Sunday, 29 January 2012

Five to watch in 2012

I thought I'd use my insignificant knowledge of cricket to predict which players will come good this year. Feel free to throw these predictions back in my face at the beginning of 2013.

Adam Wheater (Essex, Matabeleland Tuskers)
Now, this one is a little bit of a cheat to start with, because he's already played over 30 first class matches and averages over 45, but I think this could be the year that Wheater starts to deliver in all forms of the game. For a player with the talent to score runs so quickly in the first class game it seems a mystery why he's relatively poor in limited overs cricket. My theory is that he is a bit like Sehwag in that he's very good at scoring quick runs against attacking fields, but one day fields put fielders in his favourite catching zones who eventually catch him out. Hopefully this year he can learn how to rotate the strike and score boundaries in limited overs cricket, a skill which can only help his first class cricket too.

Chanaka Welegedara (Sri Lanka)
Again, this is a player who has been around for a while, but he has started to come into his own towards the end of 2011, with two five wicket hauls, agains Pakistan then South Africa. He has a strong action and a reasonable domestic record, along with an unimpressive test bowling average. However, as a left arm seamer he looks like the perfect replacement for Chaminda Vaas, and could be the man to lead Sri Lanka's pace attack for many years to come. 

Gary Ballance (Yorkshire, Mid West Rhinos)
I've never seen Ballance bat so I'm just going on figures, but they are some impressive figures. He's only 22 yet has an average of above 50 in both First-class and List A cricket. Most of the runs he's scored have been scored in Zimbabwe where he averages over 60, but his average for Yorkshire is a respectable 41. His real problem is a poor coversion rate for Yorkshire with only one of his nine hundreds occuring in england. It is worth pointing out that bowling attacks in Zimababwe probably aren't as threatening as in the County Championship, so if he maintains his current form into the English domestic season it can't be long until England and Zimbabwe start fighting over him.

Tino Mawoyo (Zimbabwe)
He's not played a lot of international cricket, so I'm basing this on the one time I've seen him and the fact that his record so far is pretty excellent. He's an old style Test match opener in the Atherton sort of mould, in that he sees his job as to blunt the new ball and allow the stroke-makers around him to flourish. Being an opener like that, his leaving of the ball is top class, and although he scores relatively slowly it does allow him to accumulate some big scores. I'm looking forward to some more of his approach, Zimbabwe could do with more solid and dependable batsmen like him.

Tom Craddock (Essex)
Young English leg-spinners generally get over-hyped the moment they arrive on the scene, but maybe it's because of the roundabout way that he got there that's kept the hype around Craddock pretty low. As a leg-spinner myself I feel pretty excited when I see a talented young leggie in the English game, and I think Craddock is under-rated. He's not a huge turner of the ball, but he's got a decent googly and a genuine slider and bowls with some guile and great control. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Scout Report: Sachithra Senanayake

A tall off-spinner who more than slightly resemblances to R Ashwin of India in his bowling style, Senanayake made his international debut in Sri Lanka's win over South Africa today. He started off fairly steadily, coming on first change in the fifth over and only conceding two runs, but took some tap from Alviro Petersen in the next over and was taken off.

For a part time spinner himself, Dilshan seems to have a pretty poor understanding of how to manage spinners. The most important thing for a spinner, especially one on debut who's likely to be nervous, is to get some rhythm. Bowling your ten overs in five separate spells means that you have no chance.

It was true that in the second over of his first two spells, Senanayake went for a few boundaries, but he wasn't bowling particularly badly, he was just bowling to a tight field in a power-play against some excellent batting. In those spells Dilshan could be partly justified in taking him off quickly, but what was completely inexplicable was in his next spell he bowled very well to restrict South Africa to eight from his three overs, only to be taken off and brought back in five overs at the other end for one over.

That was his ninth over, and I assumed he would bowl out, but Dilshan peculiarly took him off then brought him back on another five overs later for his final over. Despite having to put up with this poor captaincy Senanayake bowled creditably in his second five overs, only conceding 19 runs, and only one boundary.

He finished with innings figures of 0-53 and beat the bat a couple of times once he settled in to one of his spells. His domestic record looks decent, and there are whisperings that he can bowl the doosra, although I saw no evidence of it today. Hopefully he'll get retained for the fifth ODI, it's clear that he's got something about him.

Performance: 6/10
Potential: 7/10

N.B. Dilshan's erratic captaincy wasn't just confined to the spinners, overall he made 25 bowling changes in a 50 over innings. Time for a bit of patience with your bowlers Tillakaratne.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

What's gone wrong for England - England v Pakistan 1st Test

England's main problem against Pakistan was their batting, and even though most players got out to injudicious attacking shots, they heaped pressure on themselves with their tentative approach. At times they were playing Ajmal like he was Muralitharan. None of the Pakistan spinners turned the ball that much, but the England top order repeatedly failed to get forward to them, and only Abdur Rehman was attacked much at all. Ajmal almost had free reign to bowl as attacking as he wanted, knowing the the English batsmen were tentative and mentally confused.

Going into their second innings, England were behind but in with a chance of getting back into the match. That chance faded quickly with three wickets for Umar Gul, leaving England 25-3. Whilst Gul bowled well most of the day, he got all four of his wickets with innocuous or poor balls. Firstly, Strauss was given out strangled down the leg-side when he didn't hit it, and after HotSpot didn't show any conclusive proof either way, notorious showman, and prize idiot, Billy Bowden's decision was upheld. That one may have been unlucky, but it was a lazy stroke.

After that, Cook got tucked up trying to hook, and instead of dropping his hands on it, went through with the shot with predictable consequences. The next was the worst of all, Pietersen showcasing his ludicrous lack of a back foot game by hooking straight in the air off the front foot to a grateful deep square leg. Later, Trott completed the set, with a flick devoid of any foot movement carrying off the edge through to Akmal behind the stumps. What all the dismissals had in common was that they were shots that didn't need to be played. All of them could have left their balls, and Pietersen in particular should have kept his shot down.

Considering how bad the batting was, the bowling wasn't that poor, and to dismiss Pakistan for 338 on a good batting track was a good effort. It's the batting that has to improve for the next test, and improve a lot.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Is Saeed Ajmal a chucker?

Chucking is one of the most delicate subjects in cricket, up there with claiming catches that bounce and where the line is in sledging. It's pretty much unanimously agreed in the cricket world that chucking is bad, wrong, against the rules and against the so-called 'Spirit of Cricket.'

So I'm going to be very careful with this, because I know how serious an accusation it is and I want to make one thing clear before I start. I don't believe that necessarily Ajmal exceeds the ICC's guidelines on how much the elbow can be extended most of the time. His off break looks perfectly fine, but it's the doosra and the so called teesra that seem to be the problem.

I don't see how any bowler can bowl the doosra with a straight arm, I'm a spinner myself and I've had a go at bowling doosras, and I just find myself chucking them. After his ICC mandated bio-mechanical analysis, Murali was told to stop bowling his doosra, and that makes me think, if Murali with his freakish flexibility chucks his doosra, surely everyone else does too?

In a Q+A article about whether Murali was a chucker or not, I found a few interesting points. One of them was that under the new rules, Murali didn't chuck his doosra, and another was that 99% of all bowlers have some arm straightening, and under the old rules were chuckers. How does this apply to Ajmal though? When reported he was cleared, but he remains under suspicion, and is presumably closely watched by match officials.

Despite Ajmal's brilliant 7-55 against England today, his teesra turned out to be a lame duck, a clearly telegraphed round arm ball that skids on a little. The first, and only time so far he bowled it, Stuart Broad played it comfortably. His arm did look suspect though, with it coming through over his shoulder then at the last second flicking more round his shoulder. I have to say I think he chucked that ball.

The more I look at videos of his doosra the more I think he chucks it, and the more I write the more this is sounding like a bitter Englishman. That's really not true. Yes, I am an England fan, but before that I'm a spinner and a fan of quality spin bowling. For the moment I'll concede to the ICC's judgement, but I do have one important point about it. When he was cleared, it was made clear that it wasn't an unconditional clearing of his whole bowling repertoire, he could be called again at any time. I wonder if match officials cede to that judgement whilst having their own concerns and not airing them. Being called for chucking is a horrible thing to happen to a bowler, but it may be a necessary evil. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Brits Abroad - The curse of the procrastinator

So last Monday (and the Monday before) I truly meant to write some Brits Abroad, then I was on Twitter and there were other things on the internet, and before I knew it was Tuesday. So I waited until now instead. Sorry for the delay (not that you really care that much)

In the two weeks I've been missing there have been some very notable performances, and I think it's only right to start with the best of them from none other than Luke Wright. No, I'm not joking, it's actually Luke Wright who blasted a scintillating 117 off just 60 balls. I don't think anybody believed he had an innings like that in him, especially given the fact that his best score in the rest of the Big Bash has been 27* and his bowling has managed just one wicket in the four innings he's bowled in.

ESPNCricinfo said that "The consistency of Wright's hitting was astonishing" and he broke the record for the fastest century in Australian domestic T20 history, reaching his ton in 44 balls. In the same match Owais Shah managed a creditable 55, the culmination of a good run of form for Shah playing for Hobart Hurricanes. Despite this Wright's innings took the Melbourne Stars to a 19 run win.

Elsewhere Paul Collingwood is having a tough time of it, failing to have got past twenty with the bat in any game so far, and his medium pacers not yielding many wickets. Michael Lumb hasn't got past a top score of 25, for Sydney Sixers, that score coming against the Melbourne Renegades. Jade Dernbach meanwhile has proven that his magic box of seventeen different slower balls isn't as good as it seems, having not played for the Melbourne Stars since mid-December.

Nothing to report from many of the Brits in Zimbabwe, with many of them having either gone home or been dropped. Actually playing, and very well at that, has been Gary Ballance who continues his brilliant form of all winter, scoring 124 in a 7 wicket win in the Castle Logan cup and a match clinching 77 in the Pro50, both in wins over Southern Rocks, who must be sick of the sight of him at the crease.

Other than that, there have been two new Brits arriving on the scene in Zimbabwe, Riki Wessels, the Australian born son of Aussie/Saffer Kepler... but for the purpose of this he's British since he's played for Northants as a home grown player since 2004. His best contribution so far has been in partnership with Ballance for Mid West Rhinos, scoring 133 in the same innings as Ballance's 124. Possibly the biggest partnership by two Brits Abroad this winter, I haven't been keeping count.

Another newcomer to Zimbabwe is Essex's Mark Pettini who has scored a 55 and 33 so far playing for the Mountaineers in a first class and one day double header against the Mashonoland Eagles.

Moving to grade cricket in Australia, Neil Pinner seems to be the only Brit who has done anything at all since 17th December, scoring 33 and DNB in a two innings match. Either something's wrong with the website and the scores aren't up yet, or Brits are really out of fashion in Australian cricket.

I'll get another post up next Monday if there's enough to report on, if not definitely the week after. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

2012 Predictions

1) England will still be the number one test side in the world at the end of 2012
It's a tough year coming up for England, the team have made it to the top of the rankings without really being tested in sub-continental conditions. This year brings test series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India away. If England win two out of those three series as well as their home series they should retain their number one spot and be on their way to becoming the dominant team of their era. I fully expect all of this to happen.

2) Pakistan to overtake India as the top Asian test team
I've got a blog-post all about this lined up, so I'll put this in brief, Pakistan's bowling attack is far superior to India's and their batting is better than it has been for years. Misbah's calm captaincy means that they've got a good chance of continuing their success, and an implosion looks unlikely for the moment.

3) Pakistan v England series to end 1-1
England have been sweeping all before them in Test cricket, but Pakistan are a good team and have more experience of these conditions. I expect a close fought series with all three tests being interesting games and both teams coming out of it with their reputations enhanced.

4) World T20 to be won by Australia
This prediction has no kind of logical basis behind it, but I just fancy an Austalian team with Warner, Watson and an array of decent new fast bowlers has a good chance to become the best T20 team in the world.

5) Australia to end the year at No.2 in the Test rankings
Australia had reached their nadir, last winter's Ashes defeat then the 21-9 at Cape Town was about the lowest possible for them to go. The only way has been up since, with series wins in Sri Lanka, a creditable draw in South Africa and a comprehensive thrashing of India at home. Expect this rise to continue

6) County Championship and T20 to be won by Somerset
If they win the T20 I fully expect Somerset to go on and win the County Championship. The logic behind this is sound, if they finally get a competition win they can dominate. The addition of Vernon Philander for at least part of the summer and Chris Gayle for the T20 means they can be a truly dominant team if they shrug off their 'chokers' tag.

7) Sri Lanka continue to sink towards West Indies and Bangladesh
In the ODI and T20 formats Sri Lanka are just about decent enough to give most teams a game, but going into the Test format without Malinga, and Ajantha Mendis' continuing decline, they simply don't have the bowling attack to bowl any team out twice. Fluked into a win against South Africa, and fluky wins are about all they can hope for until they find a bowling attack.