The Reverse Sweep – End of the Noughties Edition

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David-GreenMany England supporters will be raising their glasses this New Years Eve to Andrew Strauss and his men following their fabulous innings victory at Kingsmead in the last test match of the decade. That and Australia’s comfortable victory over Pakistan feature in this week’s Reverse Sweep. We’ll also see if England’s victory yesterday makes it into their ten best of the noughties.

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 where any comments would be welcome.

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Magnificent England reign at Kingsmead

In perhaps their most ruthless performance since the heady days of 2004, England dismantled South Africa in the Boxing Day test at Durban, thus creating a wonderful opportunity to secure the series at Newlands in their first test of the new decade.

Despite losing the toss, England held the initiative for most of the game and quickly closed the door when South Africa showed signs of getting back into the match. First after a dangerous and dogged partnership on the first day between Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, and then after a last wicket partnership of 58 between Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini threatened to shift the momentum to the home side.

Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower will be delighted with the response of their team following the great escape at Centurion and will hope that this success will inspire England to a series win; much as the win at Lord’s after a similar close shave at Cardiff eventually saw England regain the Ashes in the summer.

England will be even happier because both of their previously out of form and under pressure batsmen, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, both made contrasting but composed centuries. Doubtless this will enable Strauss and Flower to say that they were right to opt for six batsmen, and of course history is written by the victors. But it is the form and control of Graeme Swann that better justifies the four bowler selection. The ebullient Swann is the joker in the pack in more ways then one and his knack of taking wickets in the first innings of a match coupled with an ability to tie up one end, enables Strauss to rotate his three seamers at the other end.

The big test now for England will be to see if they can add consistency to their rapidly expanding repertoire and secure the series either in Cape Town or Johannesburg. Certainly, South Africa have big problems and would appear to be there for the taking.

To see if this wonderful victory makes England’s top ten successes of the noughties, please read on to the end of this column.

Gooch provides the recipe for success to dogged Cook

Manchester City may be after Graham Gooch as their next coach if this carries on and if Roberto Mancini does not lead them to the Promised Land. The former England captain would certainly seem to have the Midas touch as only three test innings into a Gooch remodelled action, Alastair Cook scored a composed and determined century at Kingsmead.

Cook combined his renowned excellent temperament to Gooch’s tinkering to move sedately to a hundred off 218 balls. He showed sound decision making when leaving numerous balls in one of his problem areas outside off stump and demonstrated real grit and exemplary concentration throughout an innings that helped propel England to victory.

His tenth century in 50 tests was certainly timely and should dampen the increasing criticism the Essex opener has received following a poor run since scoring 95 in the Lords test against the Australians. Fair play to Cook for recognising he needed some help and well done for turning to Gooch, another former Essex and England opener, as the advice he has given was obviously sound and prescient.

Cook has now secured his place in the side and is likely to lead his country in the forthcoming series in Bangladesh if as likely Andrew Strauss is rested from the tour.

Proteas counting on return to form at Newlands

Graeme Smith will be hoping that his side’s excellent record in Cape Town will help South Africa bounce back from the bad defeat at Kingsmead in the third test starting on Sunday.

The Proteas skipper and coach Mickey Arthur certainly have some big decisions to make in terms of their line up. Firstly, they have to decide whether to replace that great servant Ntini with Friedel de Wet, who so nearly bowled South Africa to victory in the first test at Centurion. Secondly, they need to decide whether the out of form Ashwell Prince or JP Duminy should be retained instead of Alviro Petersen, who looked good in the ODI series that preceded the tests.

Conversely, England are likely to be unchanged providing that Paul Collingwood recovers from a dislocated finger sustained in practice before the fourth days play. If he doesn’t make it they will need to decide whether to maintain their six batsmen policy. If so, Michael Carberry is likely to make his debut; and if not, then either Luke Wright or Ryan Sidebottom will come in.

Adventurous Ponting rewarded for bold declaration

Ricky Ponting is not normally recognised as an attacking skipper but his first innings declaration had all the hallmarks of an Ian Chappell or Steve Waugh in terms of its adventurousness. He was certainly rewarded for his bravery as Australia cantered to victory in the Boxing Day test.

That Shane Watson finally reached his maiden ton and Nathan Hauritz took five wickets in Pakistan’s second innings will only increase the smile on Ponting’s face.

The only concern for Australia was that they nearly succumbed to another batting collapse in their second innings when they fell to 161 for six before Watson helped set Pakistan a formidable target for victory.

Well played Shane Watson. Grrr!

I’ve bagged you quite a lot recently especially for disrespecting Mr Cool.

Your attempts to get a maiden test ton have had us all rolling in the aisles.

Especially given your team-mates similar travails.

Even Hauritz had a go and fell short.

I laughed when your middle stump fell to Benn at Adelaide.

And again when Roach’s snorter accounted for you at the WACA.

I nearly wet myself when you ran yourself out on Boxing Day.

But to be fair you picked yourself up and dusted yourself off.

And got back on the bike.

Sixty six minutes in the nineties and lunch as well to boot.

I’ve never seen anyone have a nervous nineties like you.

The Channel 9 commentators were as excited as kids at Christmas.

Pakistan bowling wide and trying to tempt you.

It’s true there were many plays and misses.

But there was to be no edge this time or silly attempted runs.

You crept to 99 and Bay 13 held its collective breath.

Then a flash outside off stump; it’s gone in the air towards gully.

But Abdur Rauf drops it and you scramble to the other end.

At last a test match 100 for you and the Aussie crew.

And although it sticks in the gut the Reverse Sweep says well played.

Even if you still don’t look like an Australian test match opener.

Yes, no one can fault your consistency since Edgbaston.

716 runs at an average of 65.

Maybe you are better than everyone thinks.

But I still hope you are opening come the Ashes 2010.

Teenagers the only bright sparks for disappointing Pakistan

Pakistan failed to fulfil many observers predictions (including this one’s) that they would run the Australians close at the MCG. Their talented and varied attack looked light in the absence of Umar Gul and the batting lacks depth and quality to support Mohammad Yousuf and Umar Akmal.

The only real positives to emerge from the match were that teenagers Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer further confirmed their abundant talent. The latter in particular had a good game and became the youngest bowler in test history to take five wickets in an innings. That those wickets were Ponting, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North and Brad Haddin makes the achievement all the more impressive.

The names of Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram are frequently mentioned by the ‘experts’ when discussing the merits of Umar and Aamer, which just goes to show their talent and promise.

In terms of this series, Pakistan need to get Gul fit and hope that Younis Khan answers the SOS that apparently has been sent from Yousuf in time for Sydney.

Bowlers on top, so the pitch must be unfit!

After three Tests, two T20s and four ODIs on flat Indian pitches where batsmen made hay and bowlers were regularly buried, the Christmas present prayers of the Indian and Sri Lankan bowlers came true as they were presented with a minefield at Kotla for the fifth ODI.

Unfortunately, Santa and the reindeer went too far and presented the bowlers with a pitch where the bounce from similar lengths varied from shin to shoulder and the pitch was eventually deemed too dangerous for the batsmen. By this time Sri Lanka were 83/5 off 23.3 overs.

Now by all accounts the pitch really was too dangerous and captains, umpires and the match referee alike were all agreed that the match had to be abandoned.

All this may be true, but one can’t help but feel for the bowlers. After several weeks of being smashed all over India by Messrs Dilshan, Sehwag, Tharanga, Gambhir, Tendulkar, King Kumar et al, they finally had a pitch where they held the advantage and the game was abandoned.

Arguably the pitch for the first ODI in Rajkot was also dangerous. But this time it was dangerous for bowlers as over 800 runs were scored in under 100 overs. I didn’t see anyone asking for an abandonment there though!

The Reverse Sweep List – England’s ten best victories of the noughties

So the brilliant victory at Kingsmead does make it onto the list pushing out the series levelling wins against South Africa at The Oval in 2003 and India at Mumbai in 2006.

1. Australia, Edgbaston 2005, won by 2 runs – The best test in history? McGrath and that cricket ball. Ponting wins the toss. England score over 400 on day one and lead by 99 on 1st innings. The Aussies fightback but a last wicket stand of 51 from Flintoff and Simon Jones enables England to set them 282 to win. A magical over by Flintoff accounts for Langer and Ponting. A magnificent slower ball from Harmison bamboozles Clarke. Lee with Warne and then Kasprowicz take Australia to the precipice of victory before Geraint Jones catches that ball. Flintoff consoles Lee. Breathtaking.

2. Australia, Trent Bridge 2005, won by 3 wickets – England dominated the match with a century from Flintoff and five wickets for Simon Jones. But in pursuit of only 129 for victory panic set in against an inspired Warne and Lee. Giles and Hoggard were the unlikely heroes that steered England home.

3. Pakistan, Karachi 2000, won by 6 wickets – A turgid match and series came to a dramatic climax in the dark with Thorpe seeing England over the line with Hussain his joyous captain. This after Gough, Giles and White had bowled Pakistan out for 158 in their 2nd innings.

4. South Africa, Johannesburg 2005, won by 77 runs – An even match was set up for Vaughan’s side by 180 from Trescothick. Hoggard then bowled out South Africa on the final day, and with a drawn final test England won the series and derived further belief for the subsequent Ashes series of 2005.

5. Australia, The Oval 2009, won by 197 runs – Strauss won an excellent toss and scored two vital 50s. Broad destroyed the Australians on an eventful Friday afternoon. Trott then scored a ton on debut and Flintoff ran out Ponting to mark his final test. Ashes regained.

6. West Indies, Lord’s 2000, won by 2 wickets – Trailing by 133 runs, Caddick, Gough and Cork blitzed the West Indies for 54, with the latter two seeing a nervous England over the line in a dramatic finish. This win enabled England to square a series they eventually won 3-1.

7. Sri Lanka, Colombo SSC 2001, won by 4 wickets – A brilliant century by Thorpe was followed up by a Gough inspired bowling display to shoot out the home side for 81. Thorpe again saw England over the line to clinch a come from behind series win.

8. Australia, Lord’s 2009, won by 115 runs – Strauss and Cook set it up and then Flintoff finished it off on the morning of the final day to quell England’s nerves and set up the first Ashes win at HQ since 1934.

9. West Indies, Kingston 2004, won by 10 wickets – Harmison takes 7/12 and England cruise home. This victory inspired England to an elusive series win in the Caribbean and sparked a summer of seven straight wins against New Zealand and a demoralised West Indies.

10. South Africa, Durban 2009, won by an innings and 98 runs – Centuries for Cook and Bell, nine wickets for Swann and a passable Glenn McGrath impression from Broad; a clinical performance by England.

That’s all for this week folks. Happy New Year to one and all.

Read previous editions of The Reverse Sweep:

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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