The Reverse Sweep

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This week as England’s summer of cricket starts with the 1st test against Bangladesh at Lord’s we ask who is likely to make the long plane trip for the Ashes in November. We also look at Shahid Afridi’s appointment as Pakistan captain, report on another prize for Graeme Swann, praise Hashim Amla and round-up the latest county cricket action.

The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on this wonderful game of ours please visit my blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep – recently chosen as one of the 50 best cricket web sites in the world by The Times. Alternatively, you can read my twice-weekly column on CricDude, or follow me on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

Which England players are already on the plane to Australia?

Buoyant new World T20 champions England return to test cricket this week at Lord’s with what should be a straightforward two test series against Bangladesh. Pakistan should provide stronger opposition when they tour later in the summer, but given that the only thing in cricket more unpredictable than the Pakistan cricket team is its new skipper Shahid Afridi, anything could happen and probably will.

These two series of course are merely the hors d’oeuvre to the succulent main course that lies ahead in Australia in November. England haven’t won a series Down Under since 1987 and retaining the Ashes in front of a baying Australian public represents the ultimate challenge for Andrew Strauss and his team.

So which England players are already on the plane, who is at the departure gate and which players are either waiting on their visa application or planning a winter at home?

Already on the plane

In our view and subject to injury or serious loss of form, only six players can safely assume that they will be on the plane come October. These are captain Andrew Strauss, star batsman Kevin Pietersen, the dogged Paul Collingwood, wicket keeper Matt Prior, talisman Graeme Swann and the fiery fast bowler Stuart Broad. Despite being rested for the Bangladesh series, Collingwood can rest assured that Strauss and coach Andy Flower will want his doughty fighting skills in the trenches for the intense battles ahead. Prior too despite the serious challenge of Craig Kieswetter, will go as one of two wicket keepers.

At the departure gate

Several other players are at the departure gate, with only small doubts remaining as to whether they will board the plane. Alastair Cook’s poor record against Australia and the technical flaws they fed upon last summer are unlikely to see his passport rejected. He looked in better shape over the winter, is earmarked as Strauss’ successor and there is a paucity of challengers for the opening spots. Ian Bell is also likely to get a chance to improve on his own poor record against England’s deadliest foe and have another opportunity to score that elusive first century against Australia. Kieswetter will go as the second keeper and may yet usurp Prior for a place in the XI. James Anderson will only need to prove that he has fully recovered from his knee injury to get the requisite stamp in his passport, whilst Tim Bresnan will just need to continue his form of the past four months to follow Anderson onto the plane.

Applying for a visa

A whole host of players are off to Australia House to apply for their visas. On the batting front Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan will be more hopeful than Ravi Bopara and Michael Carberry that their applications will be successful. If Morgan can take to tests like he has to one day and Twenty 20 international cricket, he will definitely go. And if Trott proves that his debut at the Oval wasn’t a case of beginners luck, he will go as the seventh batsman and challenge Morgan for a place in the starting XI. In the fast bowling stakes, Steve Finn, Graham Onions and one of Steve Harmison, Ryan Sidebottom and Ajmal Shahzad will leave Australia House with a smile on their face if they can have successful summers and in the case of Onions, overcome injury problems. The second spinners slot could come down to a straight battle between Monty Panesar and James Tredwell.

Spending Christmas at home

Assuming all goes to plan, Bopara, Carberry, Sidebottom and one of Shahzad and Harmison will be spending Christmas with their families. New England bowling coach David Saker was talking up Harmison’s chances the other day, so he may well get the last seat on the plane next to Panesar, who will surely get the nod over Tredwell and Adil Rashid. Luke Wright too may have to settle for a ticket that only covers the Twenty 20 and one day international parts of the tour.

Afridi as captain should mean a memorable summer

As soon as Shahid Afridi announced his return to test cricket, it was inevitable that he would then be announced as Pakistan’s captain for the upcoming Asia Cup and tour of England. Afridi has already wielded some influence with the normally intransigent PCB and got them to agree that Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik will be available for selection should their upcoming appeals prove successful. He has also managed to get Shoaib Akhtar back into the fold, which is great news for cricket bloggers and potentially Pakistan if the Rawalpindi Express can get himself into tip-top condition. It could all end in disaster of course, but having the excitable Afridi as captain could be just what the Pakistan cricket team needs. It will be fascinating to watch, whatever happens.

Talisman Swann wins another deserved award

It’s been quite a few days for Graeme Swann. First his brilliant spell of off-spin bowling helped propel England to World T20 final success against Australia. Now he has been named as the ECB Cricketer of the Year, which is fully deserved given his stunningly successful second stab at international cricket. In his prime, Andrew Flintoff was England’s talisman. That accolade now belongs to Swann. Not only does he take wickets in the first or second over of each spell as a matter of course, but his late order hitting and natural ebullience in the field set the tone for the rest of the team. Shane Warne recently described Swann as the best spinner in the world across all formats, and he is right on this occasion.

Is Hashim Amla the world’s best batsman?

We tuned into the first ODI between South Africa and West Indies at the weekend and were treated to a sumptuous innings from Hashim Amla. Fresh from a spell with Nottinghamshire in county cricket, Amla moved serenely to a century and then followed that up with 92 in the second ODI. As we wrote following his exploits against India earlier this year, we are big fans of Amla here at the Reverse Sweep, and his form in 2010 marks him arguably the best batsman in the world at the moment. In test cricket he has now scored 678 runs already in 2010 at an average of 168.5. In ODIs he averages 78.75 in four matches and for Notts he scored at least 50 in five of his six innings to end up with an average of 75.40. Eat your heart out Don Bradman.

Mark Ramprakash and Chateau Lafitte

Like a fine bottle of Chateau Lafitte, Mark Ramprakash just gets better and better with age. At the age of 40 he is still scoring hundreds in county cricket with consummate ease and last week served his revenge cold to former county Middlesex with a double hundred and hundred in their Division 2 match. Ramprakash is undoubtedly the most talented England batsman since the days of Peter May and Ted Dexter, and it is a crying shame that his international career was such a damp squib. Interestingly since he joined Surrey in 2001, which coincidentally was just before he played his last test, Ramprakash averages 75.76 in the county championship with 58 hundreds from 131 matches. Maybe he was put out to graze a trifle too early? We will never know.

Au revoir to Robin Martin-Jenkins

As Sussex supporters we were sad to hear that staunch stalwart Robin Martin-Jenkins is retiring to take up a new career as a teacher. He has been a loyal servant of Sussex cricket for 15 years now and was an important cog in the team that won so many trophies over the last few seasons. We wish him well.

Shoaib Akhtar and Frank Sinatra

On hearing the news that Shoaib Akhtar is set to make another comeback to the Pakistan side, we surmised that Shoaib has now made more comebacks than Sinatra. And like Frank, Shoaib is definitely one for a song as this link shows. Don’t call us Shoaib, we’ll call you, but perhaps a duet with Graeme Swann isn’t out of the question?

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