Saturday, April 05, 2008

Nobt Waving - but Sinking

Harmison sinks his way to the back of the queue!

The travelling chorus of cricket troubadours has arrived triumphantly from New Zealand. After losing the first test, they managed to comprehensively demolish a very mediocre Kiwi side and restore some much-needed confidence. Whether or not this is a false dawn is more problematical.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the series concerned the batsmen who found runs difficult to come by.

Commentators Bob Willis and Michael Atherton were banging on throughout the whole series about how bowlers seem to get the chop after a few poor performances, whereas the batsmen just keep going on and on – seeking to find their form – without any activity from the selectors. At various times, the commentators were almost apoplectic in their rage at the selectors.

Bob and Michael were probably being a bit over-simplistic. Much was made about the lack of centuries. Statistics “prove” a poor runs per over rate from England batsmen since the Ashes series. As a unit, the batsmen have definitely under-performed.

Problem is: there are no batsmen charging to the front of the selection queue, nor will there be until the English season gets under way. It is more than slightly unrealistic for Willis and Atherton to call for changes when there are no batsmen in the tour party surging for selection. They know this. Perhaps they were just filling in the time for the benefit of Sky TV?

Here are the facts – as I see them.

Michael Vaughan is out of touch, but he’s the captain and will not be replaced because of a dip. He will be given lots of opportunity to play himself into form this summer before anyone seriously challenges his place in the side.

His opening partner, Alistair Cook, has an exceptional record for a young test opener. Those who question his attacking skills are just being silly. Even though the commentators bemoan the lack of Test centuries, he is one batsman who is likely to grind out a big score in difficult circumstances.

Andrew Strauss is not a number three. If he’s not opening the innings it’s difficult to find a spot for him if Vaughan and Cook hold any sort of form. What England need is a solid batsman at three for the times when an opening partnership doesn’t come off, but one who can attack when the situation presents itself. Strauss is probably not the man for this job. Petersen should bat at three. (see below)

Ian Bell is a lucky batsman. That’s not a bad thing to be, but in his case his luck will probably run out some day soon. Every time he hits a run of low scores and is just about to be axed – he finds a big one. One thing is for sure – he’s not a test number 4.

Kevin Petersen is over-rated. Bowlers have worked out his limited game and he is struggling. He seems indispensable because he is capable of the Holy Grail – a big score and in quick time. Unfortunately, his average is plummeting as the going gets more difficult. He had one good score on tour against a very weak attack. He ought to stop reading his press clippings before he starts believing explicitly in them.

Paul Collingwood is perhaps the one batsman who can take some credit from the series. He consistently got runs and at a reasonable pace. He even did a bit of bowling. He seems at least to understand his role in the side and plays to his strengths. He’s probably the best we’ve got right now to bat at 5 or 6.

Tim Ambrose looks a promising bat and a reasonable keeper. Therefore, he plays. Mind you, this time last year we also had a promising bat and a reasonable keeper. We seem to have a lot of promising bats with reasonable keeping skills. What we don’t have is an Alec Stewart. It’s unlikely we’re going to find one.

Stuart Broad should now be a “must play” player. He can bowl and will get better. He can bat. He may be a genuine all-rounder. When Andrew Flintoff returns, England could have two class all-rounders in the side and bat right down to number 8.

Ryan Sidebottom is having the best time of what will be a short career – but only because he is the wrong side of thirty. In England this summer he should take a packet of wickets and have the NZ openers having nightmares.

After years of injury worries, Jimmy Anderson looks set to cement his place. Waiting in the wings should he stumble are Hoggard and Harmison. Both should be smarting from being discarded in NZ. The press had a field day when it was revealed how much they were getting paid to under perform. I expect to see Hoggard fighting tooth and nail to get back. Harmison should be discarded – he simply brings too much baggage and his salary should go to a younger bowler.

Monty Panesar is a bowler and a number 11. He cannot do anything else. He must play every test match regardless of the perceived conditions. He must not be allowed to bat or field if possible. How about a strategic spell of intestinal diseases when England are in the field – recovering when he needs to bowl?

Much has been said about beating a mediocre NZ team but I'm more positive. If Flintoff is 100% he can work his way back into the side without much pressure. The Ashes can be won in 09.

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