Will England’s dynamic back-room help them complete the set?

The Post-Ashes euphoria has been inescapable over the last few days, but do England have what it takes to complete the most memorable of years? Fresh from the triumph in the Test format England will have to change tack come this Sunday as the ODI season returns. The return to the shorter format of the game begins with a match in Canberra this weekend against an Australian Prime Minister’s XI side before they take part in an ODI series and Twenty20 series in the build up to to the World Cup.

Saker is one of Flower's most valued staff members

England will hope to once again demonstrate the true magic and innovation that the current back-room staff have instilled into the national side in all formats over the last couple of years. Bowling coach David Saker has inspired a dramatic turnaround for the likes of the now ‘world-beating’ Jimmy Anderson and aided Graeme Swann’s surge to within touching distance of becoming the world’s number one Test bowler. Now signed on for three more years ,Saker, in tandem with spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed will seek to keep inspiring the bowling unit on to bigger and better things.

English batting legend and current batting coach Graham Gooch is also receiving widespread plaudits for his contribution to one of the strongest looking batting line-ups in recent history. Andrew Strauss has grown into his role as captain and opening batsman both in test cricket and ODI’s whilst his Test partner Alistair Cook has broken all sorts of records down under this winter. Cook’s achievements are all the more remarkable given the horrible form he found himself in over the British summer against Test minnows Bangladesh and the tricky seam attack of Pakistan. A dramatic turnaround in fortunes has taken him from the brink of losing his place in the squad to being named man of the series in The Ashes and re-establishing himself as the heir-apparent to the Test captaincy. Cook has spoken out about fellow Essex man Gooch’s contribution to his re-incarnation as a Test batsman, if he has been as helpful as the likes of Cook are reporting then the part he has played in England’s Ashes triumph has been invaluable. Another outspoken supporter of Gooch is Ian Bell whom, as a batsman, has flourished down-under this winter. He has attributed much of his rapid maturing process to guidance and imparting of knowledge from the national coach.

One legend to another

Perhaps the most notable turnaround in English cricket has been the increased professionalism, commitment and fitness of the side under the current regime. This is in no short part down to Richard Halsall, England fielding coach and incidentally my former sports teacher. I myself can speak personally about how highly I and many of my friends regarded ‘Mr.Halsall’ as a teacher, a mentor and a role model. He always had a unique knack for instilling knowledge and advice into student’s heads, a skill that must have served him brilliantly in his current job. Experts and pundits in the wake of The Ashes have described England as the best fielding side in the world and the best in their history, quite a testament to the job Halsall has done thus far in his tenure.

Halsall has been credited with an innovative and successful coaching style

It is clear that the back-room team under the guidance of Head Coach Andy Flower have brought great success to England in the form of Ashes victory and in becoming World Twenty20 champions in 2010. ODI results have also improved under their guidance in recent times and expectations are racing in the build-up to the World Cup on the Sub-Continent. The current set-up has seen a new era of positivity and versatility at the very highest levels, with the unconventional players such as Eoin Morgan and the most conventional such as Strauss given license to take protagonist roles in the set-up. Such flexibility places England firmly amongst the favourites to start 2011 in the same vein as 2010.

Will England triumph again in One-Day cricket?

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What a debt we owe to the South African production Line

England/South Africa's Finest...It is easy to ignore amidst the euphoria of Adelaide glory that four of ‘English’ Cricket’s seven batting heroes are South African by birth. It is a much reported upon subject and I am not here to criticise the English selection policy but more to thank whole-heartedly the magnificent talent production line that is South Africa. Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior, both South African by birth, spent only small amounts of their youth in their native country. In contrast, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott are South African through and through. Pietersen’s case is a much publicised tale of trial and failure in domestic South African cricket but Trott’s story is lesser known.

Trott is a real product of South African cricket having starred in the U17’s and U19’s youth sides. Following on from this were a couple of stuttering and starting spells in South Africa and New Zealand’s domestic leagues. However, Warwickshire gave him his break in 2002 when they signed him as a non-overseas player due to his family’s English descent. Upon his arrival Trott had to bide his time whilst plying his trade in the 2nd XI but soon Trott’s class came to fruition in his record knock of 245. Trott had proved his worth and since then has never looked back. To show for his efforts in domestic English cricket he had amassed over 8,000 runs an admirable if not  exceptional average of 44.

Due to a horrible loss of form from promising young batsman Ravi Bopara in the 2009 Ashes Series Trott, averaging 97 for the 2009 season with Warwickshire, was called upon for his high pressure Test debut in the fifth and final test. He managed a confident first innings 41 before being run-out and then a steely match winning century in the second. How better to introduce yourself on the international stage?

Trott’s burst to international prominence has been cemented over his fifteen month test career. Having endured a somewhat disappointing tour to his native South Africa last winter he has come back strongly with impressive performances against the testing attack’s of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Highlights of his first British summer as  a test batsman included a test high of 226 and a world record eighth wicket stand of 332 with Stuart Broad. Such brilliant achievements have instilled a level of confidence in Trott that has served him beautifully down under.

Trott has recovered from a poor first innings dismissal in the twenties at the GABBA to go on and post a record unbroken partnership of 329 with Alistair Cook in the second innings. Also, he has contributed to Englands record breaking first innings total of 620-5 with a hard-fought 78 having come in following Strauss’ early dismissal, yet again proving his ability to perform in a pressure situation.

Here we have then a man who has in the space of fifteen months gone from county performer to test match record breaker. Trott has made the number three spot his own and is the rock around which England’s batting successes of recent times have been built. An unconventional and at times ugly style has irked opponents far and wide but he is without doubt a class act that, for now,  proudly boasts the  all-time best test match average of any Englishman, the highest current ranking of any English batsmen and an average in excess of 100 in the current Ashes series.

Australia beware. One more major score from England and their South African contingent and they could regain The Ashes. Surely the thus far toothless Australian side will not give up their quest to regain the little urn so easily? Or do they simply have no means with which to fight back?

*Something to consider…  South Africa’s most recent test line-up with the addition of the Anglo/’Saffers’:

Smith, Strauss, Amla, Kallis, Pietersen, Trott, Prior, Botha, Steyn, Harris, Morkel

Can The Ashes Put To Bed The Ghosts Of The Cricketing Summer?

Another hugely anticipated Ashes series is upon us and has there ever been a more important one for the reputation of the sport? Whenever England take on Australia the world watches with baited breath and this Australian summer season will be no different.

As if The Ashes in itself isn’t important enough, this series has the unenviable task of restoring the spirit and integrity of the sport after a controversial summer. The world of cricket was rocked in August when Pakistan became embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal when competing against England. No enduring punishments have yet been placed upon the players involved, but, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer are all currently suspended pending investigation.

These seemingly unsavoury events have dragged Crickets reputation through the gutter over the past few months and the role that this series holds in rescuing the sport cannot be overstated. It is a series that regardless of the final outcome always seems to provide immense entertainment, the very best test cricket has to offer. Hopefully the series will pan out in a fashion that does this most magnificent and noble of sports sheer justice.

The build up to this particular series has been rather unfamiliar in comparison to previous series’ in Australia. Typical hype revolves around how many the Aussies are going to thump ‘The Poms’ by, but this time their is a definite sense of uncertainty. Australian media and public perception has been rather subdued and many have predicted a tough summer for their men. Quite right too given the poor recent form and apparent indecision within the selection policy.

Much has been made of England’s ‘settled’ side being a huge advantage and one would tend to agree, however, I disagree with the criticism surrounding Australia’s decision to choose a 17 man squad. For a side that have been under performing I believe it a logical decision to line up plenty in reserve so that those who may be brought into the side are prepared mentally to enter the fray. To pick a smaller squad and perhaps run the risk of leaving reserve players in short supply could potentially force Australia to call upon those who haven’t been in and around the Ashes set-up. Public perception very much seems to be driven by the media come Ashes time Down Under and this year has proven no exception.

If ever cricket needed a series to re-establish it’s good name then this is it. The strife still hovering around the game in the wake of the Pakistani scandal will perhaps be put to one side if these two great nations put on a show of great quality and commitment. Expect heartache and ecstasy in the forthcoming weeks and pray that positivity recaptures the cricketing headlines in what is set to be an intriguing quest for the famed Urn.

Andrew Strauss clutches on to the famous little Urn...

Spot The Fixers; The Pakistani Cricket Scandal

The fourth morning of English cricket’s summer swansong descended into misery and chaos. On a morning that should have been all about the extraordinary achievements of messers Broad and Trott and their record-breaking stand, the News of The World broke the news that Pakistan players had been involved in illegal spot-betting during the test match.

Ashen faces filled the stands at the home of cricket where the vast majority were seen clutching to a copy of the NOTW. Star bowlers Mohammeds Aamer and Asif it had been alleged were involved in spot-betting regarding the bowling of no-balls. Recently appointed Captain Salman Butt was also accused of overseeing and profiting from the scandal. Cricket a ‘gentlemen’s sport’ was left reeling.

Suspicion arose when Asif and Aamer delivered in total three blatant no-ball deliveries at the times which corrupt ‘middle man’ Mazhar Majeed revealed they would in an undercover sting carried out by the NOTW. Since these initial allegations investigations have progressed. Aamer, Asif and Butt have been interviewed by Scotland Yard but were all let go without charge, however, the ICC have suspended all three players from playing until investigations are finalised.

It seems as though all thus far suspended are indeed guilty though no official charges have yet been made. Too much clear evidence seems available and even the team mates of the trio such as Yasir Hameed have come out with revelations regarding the whole Pakistani’s team involvement in spot-fixing over the past few months. The publicly named and shamed trio have all protested their innocence but besides themselves and their team of lawyers very little seems to be on offer in terms of sympathy or defence. One would suspect this is down to their being little to defend.

My personal belief is that all players found guilty of such deviance should be dealt with by the toughest means possible; however, I will offer a crumb of support to the cause of the accused. I in no way advocate their actions but it is perhaps understandable that world class Pakistani cricketers are tempted into such corruption when their average annual central contract is approximately £30,000. Compare that to the average English central contract of £400,000 and you begin to grasp a sense of injustice.

Pakistan after horrific recent flooding is a country in ruins, their idols careers may well be as well. I hope for the sake of a desperate nation that this story can in time reach its most savoury and appropriate resolution.