The Reverse Sweep: A Christmassy Week in Cricket

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This week we ask if England’s and India’s heavy defeats at the WACA and Centurion are a result of hubris or merely a blip. We also look at the rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson, predict who is now favourites for the Ashes and congratulate Sachin Tendulkar on yet another astonishing landmark.

The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on the sport that God would play, please visit our blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep – selected as one of the 50 best cricket web sites in the world by The Times. Alternatively, you can follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

Hubris, over-confidence or just a blip?

England and India both came down to earth with a bump last week. In Perth, all talk of securing the Ashes before Christmas and going unbeaten through the tour were cast aside as a rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson blasted Australia to victory. Whilst in Pretoria, India was blown away by South Africa by an innings as their grip on the crown of the number one ranked test side started to look precarious.

But could hubris or over-confidence be blamed for these defeats? Or was it simply a blip that one or both England and India will bounce back from to win their respective series.

With India, all signs point to hubris. Here they were playing the second ranked side away from home – in a country where they have never won a series – and they pitch up just a few days before for their first test away from the subcontinent in over 18 months.

They certainly got the worse of the conditions at Centurion having to bat first in bowler friendly conditions. But yet again it was clear that some of their batsmen – Gambhir and Raina in particular – have significant technical deficiencies against the short ball. Maybe those could have been ironed out with a couple of warm-up matches, but thanks to some crazy scheduling, a lack of planning and perhaps even a touch of arrogance on behalf of the BCCI that wasn’t possible.

England, on the other hand, was not lacking in preparation – they even played a warm-up match at the WACA – but suggestions that they struggle on pitches where there is pace and bounce were proved to be accurate at the WACA. In Johnson, they also faced a man who produced a fantastic spell of bowling that completely turned around the direction of the match. At 78/0, England looked in complete control, but once Johnson had taken four wickets for seven in just 27 balls and Ryan Harris had accounted for Andrew Strauss, England were always chasing the game.

We may be proved wrong, but at the Reverse Sweep we believe that England’s defeat is a blip and that once they get to Melbourne and Sydney on pitches that will suit them better, they will re-exert control and retain the Ashes.

For India though, we believe that the outcome will be different. First Zaheer Khan apart, India’s bowling is poor and certainly a long way behind their hosts who can boast the best pair of new ball bowlers in the world in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Secondly, South Africa has in the likes of Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers, batsmen that can be spoken of in the same breath as the imperious Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid and Laxman. When you factor in that South Africa are playing at home, it will be a huge surprise if the Proteas haven’t prevailed come the end of the series.

One thing’s for sure – two excellent Boxing Day tests await cricket lovers in both Melbourne and Durban.

Is Johnson the new Beefy?

The turnaround in Mitchell Johnson’s fortunes from Brisbane to Perth was quite astounding and reminded us of a certain Ian Botham in the infamous Ashes series of 1981. With Australia having won the 1st test at Trent Bridge, Botham was relieved of the captaincy after bagging a pair at Lord’s. The next test was at Headingley, and we all know what happened then. Of course, the notoriously inconsistent Johnson could have a stinker at Melbourne, but if he repeats his feats of Perth in the final two tests of the series, then the 2011 series could become known as Johnson’s Ashes just as 1981 will forever be known as Botham’s Ashes.

England still favourites

Johnson’s exploits aside, England should still be confident of winning the one match they need to retain the Ashes. Australia’s problems haven’t suddenly been cured overnight and their reliance on five men – Hussey, Watson and Haddin with the bat, and Johnson and Harris with the ball – must be a concern to the Australian hierarchy. As Andrew Strauss said in the aftermath of the WACA defeat, now is not a time for panic and wholesale changes. Ian Bell should be shifted up the order to five, with Collingwood dropping to six. England may also consider replacing Steve Finn – who if he gets any more expensive could find himself sponsored by Prada – with Ajmal Shahzad or Tim Bresnan. But other than that, England should stick to their plans and remain confident.

Sachin reaches 50

India may have been well and truly spanked at Centurion, but that didn’t stop Sachin Tendulkar from recording his 50th Test match hundred. That is a phenomenal achievement and one that may never be equaled. Whilst we sit firmly in the Bradman camp with regards to the tedious who is the greatest debate between Sachin and the Don, that doesn’t diminish our admiration for a man who not only has a remarkable talent, but who doesn’t even have a hint of arrogance. How many hundreds will he score, before he finally leaves the crease for the last time? The mind boggles.

Dear Santa

As Christmas is nearly upon us, we thought it may be fun to speculate what could be on the ‘Dear Santa’ lists of Ashes captains Ricky Ponting and Andrew Strauss. Ponting’s five main wishes are likely to be i) runs for himself, ii) a fresh supply of kryptonite for Michael Hussey, iii) a Beer-free XI for Boxing Day, iv) that WACA Mitch and not Gabba Johnson turns up in Melbourne, and; v) a green wicket. Strauss on the other hand is likely to ask for i) a masseur to get Jimmy fit for Melbourne, ii) Mitchell loses his swing, iii) a dry wicket for Swanny, iv) an incident free first-over when he bats, and v)The Ashes urn to be presented in Melbourne.

Quote of the week

“Take a bit of beer and manure and rub it on your forehead”

Jacques Kallis explains the secret of his sudden rapid hair growth. It certainly paid immediate dividends as finally after 241 test innings, he finally hit his maiden test double hundred.

That’s all for this week folks – Happy Christmas.

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