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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


June 30, 2009

Vaughan set to announce retirement – thanks for the memories!

It appears that Michael Vaughan has played his last game of professional cricket. The former England captain will officially announce his retirement on Tuesday after meeting with Yorkshire officials on Sunday to discuss his
future.

Vaughan was left out of the 2009 Ashes training squad earlier this month and this indicated that his international career was all but over. Therefore, with a return to the England side out of reach, he has decided to call it a day on all first-class cricket.

It is a relatively sad end to what has been a successful career for the 34-year-old. The pinnacle for him was, of course, when he led England to Ashes glory in 2005. It mustn’t be forgotten that he was a world-class international batsman on his day though.

Not only that, he was the most successful captain of all time and a model professional throughout his career. The Ashes win four years ago will be what Vaughan is remembered for in years to come, but it is important topoint out that he achieved more than this during his time as an England cricketer.

As a batsman he scored 5,719 test match runs at an average of over 40, notching 18 centuries along the way. Vaughan wasn’t always on top form – especially during the latter stages of his England career – but when he was on his game, he was one of the most attractive batsmen to watch in world cricket.

It was as a captain that Vaughan really shone though. Nasser Hussain’s England were hard to beat, but Vaughan turned them in to winners. His relaxed approach and excellent tactical nous were to the benefit of English cricket and this will always be looked back on fondly.

Critics will argue that he never quite achieved enough as a batsman and given his ability – they could be right. His average of 41.44 doesn’t really reflect his talent and definitely took a nose dive in the last couple of years. He also failed to make a name for himself in the One-day game during his career.

For his sheer talent, sublime batting technique and captaincy success though, he can bow out of professional cricket with his head held high. His determination to play for England was higher than ever in the early parts of the summer, but the failure to score runs for Yorkshire cost him his place in the Ashes training party.

Vaughan then knew that there wouldn’t be a way back for him. As difficult as it may seem, this may have been for the better. Yes, to play a part in regaining the Ashes would have been the perfect way to head into retirement.

What if he had come in and failed though? What if he played the first two tests, didn’t score any runs and was dropped? That would have been a poor way to end. At least this way he has ended it on his own terms. He even ‘took a break’ from international cricket after his resignation as captain, so he has never been dropped as such.

Like the headline says – thanks for the memories Michael. You were a fantastic captain for England and will go down in English cricket history as one of the greatest. Now, go and land yourself a job on Sky Sports. At least you will be involved in the Ashes that way!

Make sure you keep up to date with the Ashes odds before making your 2009 Ashes bet. If you need to get in the mood for some good old-fashioned rivalry this summer, visit Betfair's new fanvfan site.

*By Thomas Rooney*


May 27, 2009

Strauss can enjoy his break after England thrash woeful Windies

The next time Andrew Strauss plays international cricket will be on the 8th July in Cardiff against Ricky Ponting’s Australia. The England captain will play no part in next month’s World Twenty20 tournament, meaning that he has a significant break from playing for his country.

Strauss can go back to Middlesex with his head held high though after leading England to the perfect start to their very busy summer of cricket. Strauss’ men secured a 2-0 One Day International series
victory against the West Indies yesterday by thrashing the tourists by 58 runs at Edgbaston.

This follows the 2-0 test series victory over the same opposition and it is fair to say that England have looked very commanding on home soil. Yesterday’s display in particular was extremely ruthless. This
isn’t something we have associated with England recently, so it has to be taken as a positive sign.

In fact, the whole summer has been positive so far. The only downer has probably been the low crowds that have turned out to watch England play so well. On field matters are looking firmly under control though and credit must go to the partnership of Strauss and Andy Flower.

It seems like they have created a happy and united dressing room that is brimming with confidence. The likes of Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara are all stepping up to the
plate in the absence of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff as well. New heroes are developing and the England team is moving in the right direction.

Whether this will be enough to defeat Australia this summer, nobody knows. It is likely to be a very close series against an impressive Aussie side, but England have every chance of winning. With regards to Ashes bets, I am much more likely to back them now than I was a year ago anyway.

Before Australia come to town though, there is the ICC World Twenty20 tournament to deal with. Paul Collingwood will lead the team in Strauss’ absence as England look to improve on their showing in the
same tournament two years ago.

Despite not being involved, Strauss has claimed that the hosts will be a ‘good outside bet’ to win the competition because playing in familiar conditions can give them ‘the edge’ over the other teams. This, combined with the fact that the team are ‘playing with confidence’ mean that Strauss expects England to be there or there abouts come the end of the competition.

Personally, I think England have every chance of emerging victorious if they play with the aggression and belief that they have done so far this summer. They haven’t played too much Twenty20 cricket though, so this could end up costing them.

Overall, as long as the momentum gained from the two series wins over the West Indies can be maintained somewhat, England are in good shape to face the biggest test of them all – the Ashes.

By Thomas Rooney


April 29, 2009

Bopara puts himself in the frame to replace Flintoff

The news that Andrew Flintoff will miss the upcoming test series against the West Indies should come as no surprise. The all-rounder is at a stage now where he is unable to go a significant amount of time without an injury.

Therefore, every so often, there is a debate about who should play the ‘Flintoff role’ when he isn’t there. In other words, who should replace him for the two test matches against the West Indies that start next month?

Well, one man has put himself firmly in the frame thanks to some excellent form in the Indian Premier League. Essex’s Ravi Bopara has been in top form for Kings XI Punjab and recently smashed 84 from 59 balls against Kevin Pietersen’s Bangalore Royal Challengers.

You may remember that in Bopara’s last test for England he managed to notch a century, only to be dropped in favour of an extra bowler for the following match. This, combined with his IPL form, could mean that he gets a place in the side for the first test at Lords.

Speaking about the possibility of replacing Flintoff, Bopara said that he is ‘definitely eyeing up that No.6 spot’. Then, if he manages to achieve this, he will set his sights on ‘moving up the order’.

Bopara has been rather unlucky during his international career to date because he hasn’t batted in his preferred position very often at all. Instead of coming in at No.3, he has either had to open the innings or come in down the order.

For now though, the No.6 position suits him and there is every chance he will get the nod to replace Flintoff. He is probably one of the most in-form English players right now and would add some much needed flair to the batting line-up.

There are question marks over his bowling, but he needs to be given the chance to prove himself in this department. As yet, he hasn’t really been given the opportunity to shine for England with the ball.

The announcement about the England squad will be made on Wednesday with Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell joining Bopara in keeping a very close eye on proceedings. This is my cricket prediction for the team for the first test against West Indies.

Strauss
Cook
Vaughan
Pietersen
Collingwood
Bopara
Prior
Broad
Swann
Harmison (other options?)
Anderson

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about international 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


December 29, 2008

Vaughan Misses out – and rightly so

Vaughan rightly misses out on West Indies Tour

Former England captain Michael Vaughan has missed out on a place in the England squad for the tour to the West Indies. Some had expected the Yorkshire batsman the nod in place of Ian Bell or Owais Shah, but it wasn’t to be and he now doesn’t have much time to get himself back in contention for the 2009 Ashes series.

To be honest though, I am quite surprised Vaughan was even considered for this tour. What has he done to prove that he deserves a place? It was unfortunate that he didn’t get the chance to impress for the England performance squad, but the reality is that the man hasn’t played any cricket of late.

Had Vaughan been given the chance on this tour, what message would it have given out to the likes of Joe Denly, Robert Key and Ravi Bopara who have been working hard and scoring runs in county cricket?

The only reason that I may have been on board with the Vaughan selection would have been his record against Australia. It is superb. By selecting him for the West Indies, it would have given him time to find his form before the Aussies come to town.

Overall though, the correct decision has been made. Had Vaughan come in and really struggled, it would have left the England selectors in a very difficult situation. The best thing he can do now is score runs for Yorkshire and try and get back in contention at some point during the West Indies test series in England.

Anyway, in terms of the rest of the test squad, there were no real surprises. Ian Bell – who has struggled for form of late – has held onto his place in the squad and Ryan Sidebottom has been included despite recent injury problems. The only other talking point was the selection of Adil Rashid.

The uncapped Yorkshire all-rounder has been called up as ‘extra competition for places in the spin-bowling department’ according to national selector Geoff Miller, but also to allow the coaching team to ‘monitor his development closely.’ Rashid is obviously a very talented young man and England seem very conscious about getting the timing of his selection right.

This is fair enough I suppose, but I have always been a fan of his and I really hope he isn’t just the water boy on this tour. In fact, given the poor form shown by Monty Panesar, I would stick him in straight away. I may be alone in this opinion, but if he is good enough – he is old enough!

With this in mind, this would be my starting eleven for the first test against West Indies at Sabina Park in February:



Alistair Cook
Andrew Strauss
Owais Shah
Kevin Pietersen
Paul Collingwood
Andrew Flintoff
Matt Prior
Adil Rashid
Stuart Broad
Steve Harmison
Ryan Sidebottom

This means the likes of Ian Bell, James Anderson, Graham Swann and Monty Panesar miss out. This may be a bit too drastic in terms of changes from the tests in India, but I actually like the look of this team. Realistically though, I imagine the cricket odds will favour this being the team that does play at Sabina Park:

Alistair Cook
Andrew Strauss
Ian Bell
Kevin Pietersen
Paul Collingwood
Andrew Flintoff
Matt Prior
Stuart Broad
Ryan Sidebottom
Steve Harmison
Monty Panesar

We will just have to wait and see I suppose. Cricket betting suggests that England should win this series, but it will be fair from easy. West Indies have some decent players and will always raise their game at home, so anything could happen.

With just six tests left before the Ashes though, all of which are against the West Indies, it is very important that England start to dominate Chris Gayle’s team sooner rather than later.

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


October 24, 2007

The times they are a changing

Back in the spring, Sri Lanka were taking part in a somewhat shambolic World Cup final while only a week previously England had played their last match of the Super Eights, playing only for pride, after having been knocked out of the tournament previously.

Both were deserving outcomes for the two sides. Sri Lanka were by far the second best team in the tournament and the only team deserving of partnering the Australians in the final.

England on the other hand, had been predictably disappointing and deserved to have been knocked out. The limited overs form of the game is one that England have never truly looked comfortable playing since the World Cup of 1992 where they were overwhelmed by a strong Pakistan side in the final.

Today, just six months later, things could not appear more different. England, for the first time in their history, have won a One Day series in Sri Lanka and their first One-Day series in subcontinental Asia since Stuart Broad’s Dad played in Pakistan under Mike Gatting’s captaincy in 1986/7.

It is a series that has been won with some authority too, despite losing the first match quite convincingly. England’s bowlers have been superb, bowling accurately and to carefully formulated plans and as such have restricted the Sri Lanka top order that was so instrumental in their World Cup successes.

The Sri Lankan opening pair has been one of the most important aspects of their game plan (not to mention the fact that numbers three and four are Kumar Sangakkara and Jayawardene, two of the world’s best batsmen at the moment).

The Jayasuriya/Tharanga pairing has given the innings a fast moving impetus which takes the pressure off the middle order and allows the whole side to play with freedom.

In this series, Jayasuriya and Tharanga have averaged 18 and 16 respectively, meaning that more often than not Kumar Sangakkara is in the action immediately with the pressure of the innings on his shoulders.

The encouraging thing about this series, from an England point of view is that they have succeeded without, for the most part, their main One Day batsmen truly firing.

Alastair Cook has shown he has what it takes in the fourth match with a steady match-winning 80 and Owais Shah deserved his man of the match award for his 82 in the second match.

On the whole though, England’s victories have come more as a result of a strong team effort with each member chipping in when their team has needed it, such as when Broad and Swann chipped in during the 3rd Match to turn the match around and guide England home to victory.

If anything can be said about the impact that Peter Moores’ coaching has had on the England team it is that he has restored a sense of stability that is crucial for the success of any team effort and promotes a strong team ethic.

This is very much as was the case when England won the 2005 Ashes; the England management used the same 11 players for the first four Tests (and only 12 in the entire series). Stability breeds familiarity and confidence in the players as each member of the team is aware of what their duties are and when they need to step up to the plate.

By taking the series 4-1, England had the opportunity to move to 4th place in the international rankings and push Sri Lanka to 7th, a situation that would have seemed very improbable at the culmination of the World Cup but seems to reflect the efforts in the current series.

In another part of the world, Pakistan are playing host to South Africa in a somewhat punctuated tour consisting of 2 Test matches and 5 ODIs. Arguably, it is a tour that has very little significance in the grand scheme of the international arena.

It is however the setting for a somewhat unceremonious departure from the international arena of one of the game’s all time greats: Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Having been out of the side for the first Test of the series, he was recalled for the deciding match to allow him to bow out on his own terms. In the event his last hurrah took place very much in the manner he played his cricket: with a minimum of fuss.

In his two innings, he mustered 14 and 3 as Pakistan clung on for a draw that sealed the series at 1-0 for South Africa. In many ways though, it was a sad exit for one of the greatest batsmen to come out of Pakistan.

Great is an oft overused word in sport but with Inzamam, his contemporaries argue the case for him. In a tribute to his career, some of the most established names in Anil Kumble, Allan Donald, Damien Fleming, Chaminda Vaas and Matthew Hoggard have almost invariably rated him among their Top 5 batsmen that they bowled to.

Another striking endorsement of his talents and versatility is that the variety of shots named by those bowlers as their “Favourite Inzy Shot” from the back foot punch to the straight drive or even the hook and pull shots. All of which, he played with consummate ease always appearing to have all the time in the world.

Pakistan cricket is entering a new era, with a fresh young face as captain in Shoaib Malik and with some exciting new players such as Misbah-ul-Haq making his way after showing he has potential in the Twenty20 World Cup.

That aside, it is never going to be easy to replace a player of such class as Inzamam. Not only was his record as a batsman outstanding but his experience in the dressing room is invaluable and his calm and unflappable captaincy has been a very much under-rated commodity in the past few years.


October 04, 2007

Summer Round Up

After a dismal display in the Ashes and the World Cup this winter, with a CB series victory as the only highlight, England had a lot to prove this summer.

They set about their campaign armed with a new head coach, Peter Moores, who immediately made his mark on the team by installing Matt Prior from Sussex as the wicketkeeper, a position which has been under much scrutiny with Geraint Jones and Chris Read failing to provide enough of an all-round package for the modern international game.

England’s first opponents of the summer were the once mighty West Indies who toured for 4 Tests, 3 ODIs and a 2 match Twenty20 series. Moores was quite fortunate to have West Indies as his first challenge in the Test arena. Having been a once feared Test nation they command the respect of the cricketing public so a Test series defeat will always be regarded as more than ‘just as expected’.

On the other hand, they are not the team they once were, being ranked 8th out of 10 Test nations and therefore the England camp would have put their money on a healthy series victory at the start, should the team play as they can.

This they did, West Indies were convincingly beaten 3-0 in the 4 match series, the drawn match being the rain affected series opener at Lord’s. West Indies were never really in the series but this aside, there were a number of highlights from an England perspective.

Michael Vaughan made his return to Test cricket in the second test at Headlingley with a captains knock of 103 and Matt Prior became the first England wicketkeeper to score a hundred on debut when he played his first Test at Lord’s, the HQ of cricket.

Moores also showed during the Test series that he was willing to give those county players who have performed consistently well at domestic level a chance at Test level when Ryan Sidebottom made a surprise return to Test cricket after an absence of nearly six years.

Early on in his position as coach, Peter Moores has shown that he is willing to make decisions based on his own instinct, the inclusion of Prior and Sidebottom for example. The players themselves have repaid his confidences with good performances on the field to secure their own places and possibly that of their coach.

With Michael Vaughan relinquishing the position of captain of the One Day team, Paul Collingwood was appointed as captain of England’s Twenty20 and ODI teams. The Durham all-rounder got off to a flyer, winning his first match in charge in both forms but failed to capitalize on that advantage.

England lost the second T20I and the last two ODIs to draw the Twenty20s and lose the ODIs 2-1. This was not helped by the fact that Collingwood won only one out of five tosses against the West Indies. He himself in fact remarked, with tongue firmly in cheek, “I suppose I’m not really a good tosser am I?”

With the departure of the West Indies brought the arrival of India, fresh from a tour of Ireland where they played their hosts in one match and South Africa in a three match series and a return to Tests.

In the longer format of the game, the Indians were always expected to provide more of a resistance to Michael Vaughan’s men than the West Indies team of late, despite the fact that Indian touring sides generally have a poor record. It has been remarked in the past that India were always welcome tourists because they “were well mannered, played the game in a good spirit and always lost”.

Rahul Dravid’s side, however, didn’t disappoint and despite the Test series being somewhat punctuated (only three matches were played), the cricket was of a high quality from both sides.

India took the series 2-0, despite an impressive debut series from the Hampshire fast bowler Chris Tremlett and the fact that none of the Indian top order managed a century in the series. (However, legspinner Anil Kumble registered his maiden ton in the final match of the series to deny England the victory they needed to maintain their 6 year unbeaten home record)

Before the start of the ODI series, many pundits had been lamenting about the number of matches to be played. There is a reciprocal arrangement between the England & Wales Cricket Board and the Board of Cricketing Control in India which states that each team must play the same length series as tourists as they do as hosts.

With One Day cricket being the rage in the subcontinent, England played a mammoth 7 matches when they toured India in 2005/6 and as a result the same was required when India visited this summer, making the ODI series the longest series between two nations in England.

Those who were complaining about the length of the series finished the summer helping themselves to a serving of humble pie. The 7 match rubber turned out to be one of the most interesting 50 over exchanges to have taken place in England for some time, despite Collingwood barely improving on his tossing, winning only two out of the seven matches.

England won the first match convincingly with maiden hundreds from Alastair Cook and Ian Bell setting the stage brilliantly but India came back strongly in the second match to level the series. England took the next two matches and with them a 3-1 lead in the series. This was thanks to a brilliant 99 run stand between Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara to steal victory from the jaws of defeat in the third match, a match that should India have won, would have given them a 2-1 lead in the series.

At this point, an Indian revival looked unlikely but the tourists reacted to the pressure brilliantly, proving why they are one of the best one day outfits around by taking the next two matches to level the series once again and take the series to a last match decider at the Oval.

The final match did prove to be a somewhat anticlimactic end to an enthralling series. India posted a total of under 200, vastly under par in the modern game and England chased down the total with relative ease thanks to strong performances by England’s two main ODI batsmen; Collingwood and Pietersen.

All in all, India showed they are still a force to be reckoned with in world cricket following their disappointing exit from the World Cup at the group stage. The spin combination of Ramesh Powar and Piyush Chawla particularly impressing, with Chawla appearing to have Kevin Pietersen completely foxed for the most part of the series. At the end of the day (and the end of a long series) England came out on top as Paul Collingwood lifted what was only England’s second one day trophy against a major nation in three years.

It has been a mixed bag for England this summer. They have not yet established themselves back on the road towards becoming world beaters but with a new coaching staff and a slightly different outlook they have begun to move on from the embarrassing 5-0 Ashes whitewash and look to the future.


May 25, 2007

The Path to Greatness

An interesting stat stood out to me today while I was passing some time on the cricinfo.com website. After another good day’s cricket by England where Michael Vaughan registered his 16th Test match century after 18 months away from the game and Kevin Pietersen notched up 130*, his eighth three figure score in Tests I decided to see how the current England side lines up with England’s past masters.

Vaughan’s 16th century puts him within 6 of the England record of 22 held jointly by Hammond, Cowdrey and Boycott; whether Vaughan catches up with these figures depends largely on whether his knee holds up for long enough. At the age of 32, he should have a good few years left in him and it is often said that batsmen get better as they mature.

The little nugget of information that caught my eye this evening though is that when Pietersen drove a Dwayne Bravo half volley to extra cover for a single, his career tally of runs move to 2351 and he overtook Mark Ramprakash’s total of 2350 career runs. The fact that he has done this in fewer than half the matches says a lot about each of the men.

Ramprakash’s Test career came in a time when English selection appeared to follow few logical paths. A look at the Test caps given in the nineties reveals a staggering number of players who have only played a handful of matches. As a result no player in the England team of the day had a safe place in the side and most played every match as if their careers depended on it.

Such a pressure had a positive effect on some players, much as it has had a positive effect on Paul Collingwood’s career of late, with his place under threat he had to score runs just to keep the critics quiet.

Others did not perform quite as well. Mark Ramprakash was one of these; he put too much pressure on himself and regularly failed. For someone who many regard as the most talented English batsman of his generation, to say that a final Test average of 27 is disappointing is an understatement. Ramps once admitted that after one of his many failures in Test cricket, he returned to the pavilion and vented his frustration and tension out on a pillar in the dressing room, repeatedly smashing it with his bat until what was left in his hands bore no relation to a cricket bat.

Ramprakash has proved to the world in domestic cricket that he is a highly talented batsmen since those days, last season his in the County Championship he scored a healthy 2211 runs at an average of 105.28 in to help Surrey to promotion. If any critics were citing the difference in standards between second and first divisions in the Championship and the value of runs in each, he has started this season with 676 runs at 135.2 in five matches.

By plundering county attacks to all corners of the country, is Ramprakash making one final claim for a Test berth? He has said recently that he is not thinking of playing for England and most who mention his name in selection discussions do so with a despairing air of hope rather than any real expectations. Not only that, with 6 of England’s batsmen providing 7 centuries in the first 6 days of Test cricket this season he would be relying on injuries to be able to force his way into the team.

Many have written off Ramprakash’s chances of a revival of a Test career as unimaginable given how late on his career is but has the new coach brought the Surrey batsman a new lifeline? A week ago none would have expected Ryan Sidebottom to be playing his second Test match at the moment. I must admit that even once he was admitted into the squad I was completely confident he would not gain a place ahead of James Anderson but Peter Moores and the selectors have shown that they have the courage of their convictions to go against the popular opinions and pick a left field candidate.

Mark Ramprakash is still one of the best batsmen in England and even though he had a relative failure at Test level, the fact that Kevin Pietersen overtook his Test run tally today shows a lot about the ability of England’s new hero and that he has the temperament to boot.

The aura surrounding English cricket these days may be a lot different compared to what Ramprakash was thrust into but he has still scored his runs through some difficult times, in some of the hardest places to play cricket: India with a squad vastly hampered by injury; Australia in a series where his team was floundering badly and Pakistan with the hopes of a nation still behind him and suffering with an Ashes hangover.

That he has coped with this and actually improved his game shows a lot of promise for the future of English cricket. That Mark Ramprakash has found a way to stay true to his game and not drift off the circuit like Chris Schofield did after being thrust into Test cricket too soon and being dumped after two wicketless Tests can give English supporters even more solace that there is enough batting in England to step up to the plate should it be needed.

When Kevin Pietersen pushed that Dwayne Bravo delivery to extra cover today to take his 2351st run in Test cricket he overtook one of English cricket’s greats who never managed to live up to his potential on the big stage and carried along on his own way on the path to greatness.


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?



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