This column returns today after a month’s sabbatical due to the recent birth of our daughter. We’ve picked a good week to come back as there are a whole host of talking points in the world of cricket these last seven days. We start with a health check on the England one day side following their 3-2 Nat West triumph over Australia. Then we preview the Pakistan-Australia test series as well as looking at some of the other stories that made the headlines this week like John Howard’s rejection, Murali’s retirement and a small tournament currently taking place in South Africa.
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 – recently chosen as one of the 50 best cricket web sites in the world by The Times. Alternatively, you can read our regular column on CricDude, or follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.
How healthy are England’s one day side as the World Cup approaches?
5-0 would have been quite a statement, but given England won the first three matches and Australia had an under strength bowling line-up, 3-2 to England probably left honours even. That said it is quite a turnaround for England having lost 6-1 to the same opposition less than a year earlier. Following on from the improved display in the Champions Trophy and series wins in South Africa and Bangladesh, England have made a Lazarus like recovery in the 50 over format.
But, just how healthy is the England line-up ahead of the big one – the World Cup next spring on the subcontinent? Dr Reverse Sweep casts our eye over the team below and provides the possible remedies where necessary.
Andrew Strauss quashed the murmurs before the series that he wasn’t worth his place, but there is still a slight question mark whether his favourite run-getting areas will allow him to flourish in a World Cup on subcontinent pitches. But he will be there and will probably open with Craig Kieswetter, who had the inevitable fall after such a meteoric start to his international career. Surrey keeper Steven Davies and young Alex Hales of Nottinghamshire (an opener in the Marcus Trescothick mould) are perhaps the unlikely alternatives here. Verdict: healthy, but caution is required.
The middle order
Kevin Pietersen’s position as the star of the side has now been usurped by the quite remarkable Eoin Morgan. The Irishman’s hundred at the Rose Bowl was one of the best ever scored for England in the one day game, and he should do well on the slow pitches of the subcontinent. Pietersen had a poor series and is maybe suffering a hangover from starring in the World T20 and becoming a new father. But as he normally does, England fans can be confident Pietersen will raise his game for the big occasion. Sandwiched between them in the batting order is the irrepressible Paul Collingwood, who just seems to get better and better. This is a middle order that rivals the best in the one day game worldwide. Verdict: in a rude state of health.
The number six spot
This is the main worry in the side as Luke Wright is probably a place too high at number six and arguably is not worth his place in the side with bat or ball. If Kieswetter opens, then there is merit for having a specialist batsman at number six in the order especially as Collingwood and Pietersen can provide sixth bowler duties if necessary. We’d also argue that England can not accommodate Wright and Tim Bresnan in the same side with the latter’s batting impressing far more than what is supposed to be his strongest suit with the ball. The candidates here are Ian Bell (back in the side for the Bangladesh series), Matt Prior (who could take the gloves, and who is impressing for Sussex in the domestic Twenty 20), Ben Stokes (probably too young) and our choice Ravi Bopara. Bopara is a good batsman who can rebuild or embellish an innings in one day cricket and his bowling adds another reason for his return. Verdict: in need of some medicine from Bopara
Graeme Swann’s remarkable success story continued in the Nat West series and he will be the key man if England are to repeat their success of the Caribbean in the World Cup. Mike Yardy did a good job in the World T20 and was England’s most economical bowler in the Nat West series. His left hand style complements Swann and as an opener in domestic cricket, adds batting capability to his list of attributes. The only doubt concerns his lack of wickets. James Tredwell has come into the squad for the Bangladesh series in place of the rested Swann, but surely Adil Rashid is the next best option to the two incumbents. Verdict: in excellent health, but Rashid should be held in reserve in the First Aid box
Stuart Broad returned from his strength conditioning in fine fettle and was England’s leading wicket taker in the series, whilst putting a marker down against Ricky Ponting in particular ahead of the Ashes. James Anderson was his usual hot and cold self – brilliant at Old Trafford but woeful at Lord’s. Tim Bresnan only took one wicket for 255 in the series and one wonders whether he will be even more ineffective on the subcontinent. A more potent opening bowler is required as early wickets are crucial in one day cricket. Steve Finn should probably be kept just for test cricket at the moment, which means that Ryan Sidebottom, who would probably survive a nuclear explosion such is his ability to stay in the mix, comes back into the equation. Ajmal Shahzad is also worth a look. Verdict: Mixed. Broad looks in good health, but maybe Anderson could also do with some extra vitamins and strength conditioning? A new opening bowler is urgently required otherwise England could quickly get sickly on the subcontinent.
Things are looking pretty healthy with eight or nine spots looking nailed down. A new number six is required with either Wright or Bresnan (or both) dropping out. And a more potent opening bowler should also come into the mix. As it stands, England must be amongst the favourites and who thought we’d have been saying that just ten months ago?
Afridi and Pakistan impress
Pakistan were hugely impressive in the two Twenty 20 victories over Australia this week. Many pundits thought Shahid Afridi was a risky choice as skipper (and they may well turn out to be right in the end), but so far the team is really playing for their new captain and the spirit seems to be very good. The two tests though are likely to be a very different matter. It is all very well holding it together for a 40 over match, but five days against a confident, mentally strong and well drilled Australia is likely to prove a much more difficult challenge. When you factor in that Pakistan haven’t beaten Australia in a test since 1995 and have lost the last 12 dating back to Adam Gilchrist’s test debut in 1999, Afridi and his side are going to have to perform a minor miracle. At least they can go in with a modicum of momentum though gained from these Twenty 20 wins and they will have fanatical support to act as a 12th man.
Murali calls it a day
Muttiah Muralitharan, the greatest wicket taker in test history, this week announced that he will retire from test cricket after the 1st test against India in Galle. We will not go into the debate about whether his action falls within the laws of the game, other than to say it was an action that was truly unique. Despite the furore though, Murali always played with a smile on his face, which certainly made us warm to him even if he was a constant thorn in England’s side. Unquestionably, he is one of the greatest bowlers ever irrespective of the controversy over his action and has snared 792 victims in his test career to date. So it will be fascinating to see if he can reach 800 in his final test – a figure that will perhaps never be beaten. But the writing has been on the wall for a while (witness his hounding at the hands of the Indian batsman in the test series at the end of 2009), and unlike his friend and team mate Sanath Jayasuriya, Murali has decided to bow out whilst still at (or rather near) the top. He has made himself available for the 2011 World Cup, so there may be one final magical chapter yet to write in his career. Thanks for the memories Murali.
ICC tells John Howard where to go
So after all the debate, the ICC has finally formally rejected the candidature of the former Australian Prime Minister to be its President from 2012, the time that Australia and New Zealand’s rolling two years at the helm of the ICC starts. Whatever your opinion on Mr Howard (and ours is pretty low), this is an unprecedented action as ratification of a nominated candidate for the Presidency is normally a formality. It seems that initial complaints by Zimbabwe (Mr Howard wasn’t exactly complimentary about Robert Mugabe when he was Prime Minister) has spiralled so that all countries minus Australia, New Zealand and England stated their opposition to his appointment. We doubt that we have heard the last of this one, although maybe Australia could nominate Dame Edna Everage instead?
Twenty 20 crowds in England are down…
And the counties are worried. They only have themselves to blame in our opinion given that this year’s competition is so overinflated with a bewildering 151 matches and has been timed to coincide with this year’s football World Cup (not that England stayed in it for long). Unsurprisingly, more has proved less and the fans have voted with their feet by staying away from an overbloated competition with. The ECB and the counties only need to look at their Indian cousins to see what might have been if self-interest and greed hadn’t been put first. It may not be too late though as we hear Lalit Modi is looking for a new job…
Cricket and the football World Cup
Being a cricket blogger and a football fan (albeit one that is a bit out of love with what was the ‘People’s Game’), we have been following the World Cup and writing about a number of similarities to cricket. For example, we noticed that a number of top footballers have doppelgangers in cricket – Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin Pietersen for one. Both are top players, but divide opinion, are a little bit too much in love with themselves, and are maybe even a bit fey. Check out our World Cup stories on our blog. Of all the quotes about England’s premature exit from the tournament (at the hands of Germany of all sides), we think Graeme Swann summed it up best. Referring to the longstanding tag attached to Fabio Capello’s men, Swann said of the England cricket team that:
“It would be nice to think that we are the golden generation rather than the footballers”.
That seems like a good place to leave it, so that’s all for this week folks.
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