they did. Perhaps the unknown factor could have resulted in Khan being the man to provide this?

Hopefully he will get the nod for the final test in Trinidad. Harmison seems out of favour and I can’t imagine England going for broke with the same line-up. You never know though and the cricket odds are by no means ruling it out.

Onto a slightly more positive note – Alistair Cook’s hundred. The England opener hit three figures for the first time since December 2007 and has since revealed that the ‘monkey’s now off my back.’

Cook also said that he was now determined to ‘go to Trinidad and get another one’. This is the key as far as I’m concerned. It’s no good getting a hundred in a relatively meaningless innings and then waiting 15 months for the next one.

It is time that Cook kicked on as a test cricketer and started converting his 50’s more often. If your opening batsman is consistently hitting centuries, the team will benefit a great deal.

Overall though, it has been a disappointing tour for the team so far. Cricket betting suggested that they would win the series, but this is now impossible. Instead, they have to win in Trinidad to ensure that they come away with a drawn series.

With another flat track likely, this surely means that some sort of change needs to be made to a seam attack that was totally outshone by an off-spinner on a lifeless pitch.

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

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