The Reverse Sweep

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David-GreenWelcome to the fifth instalment of The Reverse Sweep – an irreverent round-up of another hectic week in the world of cricket. This week’s issue was delayed by the fact I was glued to the Rampage in Rajkot, which eventually saw India prevail by three runs. In this week’s issue there are also previews of the South Africa-England and Australia-West Indies tests that start tomorrow, a summary of the New Zealand-Pakistan series and a list of England’s ten best ever captains (which has one of my all time heroes at the top!).

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Two Three Gods for the price of one

Here’s a poser for you. What happens when the two most devastating batsmen in world cricket face off on a small ground and on a pitch where even Stevie Wonder could probably score at a run a ball?

If I add that the two batsmen are Virender Sehwag and Tillakaratne Dilshan and the ground is Rajkot, you will know by now that the answer of course is absolute carnage. It was Sehwag’s turn first as he cracked 146 off 102 balls; and with support from Tendulkar and Dhoni led India to a mammoth 414/7 off their 50 overs.

So was Dilshan intimidated by this? No of course he wasn’t. Wielding his bat like the sword of King Arthur, he smashed 160 off 124 balls, first with support from Tharanga and then in tandem with his captain. Indeed, Sangakkara is also deserving of worship for his swashbuckling 90 from only 43 balls. But then disaster. With victory almost assured, Sri Lanka threw it away and India triumphed by three runs in a mouth watering festival of 825 runs in only 100 overs.

Of course, even if the bowlers had been supplied with grenades rather than a white cricket ball, they still would have disappeared to the four corners of the tiny ground. It was that kind of pitch. But this should not detract too much from the heralding of the new holy trinity of Sehwag, Dilshan and Kumar – watching the three of you bat today was definitely a religious experience.

England must kick the wounded Proteas whilst they are down

After a pleasant but overly long sequence of T20s and ODIs, the Test series between South Africa and England finally kicks off tomorrow at a grassier than expected Centurion.

On paper the likely South African line up of Smith, Prince, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Boucher, Morkel (M), Harris, Steyn and Ntini looks formidable. However, with injury concerns restricting Kallis to a role as a pure batsman and question marks over the form and match fitness of what is now a four man bowling attack, England have an excellent opportunity to maintain the momentum it gained from the ODI series and strike early in this four match rubber.

As such there is a strong argument that England should be bold and ditch the idea of playing six batsmen and go with a five man attack in an attempt to get the 20 wickets they need to go 1-0 up in the series. That would mean either Stuart Broad or Luke Wright batting at seven, which granted is a risk as that is probably a place too high for Broad and it is questionable whether Wright is good enough with bat or ball to play Test cricket. That said most of our batsmen are in form and it would not come as a great surprise to see the one that hasn’t been so far (Kevin Pietersen) produce the goods on the big stage again.

So for me, with a defensive approach likely to lead ultimately to a series defeat, England need to pick an aggressive line up of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Prior, Broad, Swann, Sidebottom, Anderson and Onions, and hope that fortune favours the brave.

Injuries threaten to play a decisive role in Perth

The walking wounded of Australia and West Indies meet in the final Test of the series in Perth starting tomorrow, with both teams likely to miss some key players.

Peter Siddle’s hamstring ruled out him out today and he joins Ben Hilfenhaus on the sidelines. Nathan Hauritz may join them after taking a blow on his spinning finger in practice. This means that Australia’s bowling line up will be comprised of Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger and Clint McKay, plus one of Brett Geeves or Steve Smith (see below) depending whether the Baggy Greens go with an all pace attack (does anyone remember The Oval!).

This wouldn’t really have worried Chris Gayle (does anything actually worry Mr Cool!), except that he has serious injury concerns of his own with Adrian Barath and Shiv Chanderpaul doubtful with hamstring and finger problems respectively. Losing either or both of these will hamper the West Indies from continuing the momentum they gained in Adelaide as they attempt to square the series. If they are to surprise Australia then speedster Kemar Roach could hold the key on a bouncy WACA surface.

Hilditch in a spin; Gayle sledges Hauritz

The number of questionable picks of New South Wales players by the Australian selectors reached new heights today with the call-up of Steve Smith as cover for finger injury victim Hauritz for the Perth Test.

20 year old Smith has taken 11 first class wickets in his career at over 75 a piece and would actually seem to be a better prospect with the bat. Now I know that Australia is not exactly blessed with much quality or depth in the spin department, but surely Jason Krejza or Bryce McGain would have been better options? Hey, even Alastair Campbell (the former Labour spin doctor, not the Zimbabwe cricketer!) is probably a better spinner!

Andrew Hilditch has presided over some strange picks during his tenure and before the Brisbane Test bizarrely commented that the stock of Australian spinners were in a “pretty good spot at the moment”. Perhaps he is looking for a like for like replacement for Hauritz by picking someone else who won’t take any wickets!

Hopefully, Hauritz will play for no other reason than it will give him a chance to respond to Gayle’s assertion that “At the moment when Hauritz is bowling to me, it’s like I’m bowling to myself. He really doesn’t turn the ball too much that is for sure.” Nice put down Chris especially as we know how much you arte your own bowling!

Rain ruins series decider in Napier

With 118 runs left to get from a minimum of 23 overs and with all wickets in hand, the heavens opened to ruin New Zealand’s attempt to win the series decider in Napier against a rain dancing Pakistan.

Of course, the Black Caps could have had one of their all too frequent batting collapses, but with none of the Pakistan bowlers looking threatening, a series victory for the home side seemed the most likely outcome before the rain came.

Perhaps a drawn series was the fairest result given the good (and at times bad) cricket played by both sides during the three matches. The rubber was certainly exciting and showed the benefit of playing Test cricket on pitches that provided an equal balance between bat and ball.

Pakistan now move across the Tasman Sea and will be looking to surprise what could be a severely injury weakened Australia in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

Vettori the all-rounder

Daniel Vettori justified his promotion to number six in the order with a sparkling knock of 134 in Napier, reinforcing many observers belief that the New Zealand captain is a genuine all-rounder. Given that his test batting average over the last five years now stands at over 45, this certainly appears to be the case.

Indeed, in Vettori’s case his all-round skills don’t end there. Captain, bowler, batsman, selector, coach, sandwich maker… Is there is no end to this man’s talent? He is cricket’s answer to Daley Thompson.

The Reverse Sweep List – England’s ten greatest captains

As Andrew Strauss prepares to lead his men into battle at Centurion tomorrow, it seems an apt opportunity to look at England’s best ever captains. If Strauss can emulate Michael Vaughan by winning a series in South Africa and then retain the Ashes in Australia next winter, he will certainly join this list.

1. Douglas Jardine – P15 W9 D5 L1: ruthless, stubborn and a brilliant strategist. Thanks to “Bodyline” his name will live in infamy.

2. Raymond Illingworth – P31 W12, D14, L5: tough, ruthless and uncompromising, and also like Jardine won the Ashes in Australia.

3. Mike Brearley – P31 W18 D9 L4: mediocre batsman but outstanding skipper who inspired Botham to his heroic feats in the 1981 Ashes.

4. Michael Vaughan – P51 W26 D14 L11: took the foundations laid by Hussain and together with Fletcher created the all-conquering side of 2004/05.

5. Sir Len Hutton – P23 W11 D8 L4: England’s first professional captain for 65 years who regained the Ashes (after 20 years) in 1953 and then retained them in 1954/55.

6. Peter May – P41 W20 D11 L10: Other than Vaughan, he won the most Tests as skipper and led England to number one in the World

7. Percy Chapman – P17 W9 D6 L2: like Jardine four years later he won the Ashes 4-1 in Australia; but unlike DRJ he earned the respect of the locals with his natural bonhomie.

8. Nasser Hussain – P45 W17 D13 L15: took England from the bottom of the rankings (behind Zimbabwe) to series wins in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, laying the building blocks for Vaughan to take England into the stratosphere.

9. W.G. Grace – P13 W8 D2 L3 the giant of the Victorian age captained his country for the last time at the age of 51.

10. Hon. Ivo Bligh – P4 W2 D0 L2 presented with the original Ashes urn after winning the series down under 2-1 in 1882/83. For that alone he makes the list!

That’s all for this week folks.

Read previous editions of The Reverse Sweep:

The Reverse Sweep – Issue 4

The Reverse Sweep – Issue 3

The Reverse Sweep – Issue 2

The Reverse Sweep – Issue 1

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