This week we start by looking at how England and Australia are shaping up as we move ever closer to the Ashes. Also covered is England’s brave World T20 squad selection, a round-up of the last week’s IPL action, Mohammad Yousuf’s ‘retirement’, pink cricket balls, cricket sadism and rumours of Andrew Strauss’ resignation from the England captaincy.
The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent round-up of the week that was in cricket. For further insight into this wonderful game of ours please visit my blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep, or follow me on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.
How are the two protagonists shaping up for The Ashes?
With both England and Australia having secured 2-0 series victories in Bangladesh and New Zealand respectively in the last week or so, now seems an opportune time to see how they are shaping up for the Ashes next winter.
Australia were initially made to fight by New Zealand before Simon Katich and Mitchell Johnson helped wrap up the second test and series for their side. Since the infamous defeat at the Oval, Australia have won eight of nine tests and on the surface would appear to be in rude health. But they still have an alarming propensity for first innings batting collapses as they did in Hamilton. Plus given that their opposition has been West Indies, Pakistan and New Zealand it is difficult to assess how good Ricky Ponting’s side actually is.
That said, you can only beat the teams put in front of you and Australia has done that with ease. The batting looks reasonably solid but with Ponting in decline, only Michael Clarke seems to deserve a tag better than ‘very good’. There is reasonable depth in the bowling with Dougie Bollinger and Ryan Harris coming in over the winter and doing well, and even Nathan Hauritz has regularly taken wickets.
England’s record since the Oval is less impressive with three wins, two draws and one defeat; but four of those games were in South Africa where England were perhaps fortunate to escape with a drawn series. The batting looks solid with Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood all having a good winter. The test for the first two of those though will be to see if they can turnaround poor past performances against Australia. England will also hope that Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss can find top form over the summer, which leaves the one question mark being whether to go with five or six batsmen.
Matt Prior seems settled in the wicketkeeper position and should see off the challenge of Craig Kieswetter in the test XI at least. The bowling is less clear-cut with only Graeme Swann showing any sort of consistency. Jimmy Anderson’s knee is a concern, as is his past record in Australia (five test wickets at 82) shows. Stuart Broad needs to knuckle down and concentrate on taking wickets rather than upsetting umpires. Tim Bresnan did well in Bangladesh, but can anyone really see him taking wickets in an Ashes series? With injury concerns over Graham Onions and Ryan Sidebottom plus questions as to their suitability on Australian pitches, hopes may lie with Steve Finn. Finn has the pace and natural height to be a real asset on the bouncy wickets Down Under, but are we expecting too much, too soon?
With Australia playing a test series in England this summer against Pakistan, and England playing the same opposition and Bangladesh, comparisons between the two sides will be inevitable. At the moment, putting jingoism aside, it is very difficult to predict anything other than an Australian victory. It won’t be 5-0 this time, but I still expect Mike Gatting to keep his tag of the last English cricket captain to win the Ashes in Australia for the next four years at least.
England selectors name brave squad for World T20
When I selected my England squad for the World T20 last week, I didn’t really expect the selectors to mirror my choices. But for the most part they did. Ravi Bopara is back in the squad, Matt Prior has been rested, and Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb have been picked. I didn’t see the Michael Yardy selection coming, but it sort of makes sense given the likely pitch conditions. Indeed, other than the exclusion of Owais ‘persona non grata’ Shah, the only contentious selection is that of Ryan Sidebottom. But other than that the selectors should be applauded for selecting a squad that whisper it quietly, may have a good chance of success in the Caribbean.
IPL weekly round-up
We are now at the halfway(ish) point in this seasons IPL and other than Mumbai Indians riding high at the top of the table and Kings XI Punjab languishing at the bottom with only one win to date, its shaping up to be a very tight competition. Bangalore have fallen back into the pack following a great start, whilst Delhi Daredevils are now on a roll (much to my delight) and even Rajasthan now look like they could make the top four. This is the first season I have watched any of the matches and on the whole I am enjoying it even if the television coverage is pretty awful, the timeouts are unnecessary and the frequency of the games is at times bewildering.
Cricket with pink balls
This week saw the long awaited debut of the pink cricket ball as Durham took on the MCC under floodlights in the not so traditional curtain raiser to the English domestic season in the unlikely setting of Abu Dhabi. With crowds at test matches being good in England, it would seem the pink ball and floodlights trial is more for the benefit of other test playing nations; like India for example. According to the ICC, test matches under floodlights are still at least a year away but with Pakistan likely to play most of its ‘home’ tests in the Middle East for the foreseeable future, maybe we’ll see the pink ball in the hands of Mohammad Amir sometime soon.
Mohammad Yousuf retires from test cricket
The farce that is Pakistan cricket this week saw the retirement of Mohammad Yousuf, the team’s best batsman. The move follows the ‘lifetime’ bans handed out by the PCB to Yousuf and Younis Khan following an investigation into the recent tour of Australia. It remains to be seen whether Yousuf’s retirement is a tactical move designed to force the hand of PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt, the Idi Amin like figure who handed out ridiculous punishments to seven players. When pressed on whether his retirement was final, Yousuf cagily answered “for now.“ If it is the end, it is a sad one for one of Pakistan’s greatest ever batsmen. His feats included his remarkable year of 2006 when he scored 1788 test runs. My guess though is that he will be back if and when Butt leaves his post. For the sake of Pakistan cricket, I hope this happens soon.
Andrew Strauss resignation scare
The Reverse Sweep nearly fell off his chair this week when a source in the ECB advised that Andrew Strauss was about to resign as England captain. Luckily, the matter was soon cleared up and England supporters can rest easy in the knowledge that Alastair Cook will not be leading the quest to regain the Ashes next winter.
Cricket Sadist on sale – buy it now!
An exciting and very different cricket publication hits the shelves this week. It doesn’t have any boring paint-by-numbers interviews with players and unlike Stuart Broad’s autobiography it isn’t full of glossy pictures. As its creator Jarrod Kimber of cricketwithballs fame explains “There’s swearing, adult themes and gross out moments“, and it is full of acerbic opinions from Jarrod and a series of mostly unpaid cricket writers and bloggers across the World. At 50 pages long, it is an absolute bargain to boot, retailing at £2.50 in book form or £1.25 in download form. I’ve contributed a piece on Douglas Jardine, explaining just why he is my favourite cricketer for reasons not just restricted to his contempt for all things Australian. Now as Jarrod says, go, buy, read and love.
That’s all for this week folks.
Read previous editions of The Reverse Sweep:
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 14
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 13
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 12
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 11
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 10
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 9
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 8
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 7
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 6
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 5
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 4
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 3
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 2
The Reverse Sweep – Issue 1
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