The Reverse Sweep

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This week we round-up the main talking points of the World T20 with England having secured their place in the final, India having gone home with its tail between its legs and Australia facing Pakistan later today in the second semi-final. We also look at the worrying form of Andrew Strauss, round-up the latest county action and pay tribute to Shane Bond as he bows out of cricket.

The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and sometimes acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on this wonderful game of ours please visit my blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep, read my twice-weekly column on CricDude, or follow me on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

England’s juggernaut keeps on

When we tipped England for the World T20 crown we probably did so as much out of jingoistic hope as actual expectation. But this England team is different from its T20 and limited overs predecessors. It is well-drilled, has strength in depth, possesses several game changers and has developed an utterly ruthless streak. Indeed, this English side has a very Australian feel to it in the way it attacks relentlessly and aims to steamroller the opposition.

We were worried about Sri Lanka. They have a team of gifted individuals, had gained momentum from their dramatic win over India and on a spin-friendly pitch in St Lucia, one expected England would have a tough test. But delightedly this proved not to be the case and right from the start of the Sri Lankan innings, there only appeared to be one winner.

England may not have the extreme pace of Dirk Nannes or Shaun Tait in its ranks, but it does have a varied attack that has proven to be strong in both the seam and spin department. Tim Bresnan has surprised many, including us, and Stuart Broad is fully concentrated on his bowling rather than having set-tos with umpires and is all the better for it. Ryan Sidebottom, who has controversially been selected over England’s erstwhile number one seamer James Anderson, has fully justified the faith of the selectors and shown the immense value that a left-arm quick seems to have in T20 cricket.

The spin attack at Paul Collingwood’s disposal has arguably proved to be the best in the tournament. T20 generally rewards spinners that are prepared to attack and as the Barcelona of world spinners, Graeme Swann has reaped the rewards for his positive approach. We suggested before the tournament that Michael Yardy could prove to be England’s joker in the pack, and he hasn’t disappointed those of us who knew how effective a T20 bowler he is for Sussex.

With the exception of Marcus Trescothick, previous England opening partnerships would probably have scratched around when chasing 129 for victory, and scoreboard pressure would have been the result. But Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter have a different approach that has really come off in this competition. By the time they both departed having scored a combined 72 runs between them off 55 balls with nine fours and three sixes, England were on easy street. Again hats off to the selectors for being brave here.

With an Ashes series approaching the supreme confidence and form being shown by Kevin Pietersen is a wonderful sign. It was said that if England were to win this tournament, then it needed their star man to fire. And 168 runs off 111 balls for once out in his last three knocks suggest that Pietersen is close to the form of his life. This despite a round-trip to London to be at the birth of his first child; causing him to miss the win over New Zealand.

The heroics of Eoin Morgan weren’t required yesterday, but with him, Pietersen and captain Paul Collingwood in the engine room, England’s batting line-up has a strength and formidability about it, which it hasn’t (at least in limited overs cricket) for some time.

The final on Sunday is likely to be against Australia; although don’t discount mercurial Pakistan, and it should be a fascinating encounter. Both sides have hitters at the top of the order, strength in depth in its batting and a number of options with the ball. An England-Australia match-up would also see the two best fielding sides in the competition meeting up. England are unlikely to be blown away like India, Sri Lanka and West Indies were by the pace of Tait, Nannes and Mitchell Johnson, so it should prove to be a close match. For England supporters yearning for their side’s first ICC limited overs trophy, it is likely to prove to be a nerve jangling afternoon.

Can Pakistan perform a miracle against Australia?

The short answer to that question is probably not. But, if any side can overcome a double-digit run of successive losses to the opposition, indifferent form and what on paper looks a one-sided contest, it is Pakistan’s unpredictable cricketers. They certainly have some momentum gained by their extraordinary passage to the semi-finals, and in truth they have nothing to lose. If they can win the toss and post 160, then the Pakistani spinners could put an Australian team with a worrying propensity for collapse under pressure. We shall see. In truth, Australia have been formidable in this tournament and with the likes of David Warner, Shane Watson and Cameron White with the bat, and the pace triumvirate of Nannes, Tait and Johnson this could prove to be a very one-sided contest. It is time for Pakistan to take inspiration from Imran Khan’s ‘Cornered Tigers’ of 1992 and play without fear.

India exits with its tail between its legs

For the third ICC competition in less than a year, heavily fancied India disappointed badly. They may be the number one test team in the world and also extremely difficult to beat in any form of cricket on the subcontinent, but this catalogue of woe requires big decisions from the Indian selectors. To be fair, any team would struggle to cope without Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and Sehwag, but an inability to contend with short-pitched bowling is a serious concern. As Chris Gayle observed after his side had beaten India “They are always going to be vulnerable against the short ball, every team has done it against them and it’s something they have to look at and try to prepare better.” India also suffered from poor fielding with Ravindra Jadeja being comically poor, and from being at least one bowler short. Indeed, minus the excellent Harbhajan Singh, India’s bowlers were generally toothless and expensive. For a more detailed post-mortem on India’s exit, please see Where did it all go wrong for India?

Strauss’ worrying form slump

The batting of Andrew Strauss was probably the difference between England winning and losing the Ashes last summer. His century at Lord’s saw Australia beaten at the home of cricket by England for the first time since 1934, and then two patient fifties at the Oval helped set up the decisive victory in the final test of the series. Strauss deservedly won the Compton Miller Medal as player of the series and was rightfully showered with plaudits for his captaincy and his batting. Since then his form has gone worryingly awry. His return of 170 runs at 24.28 in the series in South Africa was somewhat overshadowed by England’s fighting performance to draw the series and by the similarly poor form of Kevin Pietersen. Indeed, most people, us included, thought that Strauss’ poor series with the bat was just a blip.

However, Strauss has now completed six county championship matches this season for Middlesex and his poor form has continued with only 262 runs at 23.81 and a highest score of 69. Hopefully, it is a case of form being temporary and class being permanent. But with the first test against Bangladesh only a few weeks away and more importantly the Ashes series in Australia due to start in less than six months, Strauss’ slump is becoming more of a concern. As it stands, his decision to miss the Bangladesh tour so he could take a break from cricket looks less wise every time he comes to the crease and fails again.

Au revoir to Shane Bond

It’s sad to see that Shane Bond has announced his retirement from cricket following New Zealand’s exit from the World T20. It seems he has finally bowed to the inevitable after a series of injuries, which has severely curtailed what would otherwise have been a very successful test career. In announcing his retirement, Bond said “I know the time is right for me to step down. I have given it everything when playing for the Black Caps. I will miss the camaraderie because it has been a privilege to play along such a great bunch of guys who are so committed to do their best for New Zealand. Playing with pride for the Black Caps over the years has meant so much to me.” Bond was undoubtedly the Black Caps best bowler since Richard Hadlee, so he will be missed by the Beige Brigade and Super Dan, as well as lovers of express pace bowlers the world over.

Nottinghamshire storm to the top

At the start of the season we, like many pundits, tipped Durham to make it three Division 1 titles in a row. However, after their crushing innings defeat to new leaders Nottinghamshire, their title aspirations look to have already gone up in smoke. In truth, Durham have been decimated by injuries, especially in the bowling department, and that combined with poor form sees them second from bottom in the table. In contrast, the victory saw Nottinghamshire record its fourth victory out of four and enabled them to leapfrog Yorkshire at the head of the table. Both teams have been hugely impressive and it promises to be a battle royal between them for the title. As it stands, one cannot see any other side challenging these two powerful sides.

That’s all for this week folks.

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