The Reverse Sweep: Recapping the Week in Cricket

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This week we pick a composite XI from the England and Australia XIs that are likely to line-up at The Gabba on 25th November. We also report on how England plan to get over the fact that none of their warm-up matches are in Brisbane, laugh at Shane Warne’s Ashes nightmare, look at the latest episode in the crazy world of Pakistan cricket and apologise to New Zealand..

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.
Composite Ashes XI suggests series is too close to call

Whilst this is undoubtedly England’s best chance of winning a series down under for nearly a quarter of a century, when all things are considered the forthcoming series is just too close to call with England’s advantages in terms of being the more settled, better led and resilient side being negated by the fact that Australia are extremely difficult to beat in their own backyard. But what happens if you pick a composite XI between the two? Does that make things clearer? Let’s see.

Strauss vs Katich

Two doughty and reliable left handers who invariably give their respective sides a solid base at the start of the innings. Strauss has had a poor 2010 in Tests after being the difference between the sides in the 2009 Ashes, whilst Katich looks tired and seems unable now to convert fifties into hundreds – plus he is also struggling with injury. The England captain wins this one for us. Verdict: Strauss

Cook vs Watson

No contest here. Despite being a pantomime villain figure, Watson has been a revelation opening the batting, scores quickly and provides the odd wicket or two. Cook on the other hand is struggling with his technique, has a dismal record against Australia and is yet to impress in the warm-up matches. Verdict: Watson

Trott vs Ponting This is closer than you would think when you take into account that Trott has scored 880 test runs at 55 in 2010 whilst Ponting has only converted three out of his last 18 test fifties into hundreds. But England will underestimate the Australian skipper at their peril especially as a series defeat could signal the end of his reign as captain – and he won’t want that on his CV. Verdict: Ponting (just)

Pietersen vs Hussey

Two out of form batters. Hussey only averages 34 in his last 28 tests and looks shot as a test match batsman whilst KP hasn’t scored a test hundred since March 2009 – 16 matches ago. But Pietersen seems to have recovered his old swagger and confidence in the warm-up games and the introspective character of the English summer seems to have gone. We are predicting a big series for KP whilst Hussey will do well to survive the selectors chop to make it through to Sydney. Verdict: Pietersen

Bell vs Clarke

Two immensely talented batsmen who are both good to watch when they get going. There may be question marks about Clarke’s suitability as Ponting’s successor as captain, but other than a disappointing recent tour of India there can be no doubts as to his quality as a test batsman. Despite a poor record against Australia, Bell seems a much tougher character now and looks set for a good series. Verdict: Clarke

Collingwood vs North

You wouldn’t pay to watch either of these two bat and perhaps as a result there are continual question marks over their positions in their respective sides. Colly has renowned mental toughness and averages 47 in tests outside England and we take him over the inconsistent North, whose test career may not have long left to run. Verdict: Collingwood

Prior vs Haddin

Both are better with the bat than the gloves and both have the ability to score quick runs. Six months ago we’d probably have plumped for Haddin, but whilst the Australian has been nursing an injury, Prior’s stature grew this summer with sound performances behind the stumps and runs at crucial times in the series with Pakistan. Verdict: Prior

Broad vs Johnson

Johnson’s waywardness makes even Steve Harmison look metronomic by comparison, but he does tend to do better on home pitches. Broad though is full of confidence and could be set to emulate his father by playing a decisive role for an England team winning the Ashes down under. Verdict: Broad

Swann vs Hauritz

Vintage wine versus plonk, Cheryl Cole versus Ann Widdecombe and Swann versus Hauritz. No contest each time. Verdict: Swann (by a country mile)

Anderson vs Hilfenhaus

The leaders of their respective bowling attacks and both have a knack for getting the ball to swing. Doubts remain as to whether Anderson can perform with the kookaburra in Australia, whilst we have an inkling that Hilfenhaus could emerge as the leading wicket taker in the series. Verdict: Hilfenhaus

Finn vs Bollinger

We think England may be missing a trick by selecting the inexperienced Finn over Tremlett and certainly in a run-off with Bollinger, the Middlesex man comes off second. Strauss seems to have a problem with left arm quicks and Bollinger will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Aamer. Verdict: Bollinger

So, it’s 6-5 to England, which just reinforces our belief that this is set to be the closest Ashes series down under since Mike Gatting’s side prevailed 2-1 in the 1986-87 series.   

Hobart offers Tremlett a chance to gatecrash the party

The only holes we can see in England’s schedule prior to the 1st Test is the fact that none of the warm-up matches are taking place in Brisbane – no doubt this is because Cricket Australia chose not to allow the tourists the opportunity to acclimatise to the unique conditions offered by the Gabba rather than it being an oversight by the ECB. As such England are considering playing a second string bowling attack in their last warm-up match with Australia A in Hobart and send Messrs Anderson, Broad, Finn and Swann to Brisbane as an advance party so they can get used to the conditions before the real action starts on November 25th. This is probably a sensible plan and it also offers Chris Tremlett a chance to impress in Hobart and stake a belated claim to gatecrash the test side in time for the Gabba. By all accounts he has been pretty impressive in the nets, so who knows.  

See Shane Warne’s Ashes nightmare

For those that haven’t seen it yet – which we guess is most of you not based in the UK – we’d definitely recommend you check out Sky Sports’ latest attempt at advertising their Ashes coverage. It features Shane Warne having a nightmare and includes David Lloyd surfing. It’s hilarious – see for yourselves by playing the video below.

The crazy world of Pakistan cricket…

…took another twist this week with the disappearance of Zulqarnain Haider from the Pakistan team hotel in Dubai and his resurfacing in London amidst claims of match fixing and death threats. If Haider is to be believed the extent of the corruption surrounding the Pakistan side would seem to be even worse than previously appeared. Haider also said that as captain of the Lahore Eagles he was asked to select certain players for specific domestic matches. This has led to renewed speculation about a game involving Haider’s side and a National Bank of Pakistan side (see scorecard) featuring none other than Salman Butt during the Royal Bank of Scotland Cup in 2008-09. NBP needed to win and drastically improve their net run rate to qualify for the semi-finals. Haider was relieved of the captaincy before the match despite having been captain for the rest of the tournament, and his side batting first made just 122 in 40.3 overs. Now here is where the plot thickens. Lahore opened the bowling with a debutant named Usman Sarwar, who conceded an amazing 78 runs in just three overs and who hasn’t played another List A game since. This enabled NBP to chase down their total in only 6.1 overs with Butt scoring 92 not out off just 25 balls – even Virender Sehwag has never got near that strike rate. You don’t need to know anything about cricket to sense that something smells a bit fishy here. That is unless you are the PCB, who despite media reports to the contrary said it had found nothing untoward about the match. Why does that not surprise us.   

Apologies to New Zealand for ever doubting you

Last week in this column we suggested that the test series between India and New Zealand was likely to be horribly one-sided. When India reached 297/1 in their first innings it looked like our worst fears were about to be confirmed. But happily New Zealand rallied. First, with hundreds by Jesse Ryder and debutant Kane Williamson and then with an inspired spell of bowling from Chris Martin, which reduced India to 15/5 at one point in their second innings. Injuries to two of their bowlers and another inspired batting performance from the imperious VVS Laxman – this time in partnership with Harbhajan – saw the Black Caps fail to secure a shock win, but they certainly gained back the respect they lost in the recent shambolic 4-0 ODI series reverse in Bangladesh. And as we write they have made a good start to the second test in Hyderabad too.  

Quote(s) of the week

Not one but two this week as the build-up to the Ashes intensifies.   First, Shane Warne came up with a novel way of explaining the importance of Graeme Swann to England’s chances…

“He’s going to walk around like David Hasselhoff, and love being the man with the ball, but if England are going to win they need him to take 25 wickets plus”

To which Swann responded…

“I’d much rather fly Airwolf than be the Knightrider

That’s all for this week folks.

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