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December 23, 2008

Two test matches in a series is such a waste of time

So, the second and final test match between England and India has ended in a draw. After the home side were rather negative in their second innings, they eventually declared on 251-7 to set England over 400 to win the game. This was never going to happen though and with the game destined for a draw, the captains shook hands with the tourists 64-1.

It meant that India secured a 1-0 series victory and that England finished the tour without winning a single match. Not the most encouraging few weeks results wise, but there have been some positives of which I will discuss in a moment.

The thing that really bothers me though is that only two test matches were scheduled for the series. India and England are two of the most cricket mad countries in the world, they are two of the best teams in the world and yet only two test matches are played. Are the organisers trying to assist in the death of test cricket or something?

Not only is it disappointing that the series is shortened, but it also means that once the first game has been won by a team, the second match is more likely to be a dull finish. That’s exactly what happened in this series.

There was some excellent cricket played throughout and the entertainment levels were high, but during the latter stages of the Mohali test, India were happy to play out for a draw. They had won the first test, so it was job done as far as they are concerned.

The series should have been at least three matches long. This way, England would have had the chance to respond again to going behind. I appreciate that I may sound like a bitter England fan, but it’s more than that. For the sake of the fans watching, two test matches just isn’t enough.

There isn’t enough time for the twists and turns that make test cricket so fantastic, or for the one-on-one battles between the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Yuvraj Singh to well and truly develop. Overall, I hope two test match series are a thing of the past.

Unfortunately though, this is not something I will be putting any of my sport betting money on. The significance of Twenty20 cricket is more valid than ever and perhaps shortened test series will become to norm. This bothers me, but there you go.

Anyway, onto the reflection part of today’s blog. Despite losing the series, Pietersen says that he is ‘really proud’ of the team’s efforts and I have to say I agree. So what are the positives to come out of the tour?

The fact they were there – It took great courage for the England players to get on a plane to India again. They have been a credit to cricket and the Indian people will never forget this.

Andrew Strauss – The opener well and truly confirmed his place in the team with two centuries in the first test. Well done Straussy.

Andrew Flintoff – Bowled with just as much heart as ever and his batting is improving. Could he be back to his peak for Australia next year?

Greame Swann – Performed admirably in his first two test matches and should push Monty Panesar for a place against the West Indies after Christmas.

Kevin Pietersen – Ok, it may only have been one good innings for KP, but what an innings it was. This and the way he led the team in a difficult time deserves credit.

So, that’s that for the Indian tour. The England players will now travel home to enjoy Christmas with their families before flying out to the West Indies at the end of January. The sport odds are more likely to favour an England win in this series and it is important that momentum is developed ahead of an important English summer.

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


March 21, 2007

A Crucial Conundrum

Much has been talked of the antics of Flintoff and Co. after the New Zealand game and the disciplinary measures put in place by the management. Perhaps the most notable of these is the fact that Flintoff has been stripped of the vice-captaincy. This presents a number of issues: the effect it will have on Flintoff as a player, the effect it will have on the team and who to appoint as vice captain for the rest of the tournament.

Flintoff is a leader, even if not captain he is an inspirational figure within the team and it usually goes that when Fred is doing well, so are England. He loves playing for England and loved being captain. In the lead up to the announcement of the Ashes squad he made it very clear that he really desired the captaincy. It is entirely possible that being stripped of the vice captaincy in this way will have an effect on his game.

If England are to hope to progress in this tournament they will need their talisman firing on all cylinders so England hopes that Flintoff can put the politics to the back of his mind and focus on being one of the best all rounders in world cricket at the moment.

Flintoff is such a liked figure in the England camp that it is also entirely possible that a decision like this could cause fractions within the squad. Even if Flintoff is still 100% behind Vaughan (as I am sure he is), politics can be complicated and it could come about that players find themselves drawn more towards Flintoff than they do to Vaughan or the management.

So to the new vice captain: It is highly unlikely that we will never know who the new second in command is unless Vaughan himself actually does get injured. England have a habit of not appointing official vice captains and the Ashes squad announcement was the first occasion in quite a long time that a captain and vice captain were announced.

It is that vice captaincy choice which presents one of the significant problems here. While in Australia, Flintoff was appointed captain and Andrew Strauss his deputy and although Vaughan returned for the CB series, the matches he did miss due to a ham string injury were captained by Strauss while Flintoff was off the field which indicates that Strauss was an unofficial deputy to Flintoff in the one dayers too.

Vaughan tripped in a pothole yesterday while training and hurt his right knee, the knee which had given him trouble over the past year and kept him out of the Ashes this winter. Although the England management have assured us that he will be fit to play against Kenya, they have told us such things before and have been proved wrong on the day.

Strauss has been left out of the starting team for the four matches England have played so far in the Caribbean (the two warm up matches and the first two matches of the main tournament). It would therefore be very difficult for the England management to make Strauss captain should Vaughan fail to pass fit for the match against Kenya because they would be putting someone in a position of seniority who was not even in the main team the match before.

With Vaughan, Flintoff and Strauss the only names to have been bandied about in captaincy conversations recently it would mean that the job would have to go to someone who is not a natural choice.

A sensible choice would be to give the position to Paul Collingwood. The Durham all rounder is a senior member of the side, he was on panel of selectors as an advisor during the Ashes with a small group of senior squad members, he is one of England’s most reliable ODI batsmen, an excellent and agile fielder and a more than handy bowler.

It is through watching his batting and bowling that it becomes obvious that he is in touch with the situation of the game: as a batsman he is aware of when the need to up the tempo arises or when it will suffice to just knock about the singles and twos; as a bowler he is able to assess the batsmen he is bowling to and is constantly thinking about where to bowl and when to vary his bowling.

It is also important for the captain of the side to set the example in the field, something which no one would deny that Collingwood would be able to do. He has long been accepted as one of the best fielders in England, having substituted for many years in Test matches long before he was an established member of the Test side.

An option for looking to the future could be Ian Bell. In my mind, Bell is the England captain for the next generation. He is a classy batsman who is now coming into his own and growing in confidence and has hopefully established his place in the side after some good knocks.

Again, Bell is a good fielder and one of the best catchers in the England side and his bowling is not to be sniffed at although he seldom gets a chance to show it with Collingwood, Dalrymple and Pietersen usually being the fifth, sixth and seventh choice bowlers.

Giving Bell the captaincy would show a vote of confidence from the England hierarchy which could in turn help his form as a batsman. He has admitted himself that he did not feel like he fully deserved his place during the 2005 Ashes and he had a poor series as a result but he has shown extra self belief of late and has improved with the bat as a result.

A decision to give the captaincy to Bell could of course have the adverse affect, it is quite possible that his inclusion for the 2005 Test series was a season too soon and it could be that if introduced to the captaincy at too early an opportunity he could react to it as a captain as he did in 2005 with the bat.

Perhaps the only other senior established figure in the team is Kevin Pietersen. Although almost laughable at first thought, there are few reasons not to give Pietersen the captaincy. He is by far the best batsman in the side and would hopefully be able to lead from the front with the bat. As a fielder he is again one of the best in the side, despite his poor form in the field in his debut test series in 2005 where he didn’t hang on to a single chance and even his bowling is tidy. In fact, while playing in South Africa in the early part of his career he wasn’t even considered as a batsman and played for Natal as a bowler and batted low down the order.

I am sure that Pietersen would want the job, he craves attention and the captaincy would certainly be a perfect opportunity to gain some of the press coverage and some of the best captains to have ever graced the game have been those who had a real desire to lead their nation.

Does Pietersen hold the responsibility for such an important job? Perhaps one of his flaws as a cricketer is that he can at times appear too arrogant, which could be a downfall of his as a captain. After his successes in the Ashes of 2005 and before the tour of Pakistan in November and December 2005, he expressed that he was keen to give more to the team as a bowler, a feeling which was quickly dampened by the management.

It is entirely possible that given the captaincy he could over bowl himself or be too much of an attacking captain. There are always these risks of course; no one can ever know what type of captain a player will be until they are actually given the opportunity to do the job.

It would be a difficult decision for the management, should they be in a position where they have to make it, so much so that I can’t put my finger on a preference. I would be happy to see Bell, Collingwood or Pietersen leading England out on Saturday (or whenever it may be necessary) as each have their merits. Bell is the choice for the future, Collingwood would be the safe option and giving the job to Pietersen would show that England mean business and would take the game to the opposition.

But of course I suppose it’s all irrelevant isn’t it? Because after all, as the England management have reassured us: Vaughan will be fit to play on Saturday. And the England management have never led us astray over a key player’s fitness before have they?



All fun and Games?

Sports teams today at the highest level play such an intense level of sport and the players are expected to be fitter today than they ever have been. Gone are the days when professional footballers would sit down and have a fried breakfast before a match and even the days when you’d see snooker players sitting beside the table with a cigarette in hand and a mug of tea on the side. Today’s diet includes fish, white meat, carbohydrates and water while red meat, sugar, and dairy products are strictly off the menu.

But is cricket a different game? Shane Warne was famous for his smoking at the breaks during play and it didn’t stop him from being the best spin bowler the world has ever seen. Cricket being the sport that it is though breeds different types of players. The batsmen don’t necessarily need to be fast on their feet (Inzamam-ul-Haq being a perfect example) but it does help with running in between the wickets.

Indeed it is definitely possible for a batsman to play while not being fully fit, although not advisable. Out of determination to be the captain to lift the urn, Steve Waugh did after all scored a brilliant 157* on one leg at The Oval in 2001, after being denied a runner because he entered the match with his injury.

There is more pressure on fielders today than there were on fielders a decades ago, with everyone in the international arena being expected to be an all round fielder. But there are certain fielders on the pitch who won’t be required to make much of an exertion if they can be relied on to catch well. For example the slip fielders or the close-in catchers such as those at silly point will not need to run much or make many diving stops. So it is entirely possible for the less agile to be able to make it at the top level.

What about bowlers, then? Again the variety of the game means that it is entirely possible for there to be a variety in fitness levels. A spin bowler trots in off only a few paces and doesn’t have as far to walk back in between deliveries.

This is not to say that it is not hard work being a spin bowler, spinners are often asked to bowl long and tiring spells but it is more an issue of stamina than physical fitness.

Fast bowlers, however, have to be of the utmost fitness. They often run in off a lengthy run up, regularly bowl over 80mph then walk back and sprint in and do the same again.

So do only fast bowlers need to be at top fitness? Not at all, if a batsman or slow bowler is completely fit he will be able to spend longer at the crease or bowl longer spells, will be less susceptible to injury, will be able to put in that extra burst of running when necessary and will in general give themselves the edge over their opponents.

It is for this reason that it the late night shenanigans of six members of the England squad are not to be taken lightly. By all accounts a group of men are allowed to go out and have fun but they must not forget their responsibilities.

The average footballer will lose seven pints of fluid in a 90 minute football match; I can only assume that a cricketer will lose more than this during a 6 hour ODI in the hot Caribbean sun. The post match pint is a part of cricketing tradition but is it really the best thing for an international cricketer playing in the middle of a World Cup who needs to be at the top of his fitness?

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that the body will release more liquid in urine than it takes in. This means that drinking alcohol will make the body more dehydrated than it was before drinking which among other things can lead to fatigue and a loss of endurance and stamina.

Alcoholic drinks also take longer to be absorbed into the body than water so will not provide as quick a relief to dehydration as non alcoholic drinks will do in the short term either.

The timing of the late night bender could have been much better too. The night in question was after the England v New Zealand match and after having lost that match it was imperative that the team won their next too matches which were against Canada and Kenya.

With the Canadian match less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the New Zealand match the squad needed to maximise the time they had available to them for training and tactics. The incident involving Flintoff and the Pedalo reportedly took place at 4am which even if not drunk would mean that the players involved would be excessively tired when turning up the next day for training and would not be able to apply themselves fully. Factor in a hangover and the actions prove even more irresponsible.

The issue is made even worse by the fact that two of the team management were involved too, Jeremy Snape and Kevin Shine were both sighted in the nightclub with the 6 squad members and have been asked to submit themselves to voluntary fines by the team management.

Cricket today is an intense game when played at an international level. Fielding sides need to be on their toes to prevent quick singles, to save the two, to take that difficult diving catch. Batting sides need to be fit and agile to make those ones into twos or to play those innovative shots we see today. Such an intense level of play requires and demands a high level of professionalism to maintain fitness and to be able to compete at the highest level.

It can be understandable, even if not forgivable, for the younger members of the squad to be caught doing these things but I would expect better from senior members such as the vice-captain Andrew Flintoff or the coaching staff. If England are going to make a turn around and come good in this World Cup and in ODIs in general they need to get the right attitude towards the game.

Steve Waugh talks in his autobiography of when Bob Simpson and the Australian team management imposed an alcohol ban on the team at a time when Australia were struggling in Test and ODI cricket. This was a move which I am sure, although it would have been unpopular at first, would have contributed to the start of what was the rise of Australia to the number one spot and to becoming the best team to have taken the field in the game of cricket.


February 13, 2007

CB Series, Aussie captaincy and World Cup

Writing about web page http://warwick.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2237660522

England beat Australia on 11th February 2007 by 34 runs under the Duckworth Lewis method to win the Commonwealth Bank series finals 2-0. After a torrid start to their campaign, England managed to claw their way back into contention with victories over Australia and New Zealand in their last two group match games thanks to gritty centuries from Ed Joyce and Paul Collingwood. PDC has been outstanding over the past 3 matches, notching up two consecutive hundreds and a fighting 70 in the last final to seal the series.

Australia now go on to New Zealand to play the three match Chappel-Hadlee Trophy. Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist are being rested for the series, Ponting because of a sore hip and Gilchrist due to his heavy workload as opening batsmen and wicket keeper.

The resting of captain and vice-captain has left a few openings in the team. It has become the obvious choice for Mike "Mr Cricket" Hussey to fill in the captaincy role, as he did in the DLF Cup tri series last year but the VC role has created some interest. Michael Clarke has been given the job, which is an indication of where the Australian management are looking for a captain after Ponting.

The 25 year old middle order batsman averages around 42 in both tests and ODIs and has currently found himself back in form after a period of drought. But despite this drought, which began after his first year in Test cricket, he has been widely tipped as a future captain of Australia. One advocate of his future captaincy is Shane Warne, who many argue had the cricketing nous to become a high class international captain himself.

The CB series loss to England will obviously cause upsets and concerns within Australian cricket with the World Cup looming less than a month away but Australia should not be underestimated. After returning home from the 2005 Ashes humiliated they have come back stronger and more determined, drawing one test and winning 15 since the Ashes with no losses just outlines their class and determination. Australia will take this defeat onboard and learn from it, no doubt to emerge a stronger team at the World Cup.

England on the other hand, have to be careful not to become complacent as they did after the 2005 Ashes win. They still have a very fragile squad, the top order certainly won't be scaring many opening bowlers just yet and the bowling can still be haphazard at times. This is of course, not to detract from a strong win against the World number one, but just to emphasise the importance of remembering that England is still the number eight ranked team and had it not been for Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff and Liam Plunkett, it is very questionable as to whether it would have even been an England v Australia final.

Last year Duncan Fletcher said he knows who 10 of his World Cup XI will be, just last week the ECB asked the ICC for permission to choose their World Cup squad of 15 from players outside their pre approved list of 30. This is obviously not helped by injuries and other problems but it does beg the question of what exactly has happened since Fletcher made that comment. On paper England have a strong team and have the ability to do well in the World Cup, but they will need their top players to 'come to the party' as they say down under.

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