The Reverse Sweep: Recapping Everything Cricket This Week

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This week we investigate if Australia’s shortcomings in India point towards an England Ashes win this winter. We also look at Sky Sport’s hilarious Ashes trailer featuring Ian Botham and Roman Gladiators (I kid you not), report on the ICC Awards, bring you up to date with our joint venture with World Cricket Watch to name the all-time Australian and England Ashes XIs and ponder on some gallows humour from Ricky Ponting.

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
Do Australia’s shortcomings point towards an England Ashes win this winter?

Frankly, the Reverse Sweep is not surprised to see that some sections of the English media are using Australia’s test series defeat in India as final proof that the Empire has fallen and that the English hordes led by Andrew Strauss are going to sweep all before them down under this winter.

Certainly, Australia have lost three tests in a row for the first time since 1988 and Ricky Ponting rightfully rued on the glaring chinks in the Australian armoury apparent in the Indian mini-series. These include the brittleness of his batsmen in the second innings, the failure of his seamers to match Zaheer Khan’s clever use of reverse swing and the lack of penetration offered by spinner Nathan Hauritz.

But are the English media right to crow? Or should they be more reflective given that a series defeat away to the number one ranked side in the world was hardly a shock? The Reverse Sweep investigates.

There for the taking?

There can be no doubt that the forthcoming series represents England’s best chance of winning a series down under since 1986/87. Strauss’ side is a settled, talented and confident unit and this is the weakest Australian side in an eon. On the last trip, Australia possessed at least five men  in Ponting, Hayden, Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist who would have walked into a World XI of the time. Now they would arguably have no representatives. But Australia will still be an extremely different proposition in front of home crowds with the Ashes at stake on their own faster and harder wickets. England will have to be on top of their game if they are to emerge victorious and will need their key players Strauss, Pietersen, Swann and Anderson to fire.

Prone to collapse

A few months ago we highlighted Australia’s increasingly frequent batting collapses (see article here). Since then they have been bowled out for 88 by Pakistan and now two second innings collapses in India have cost them the series. The opening partnership of Shane Watson and Simon Katich has done remarkably well, but get them out and the Australian middle order is vulnerable. Michael Clarke had a poor series in India and both Mike Hussey and Marcus North have obvious weaknesses that can be exploited. However, England suffered their own share of batting collapses against Pakistan and it could be that the side that papers over the cracks best will win the series.

Is Punter in an irreversible decline?

For a mere mortal batsman, three fifties in four innings in India should signal that you are in good form. But for Ricky Ponting his failure to convert even one of those into a hundred continues a worrying malaise for the man who is still Australia’s key batsman. Since scoring a hundred in Bangalore in October 2008,  Ponting has only converted three out of 18 test fifties into tons. For a man with a previously exemplary conversion rate that must be a concern. But if Australia’s key batsman is struggling to recapture former glories, what about his counterparts on the England side? In tests in 2010, Pietersen averages under 34 and Strauss under 32, so it would seem that Punter is not the only batsman who would seem to be in decline.

Short in the spin department

This is an area where England hold a huge advantage. Nathan Hauritz’s already dubious reputation took a further knock after his performances in India and it would seem that Ponting doesn’t entirely trust him. In contrast to the impotent Hauritz, England have Graeme Swann who has taken 65 wickets at 23.72 in 12 tests since last year’s Ashes. With this huge differential don’t expect to see a traditional Sydney or Adelaide turner though.

Wayward seamers

Ben Hilfenhaus and one Mitchell Johnson spell apart, the Australian seamers lacked penetration in Mohali and Bangalore and Johnson was extremely wayward on several occasions (no change there then). However, with Doug Bollinger, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris to come back into the equation, the Australians if anything seem to hold a slight advantage in this area – especially at home. Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Stephen Finn would seem well suited to Australian pitches but none have played test cricket there before, whilst there are questions as to whether James Anderson can be effective in conditions not traditionally conducive to swing bowling.

Conclusion

Whilst the English media are right to be confident and correct in their assessment that this is the worst Australian side for over 20 years, they are kidding themselves if they think that Ponting’s side is going to just roll over. They won’t and we at the Reverse Sweep sees two evenly balanced sides fighting out an extremely close and competitive series, which at this time is too hard to call. If we had to stick our neck out though, we would go for a 2-2 draw, which of course would see England retaining the Ashes.

Sachin’s Annus Mirabilis

Having recently won the ICC Cricketer of the Year – amazingly his first ICC award, Sachin Tendulkar seems to have decided that he is intent on retaining the crown in 2011. His quite brilliant 214 in Bangalore means that he has now scored over 300 test runs more than any other batsmen in 2010 – see full list here. In what may well become known as his Annus Mirabilis, Sachin has already scored 1270 test runs in 15 innings at a Bradmanesque 97.69 with six hundreds. With three home tests against a weak New Zealand side and two in South Africa to come before the end of the year, Mohammad Yousuf’s calendar year record of 1788 runs in 2006 is within Sachin’s sights. If he achieves this remarkable feat then it will cap off a year in which he has reached 14000 test runs, became only the third batsman in history to score 3000 test runs against Australia (see full list here) scored the first double hundred in ODI history and was the standout batsman in the IPL. A fairly routine year for your average batting genius.

Has India found Dravid’s successor?

We were surprised to see Cheteshwar Pujara promoted up the order to three on debut during India’s run chase in Bangalore. Having got a third ball shooter from Mitchell Johnson in the first innings, Pujara would doubtless have been even more nervous as he approached the crease for his second knock. The brave move by Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni certainly paid off though as Pujara hit a composed 72 to turn a potentially difficult target into a formality. Given Pujara has a first-class average of 60, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. Rahul Dravid’s successor looks to have been identified and Pujara’s emergence could hasten the retirement of the man known as The Wall.

Misbah the latest to take Pakistan’s poisoned captaincy chalice

Having not even been in the squad for the recent tour of England (probably a blessing given what went on), Misbah-ul-Haq is the latest Pakistan player to be handed the poisoned chalice of the captaincy for the upcoming series with South Africa in the United Arab Emirates. Given that Misbah is Pakistan’s sixth test captain in less than two years, the chances of him surviving even the rest of the year are debatable. He will need all the luck in the world to succeed.

Bangladesh on the rise?

We’re not sure if Bangladesh being 2-0 up in their home five match ODI series with New Zealand with two to play points at a marked improvement in their cricket or whether it highlights the decline of New Zealand. It’s probably a bit of both, but whatever the reasons it is heartening to see a Bangladesh side finally competing on an equal footing with one of cricket’s traditional powers – even without their best player Tamim Iqbal, who is injured. The odds on Bangladesh causing a few surprises on home soil in the World Cup are shortening by the day.

Quote of the week

‘How the hell can Hauritz bowl to this field?? Feeling for Hauritz, terrible!! What are these tactics? Sorry Ricky but what are you doing?’

Shane Warne vents his frustration on Twitter as Australia slide to defeat in Bangalore.

That’s all for this week folks.


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