The Reverse Sweep – What’s Hot in Cricket Right Now?

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This week we preview the England-Pakistan test series, which starts on Thursday at Trent Bridge. We also try not to laugh at the problems facing Australia, espouse the recently concluded MCC Spirit of Cricket series, bemoan the batting paradise that is the Colombo SSC and ask what has happened to the pool of supposedly talented Indian fast bowlers. Finally, we revisit one of our most talked about posts after it was featured in World Cricket Watch’s latest One Hand, One Bounce podcast (which, we highly recommend you give a listen).

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 read our regular column on CricDude, or follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

England must be wary of Pakistan’s pace threat

Up until a few weeks ago, most observers would have predicted that England should have no problem in defeating Pakistan in the four test series that starts this week at Trent Bridge. Whilst the England bowlers will be relishing the opportunity to bombard what is an inexperienced and brittle Pakistani batting line-up, their batsmen will be wary of the triple threat of the Mohammads Asif and Aamer, as well as that excellent exponent of reverse swing Umar Gul.

Pakistan will be energised and confident having finally beaten Australia in a test match for the first time since 1995. Salman Butt was mostly impressive in his bow as captain and for the first time in ages, Pakistan look to have good team unity and a positive intent.

South African supporters may disagree, but Butt arguably has the best pace attack currently operating in test cricket at his disposal, especially as each offers something different. Asif provides unerring accuracy and like Glenn McGrath has an ability to put ball after ball into the batsman’s corridor of uncertainty, whilst Gul has a lethal yorker and will be hoping for hot and dry conditions to get his reverse swing going.

Potentially the best of the lot is left-armer Aamer; especially if he really is only 18. He already has an excellent cricket brain in the way that he varies his lines of attack and has developed an uncanny ability for getting top batsmen out – Aamer has now got Ponting out four times in five tests. No wonder Wasim Akram has conceded that Aamer is even better than he was at the same age.

As such, England unexpectedly have a tougher examination of their credentials before the eagerly awaited Ashes series. Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower will likely see this as a good thing (as long as they win!) because the series should enable them to complete the final pieces of their Ashes jigsaw.

Jonathan Trott has done all that has been asked of him in the number three role, although some doubts still exist whether he is the best option in this pivotal position. If Trott can emerge from this series unscathed against Pakistan’s pace trio then he can expect to be first drop at the Gabba to face the misfiring Australian seam attack.

Ian Bell’s injury gives Eoin Morgan another chance to nail down the number six position. The Irishman will have to an excellent series to beat Bell to a slot in the Ashes XI, but if he can replicate the impact he has made in the Twenty 20 and one day teams, he may well just do that. Ravi Bopara is waiting in the wings, should Morgan fail to adapt to the different challenges of test cricket.

With Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad certain starters for Brisbane barring injury that leaves two bowling spots up for grabs given that England seem set on six batsmen plus Matt Prior. The men in possession are James Anderson and rookie paceman Steve Finn. Anderson seems to have lost the ability to take wickets with the new ball, so the supposed leader of England’s attack needs to regain form fast especially as his record against the Aussies is actually poor. One can’t help but feel that Ajmal Shahzad may be a better bet on Australian pitches.

Finn had a wonderful series against Bangladesh and given that Pakistan’s batting line-up isn’t much stronger thanks to the absence of experienced duo Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, the young Middlesex bowler could well cement his place in the Brisbane XI over the next few weeks.

So having had a look into the crystal ball, we at the Reverse Sweep believe that Pakistan may well win one test but that England will emerge as 2-1 series victors. Let battle commence.

Don’t laugh too much, but…

For the first time since 1977, an Australian touring side left English shores empty handed having lost the Nat West Series to England 3-2, been beaten 2-0 in the Twenty 20 series against Pakistan and with defeat at Headingley, only drawn the test series with the latter 1-1. As we outlined on our own blog last week, the problems facing the declining Australians are stark with only a short two test series in India to go before the first Ashes test in Brisbane. Groundhog Day batting collapses, impotent new ball bowlers and question marks over a number of players due to injury and form are just some of the problems facing Ricky Ponting and Tim Neilsen. Whisper it quietly, but England have a real chance of winning an Ashes series in Australia for the first time since 1987.

Dear MCC, Please can we have more neutral test series’ please…

The two MCC Spirit of Cricket tests between Australia and Pakistan at Lord’s and Headingley were both fantastic spectacles (please click on the links, for our marks out of ten for Pakistan and Australia). Hopefully, despite the poor crowds in Yorkshire, this is an experiment that will be repeated again. With India touring England next summer and Pakistan still unable to play test matches at home, maybe the MCC could host two or three Pakistan-India tests? Now that would fill up the grounds.

A battle between bat and ball?

The current test match between Sri Lanka and India in Colombo has so far seen over 1,000 runs in the first three days for the loss of only eight wickets. The pitch may yet deteriorate and produce a result but that seems unlikely. Pitches like this give test cricket a bad name. The game is not supposed to be about how many batsmen can score hundreds, but as the name suggests be a thorough ‘test’ of both batsmen and bowlers. Maybe the Headingley track can be dug up and shipped over to Sri Lanka for the third test forthwith?

Where have all the Indian fast bowlers gone?

It seems ironic that in the week cricket commentators are espousing over the latest gems to come off the Pakistan fast bowler production line, the opposite is true for India. It doesn’t seem long ago that envious eyes were being cast on India’s stock of fast bowlers, which is hard to believe now. Only Zaheer Khan has consistently been world class and he is now injured. Ishant Sharma has faded badly since Australia toured India in 2008 and the likes of Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Sreesanth and Munaf Patel have only shone briefly (well ok in Munaf’s case, very briefly). Things have got so bad, that in the current series in Sri Lanka, the gentle medium pace of Abhimanyu Mithun can be found opening the bowling. It would seem that India’s number one test side ranking is about to disappear to the same place as its quick bowlers – into thin air.

…and finally

Whilst listening to the excellent One Hand, One Bounce podcast on World Cricket Watch, we at the Reverse Sweep were delighted that one of our old posts for the site got a mention. This particular post divulged our top 20 batsmen in test history, but got most attention for placing Sachin Tendulkar at a lowly 11. We’ve since extended the list to 30 names and Sachin has moved up the list. But where is he now? Check out: numbers 30-21, 20-11 and 10-1, but please don’t get too upset if you don’t agree with us!

That’s all for this week folks.

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