Thursday, 23 February 2012

Is Kieswetter reaching the end of the line?

England have always had an obsession with having big hitting players at the top of the order in limited overs cricket, and those players being wicket-keepers. The first obsession came from the perfectly logical notion of taking advantage in the power-play overs, but the second seems to have no logical basis behind it whatsoever.

The elevation of Craig Kieswetter into the England team, almost exactly two years ago was on the back of an excellent innings for the England Lions against the senior team. He then followed that with a century in his third ODI (albeit against Bangladesh) and a vital role in winning the World T20, when his partnership with Michael Lumb was crucial to bringing home the trophy.

Since then, he's started to be exposed as a one dimensional sort of player, he averages under 30 in ODIs and while an average of 25 in T20s is decent, his strike rate of 122 is good but fairly pedestrian compared to the very best in the format. While he may be adequate in both forms of the game, he has some glaring weaknesses in his game. His wicket-keeping veers between adequate and dreadful, and is never really as good as the likes of Buttler, Bairstow or Davies, the three main candidates for his spot as keeper.

With the new Cook and Pietersen partnership in ODIs looking long term, it surely must be the best time to try it in T20 cricket as well. If that doesn't come off, Alex Hales should be next in line to open with Pietersen, as the man in possession before this tour. Dropping down the order is unlikely to be the solution for Kieswetter as his rotation of the strike isn't good enough to bat in the middle overs. With all the batting and keeping talent around at the moment he just isn't good enough, and should be squeezed out of the team as quickly as possible.

Friday, 17 February 2012

I'm not angry Essex, just disappointed

It's not been a good day for Essex CCC today, that is abundantly clear. Just how bad a day it has been may only emerge later, once the dust has settled. For the moment, we know that Mervyn Westfield has become the first English cricketer to be jailed for match-fixing, and that Danish Kaneria is going to be facing some very awkward questions, and the possibility of a life ban from cricket.

Whilst the Kaneria revelations came as a shock, they were hardly a complete surprise. He had been arrested at the same time as Westfield, and there was a general feeling that even though he was never charged, there was no smoke without fire.

What seems to be the most shocking part of today's hearing is the fact that the fixing allegations seem like they were quite widely known in the Essex dressing room, and yet everyone seemed to turn a blind eye. As ESPNCricinfo put it:

"His behaviour at Essex failed to raise alarm bells, despite Mark Pettini, the club captain at the time, saying in his statement to police that Kaneria had discussed fixing with James Foster, a former England international and the man who was to succeed Pettini, and David Masters. The three later discussed the episode but did nothing about it, on the grounds that Kaneria was joking.
 The batsman Varun Chopra, now with Warwickshire, also recalled a phone conversation in which Kaneria had said "there are ways of making money, you don't have to throw a game."
After Westfield's late-night revelation in 2009, Palladino told two junior team-mates Adam Wheater and Chris Wright. When Westfield was confronted by Wheater, however, he denied the story."

Questions really have to be asked, especially of the three senior players who seemed perfectly happy to take it as a joke and not ask questions, and perhaps Westfield's barrister (quoted in The Cricketer) said what many would have been thinking:

"Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, said it was “startling” that no one reported Kaneria to authorities, and accused players of perhaps deliberately “turning a blind eye”, because despite his links to fixers, Kaneria remained an important match-winning bowler for Essex."

Whatever truly happened at Essex during this time, the stink of the episode is likely not to wash off the county for a while. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Can Alastair Cook play T20 cricket?

The record for consecutive ODI hundreds is three matches. If Alastair Cook makes a hundred in the third ODI against Pakistan, he will join the company of  Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwar, Herschelle Gibbs, and AB de Villiers.

That company is higher rated than him in the one day game, all of them being candidates for being some of the greatest ODI batsmen of all time. While only two of them played in the time of T20, I don't think there would have been any debate that all of them would have made good T20 players, but it's taken as an obvious truth that Alastair Cook won't.

Now, I'm not saying that Alastair Cook belongs in that company, he's got a long way to go to match any of those players, but like all of them he's adaptable enough to play in any format he wants to. The main problem people seem to have with his batting is that he doesn't have enough big shots to play successful T20 cricket. This ironically is one of the same reasons people said that he couldn't play ODI cricket, and look how wrong they were.

The bottom line in any format of cricket is that if you don't get out, you can score runs, and Cook is good at not getting out. He knows which shots he can score from, and has added new ones to his one day game, like his supreme sweeping so far in this series.

Another irony about Cook's form in the limited overs format is that in many ways it negates one of his biggest weaknesses. Even when he's playing well, he always has to be cautious outside off-stump as his technique can lead to a lot of balls being edged into the slips. However, in ODIs and T20s the slips are generally nowhere to be seen, which frees Cook up to slash with impunity.

I'm not saying that Cook will be a success in T20 cricket, there is always the chance that he will fail. But is England's T20 team so good, and opening partnership so brilliant that he shouldn't be considered? I don't think it is. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The ODI second spinner debate

With the call up of the destructive and exciting Jos Buttler, there's been less interest in the call up of Danny Briggs to fight with Samit Patel for the second spinner spot. Brigg's is undoubtedly a talented young cricketer, but his limited overs record is underwhelming and with another left arm spinner in the squad it seems like his presence has little use to it.

Patel is perfectly reasonable as an ODI bowler, he can be a little expensive but does seem to have a knack of picking up wickets. Briggs seems the opposite, he is fairly economical but doesn't pick up enough wickets. Another option the selectors may have considered was Monty Panesar, but his ODI record doesn't back him up and the notion that he just wheels away on the same line and length, which is easy to score from in one day cricket, has yet to be fully dispelled.

Briggs probably won't play all of the ODIs and if he's unlucky may not get a game at all on this tour. It's clear that partly he's there for the experience. The England selectors need however to avoid making the same mistakes as they did with Adil Rashid, taking him on tours too early and not letting him finish developing at county level. It's a pity that Rashid's championship form was so poor all last summer, because he seemed to do well in the CB40, and he should be just about the perfect choice. At his best he's a better spinner than Briggs and as good a bat, although not as destructive, as Patel.

If the third spinner in the party is there to gain experience and is for the future, not the present, Briggs is a decent choice, but if they're looking for a man for the present, Samit Patel seems to have the spot by default, but Rashid should be eyeing his place enviously.

Monday, 6 February 2012

It's time for ODI month

The conclusion of the third Test between England and Pakistan heralds the beginning of a month without any Test cricket. Until the 7th of Match the international cricket calender consists solely of ODI and T20 cricket, and in this time four series involving eight teams, all but two of the full member counties, will be contested. With only one of these series having got going yet, it seems like an apt time for a preview, focusing on what each of the countries involved will be looking to take from this month

CB Series

Australia have already won the first match of the CB series against India, and in the tri-series also involving Sri Lanka they will be expecting to win comfortably. They've got a side packed full of big hitters, from David Warner at the top to David Hussey in the lower middle order. The Test series against India has show that they have good bowling stocks, but can they adapt to the ODI game?

India are for once underdogs in an ODI series, they'll be low on confidence after the Test series, but one good win could bring that all back. If they do get their confidence back they've got a formidable batting line-up and a couple of decent seamers for ODI matches. A lot will depend on whether MS Dhoni can inspire his team in the field, and Jadeja's all round role could be pivotal.

Sri Lanka are a team in transition and have a fair amount of promise, which seems to show in fits and starts. Malinga coming back into the team will give them a boost, and their batting looked good in the last two ODIs against South Africa. The key for them may well be how their other seamers, likely to be Welegedara, Perera, and Prasad, bowl

Pakistan v England

England will be looking to bounce back from a hammering in the Test series, and may well be relying on their opening bowlers to make most of the damage. The batting is unsettled, and Kevin Pietersen may be elevated back to the top of the order, but he and Kieswetter are both under pressure. One area they need to improve to have any chance is their batting when chasing.

Pakistan will rely on a bevy of spinners to strangle England's progress, and ensure they don't have to chase to many big totals. Their batting could be a weaker point, with the stodgy accumulation that served them well in the Tests less useful here. Hafeez and Umar Akmal will need to provide the quick scoring and Shahid Afridi will come back in, Pakistan utilising his new role as canny bowler and lower order madcap.

New Zealand v Zimbabwe/South Africa

Zimbabwe have just one ODI and two T20s left against New Zealand and having already lost the ODI series they're just playing for pride in that one.

South Africa's squad hasn't been announced yet, but later in the month they take on the Kiwis in a series that could be close. The Proteas' batting looks well balanced if de Villiers would just stop constantly shifting players up and down the order. Their seam bowling should thrive on the green pitches of New Zealand, so expect the hosts to be fired out quickly one or two times.

New Zealand have a batting order with a lot of potential fire-power in it, but it doesn't always live up to expectation. Their seam bowling looks promising, but South Africa's batsmen will be harder to dismiss than Zimbabwe's. Their squad against Zimbabwe looks fairly inexperienced, but the experienced players may return for the South Africa series.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

What can England learn from India's dead rubbers?

A fair amount of the build up to the third Test between England and Pakistan has focused on the fact that it's a dead rubber, and what both teams will be looking to get out of it. But what can England learn from how India have handled dead rubbers recently, and what should they do different.

Genuine dead rubbers don't happen all that often in these days of two and three test series, so that India's last three series have all involved dead an interesting stat in itself. Of course, two of them were part of humiliating whitewash defeats against England then Australia, and tucked in the middle was a series win over the West Indies.

In the first of those dead rubbers a lack-lustre India improved on their third test performance but were still comfortably dispatched by an innings. They surely would have been looking for some pride to salvage from the tour, but this eluded them.

Particularly worrying in that match was RP Singh and what he symbolised to the Indian team. The left-arm bowler hadn't bowled in a first class match since January yet was called up for the final test and looked woeful, a shadow of the bowler he used to be. That sort of panicky selection is not needed by England, and while the Morgan v Bopara debate should not be closed, now is not the time to make big changes.

Now is the time however to make big changes to how England bat against spin, and in many ways this echoes India's struggle against swing. Both teams have swung between strokeless and reckless against their respective Achilles heels. England need to show intent to score, rotate the strike, but be content to defend when they have to, and most importantly they need to take advantage of the bad balls. Ajmal, Hafeez and Rehman are not the best spinners who have ever lived, they are playable, and if England are to prosper in Sri Lanka, they need to start learning now.

Looking at India's loss in the fourth test against Australia what struck me most was the lack of real desire for the win. England know that this win could help them cling on to their number one spot. Surely that's enough to motivate them to use this test as a springboard to better things, rather than a damp squib ending to what for them has been a damp squib of a series.