The Reverse Sweep: The Week in Cricket

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In this week’s bumper edition of the Reverse Sweep – the week in cricket, we ask if England’s Ashes preparations are going too well, as well as looking at the main talking points from the Sri Lanka-West Indies, India-New Zealand and Pakistan-South Africa test series’, which are currently all in full swing.  

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.

England’s Ashes preparations – is it all going a bit too smoothly?

Normally at this point on an England Ashes tour the talk would be of injuries, embarrassing performances against State and representative sides, selection conundrums and the likely margin of defeat in the test series. Even on England’s last successful jaunt down under in 1986/87, Martin Johnson – then of The Independent, famously tagged them as the team that ‘can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field’ after some dismal performances in the warm-up matches.

This time things are completely different as Ian Bell showed today with his sublime hundred against Australia A at Hobart, which came just as England were experiencing a bit of a wobble. Just as important is there are no injuries to worry about – touch wood. Furthermore, England were impressive in victory against Western Australia in their first warm-up match, had the better of South Australia in their second and have looked impressive for the most part against Australia A after two days of their final warm-up match.

All of the top six, with the exception of Jonathan Trott, have reached fifty at least once and Andrew Strauss and Bell in particular look in fine fettle. The first choice bowling quartet have hit their straps to such an extent that Andy Flower decided to rest them from the Australia A match and send them to Brisbane early to acclimatise to the unique conditions of the Sunshine State. And the second string attack of Tremlett, Shahzad, Bresnan and Panesar showed on the opening day in Hobart that they are ready to step into the Test XI if and when required by shooting out Australia A for 230.

There are some mild concerns of course. Question marks still persist over Alastair Cook despite a hundred against South Australia and his 60 against Australia A – there is nothing wrong with his mental strength or concentration but the flaws in his technique that troubled him throughout the English summer are still evident. The other batting concern is Kevin Pietersen, who despite saying that he ‘feels on fire’ and delivering some cocksure cameos in the warm-up matches to date, still seems to be having inexplicable trouble when he comes up against innocuous left arm spinners. His dismissal today against O’Keefe was frankly shambolic – KP would doubtless take a gaggle of left arm spinners into Room 101 along with his captain when at Nottinghamshire Jason Gallian, Graeme Smith and Peter Moores.

But overall things couldn’t have gone better and the ECB’s wisdom of insisting on three first-class warm-up matches prior to the 1st Test could well pay handsome dividends come Brisbane. Certainly England will have no excuses for being undercooked this time. Strauss and Flower’s only probable additional wish would have been to play one of the warm-up matches in Brisbane – but Cricket Australia were never going to allow that.

All the problems seem to be Australia’s. They’ve lost their last three tests and have question marks over the form and fitness of a number of players. In the first category are Hussey, North and Johnson (despite his hundred for Western Australia in the current Shield match), whilst several players – Katich, Haddin, Bollinger and Siddle have only recently returned from injury lay offs and Michael Clarke’s back is causing some concern.

All this and the ridiculous posturing of Cricket Australia’s marketing department, may explain why the selectors announced an initial squad of 17 for the Brisbane test. But it would seem that the selectors are split on whether to introduce new blood in the shape of Khawaja and Ferguson (who both failed in the 1st innings at Hobart) or stick for now with the likes of Hussey and North who both fell cheaply again in the current round of Shield matches.

Indeed, none of Australia’s likely top seven for Brisbane have performed for their state sides over the last few days. With Clarke resting his aforementioned back, Watson made 6 and 15, Katich 1 and 36, Haddin 10 and 17, and Ponting 7 and 27 in the New South Wales – Tasmania match at the SCG.

As a result of all the uncertainty surrounding the home side, England have almost slipped under the radar. The usual venom of the Australian press has been directed at their own team and when added to everything else that has gone in their favour to date, England couldn’t have asked for better preparation for what promises to be a pulsating series.

Have things gone too smoothly? Maybe, but this England side has proved its resilience plenty of times in the last 18 months and they have the character and unity to batten down the hatches when the inevitable challenges come their way. That said, Flower will still be praying that his side avoid crossing the path of too many black cats before his side steps on to the Gabba next Thursday – as we’ve said before this series is likely to be too close to call and the team that has the better luck could well prevail.

Well done Chris, but is batting too easy nowadays?

Congratulations to Chris Gayle for hitting his second test score of 300+ against Sri Lanka this week. It certainly puts him in good company as only Bradman, Lara and Sehwag had hit two test triple hundreds before. The fact that three members of this exclusive club have achieved their feats in the last 20 years points to conditions being more conducive to batsmen today then at any time in cricket history. Indeed 13 of the 24 test triple hundreds made since the first ever test match in 1877 – see list here – have been made since 1990 and nine since 2000. Is it not now time for the ICC and cricket authorities worldwide to start levelling up the balance again between bat and ball?

Anyone can be a test match opener

Following in the footsteps of other average middle order batsmen like Tillakaratne Dilshan, Shane Watson and Simon Katich who made an immediate impression as test match openers comes Brendon McCullum. After shedding the gloves and moving up the order it has only taken McCullum two matches to hit a second innings double hundred in India. That it helped the Black Caps save the 2nd Test in Hyderabad with consummate ease made it all the more impressive. Expect that test match average to go past 40 in the not to distant future. It seems that opening the batting is currently the easiest gig around – although try telling that to Alastair Cook.

Can New Zealand spring a surprise series win against India’s powder-puff bowling attack?

Like many, the Reverse Sweep has been impressed with a resurgent New Zealand side in the series to date with India even if the pitches have been a bit of a graveyard for bowlers – notwithstanding Chris Martin’s inspired spell at Ahmedabad. For once skipper (Super)Dan Vettori has had help from the ranks with McIntosh, McCullum, Ryder, Williamson and the aforementioned Martin all making a positive contribution. But they have been helped by the impotency of the Indian bowling attack – Zaheer Khan aside. Sreesanth is a willing trier but lacks test class and the two spinners are not performing. Harbhajan has the pedigree but not the form having taken 31 wickets at 44.7 in his last nine Tests with more than 97 balls required for each of those wickets. Ojha’s stats are even worse with 28 wickets at 46.96 from eight games in 2010 at a woeful strike rate of 100.3. With Zaheer, who has taken a superhuman 41 test wickets – all on subcontinental wickets – at 22.92 this year, injured for the final test of the series at Nagpur, Vettori will be confident of securing a famous series victory in the final test, which starts on Saturday.

Lightning does strike twice…

Well it does if your name is Harbhajan Singh anyway. After waiting until his 122nd test and 203rd first-class innings to record his maiden hundred, he goes and hits his second career ton in the very next innings. The Turbanator now knows what it feels like to be a patient passenger standing at the bus stop waiting for a London Bus – you wait ages for one to come along and sure enough the second is right behind it. If it wasn’t for his bowling at the moment, you could almost call Harbhajan an all-rounder.

A penny for your thoughts Ijaz Butt?

After his ridiculous ban and then the subsequent delay in his return to the side once it had been lifted, the Reverse Sweep was not surprised to see Younis Khan score a match saving hundred in his first test back for Pakistan against South Africa this week. Losing one of your two world-class batsmen is careless, losing both as Ijaz Butt did when he imposed indefinite bans on Younis and Mohammad Yousuf is just plain unforgivable. In any other walk of life this buffoon will have been summarily dismissed for presiding over the utter mess that is Pakistan cricket. But at least Younis’ success will limit Butt’s public utterances for a while.

Quote of the week

Rahul Dravid has certainly been impressed by the belated birth of Harbhajan Singh the batsman…

“He’s batting beautifully, he is the new Garry Sobers”

We’re not quite sure about that, but all the same it’s been fun to watch.

That’s all for this week folks.

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