Ashes Countdown 2013: The Ashes Combined XI

With just a couple of days to go until the start of the Ashes series it seems that now is the perfect time to compare notes on the squads that are set to do battle over the next few gruelling weeks of test match cricket.

The Ashes 2013

Will England once again rule triumphant?

There is little doubting who the favourites are for the series, with England boasting a far stronger, and a far more stable test record of late than their visitors. Basically, they’re nailed on.

A wounded, battered, and bruised Australian side must not be taken lightly though, as newly appointed coach Darren Lehmann is seeking for a way to re-unite the troops, and is well equipped to do so as they still boast a couple of very experienced batsmen, and a young, and vibrant bowling line-up to boot.

As a means of comparing the merits of the two squads below I have come up with a combined Ashes XI. So… check it out, agree, disagree, and comment if you feel the need…

Alistair Cook (c)

No doubts about this selection whatsoever. Last time Cook faced up to an Aussie test attack, he tore them to shreds and amassed a monumental series average. This time around he’s the skipper, for the first time going into an Ashes series, and he will therefore have a far heavier weight, and burden upon his shoulders.

Cook though has already proven his ability to handle the top job, and there is no reason to suspect that he will struggle this time around either, although the freshened up Aussie seam contingent might have something to say about that.

Shane Watson

This might seem like a little bit of a fortunate selection given the absence of any real recent form from Watson in an Aussie test jersey, but he has performed well against England at the top of the order before.

The main reason for the selection of Watson in this combined XI is in reality the lack of a real proven English contender for the slot. Nick Compton appears to have been ousted from his position in the side, and young Joe Root has never topped the English order in a test match. Root is an enormous talent in all forms of the game, and he has already proven his worth in the middle order, but he is yet to have had the opportunity to prove his worth as a test match opener. I suspect Root will deliver and prove that he is indeed worthy of selection in this XI, but for now it is hard to give him the nod.

Jonathan Trott

Trott’s is Perhaps the easiest selection of them all. Since he burst into the test match spotlight in the 2009 Ashes in England, with a match-winning hundred against the Aussies he has never looked back. Alongside Hashim Amla of South Africa he is arguably the best number three in the world, and this is an area of the Australian side, which looks bereft of any real security, or depth at the moment.

Kevin Pietersen

KP’s Ashes record is brilliant, and a recent unbeaten knock of 177 for Surrey in his first match back after a lengthy injury-enforced absence has done nothing to knock the confidence of perhaps the most head-strong batsman in world cricket. It will no doubt be intriguing to see whether the peacock of the English batting line-up will ruffle his feathers once again as he so often has in the past when the Aussies have rolled into town.

Michael Clarke

Clarke is another of the easiest picks in this side, and is arguably the only dead-cert Aussie on offer. Whilst skippering one of the most unsteady ships in world cricket over the past couple of years, Clarke has defied all the odds and somehow managed to play with the sort of confidence and ability that has singled him out as perhaps the finest batsman in the longest form of the international game. His form has defied logic as he has battled to keep the side afloat amidst a crisis period, and he deserves an enormous amount of credit.

Ian Bell

Had Joe Root not received a promotion to the very top of the English batting order in place of Nick Compton, then Ian Bell might well have had some stiff competition for this role in the combined XI. As it is though, there is no one who can rival Bell for this spot in the team, as the fluent, shot-making, lower-middle order batsman. When he’s at his best there is no one in the world who can match up to Bell in this department, and when he’s on top of his game you could place him pretty much anywhere in the order and rely on him to come up trumps.

Matt Prior (WK)

In spite of some fairly indifferent international, and indeed domestic, form in 2013 so far, Prior has set about establishing himself as the finest wicketkeeper-batsman in test cricket over the past couple of years. He will have to improve dramatically on his form of late if he is to maintain this position of superiority in the specialist role, but we have seen him perform brilliantly against the Aussies before and it would hardly be surprising if he were to do so again.

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann remains arguably the most feared spinner in test cricket, and although he arguably hasn’t hit the heights of the 2011 Ashes series since then he could yet still prove to be the most lethal weapon in England’s armoury. Spin bowling is Australia’s very weakest area, and it is arguably England’s strongest. Therein lies the biggest miss-match between the two sides.

Stuart Broad

Broad is the only Englishman named in the bowling attack of this combined XI who there was any real doubt about regarding their selection. The man pushing him hardest for this selection is young Mitchell Starc of Australia who similarly to Broad offers pace, bounce, and a knack of bowling multiple wicket-taking spells with the ball. Like Broad too, Starc also provides the threat of some useful, brisk hitting down the order, but the Englishman gets the nod here on grounds of his greatly superior Ashes experience to date.

James Pattinson

I have decided to bestow upon Pattinson the honour of being the only Aussie bowler to have made the cut in this combined XI. In his 10 test match appearances to date, Pattinson has proven himself to be one of the shining lights in the world of test match cricket. He is bristling with intent, and energy. He is a chirper, a real throwback to Aussie seamers of yesteryear, and Darren Lehmann will no doubt try his utmost to best utilise the attitude that Pattinson brings to the table as he is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

James Anderson

Anderson forms part of a group of players including the likes of Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Clarke, Prior, and Swann, that are all absolute dead-certs in the combined line-up. Further to that Anderson would also be one of the first and most guaranteed names on a world test XI team-sheet too. Australia know all about the threat that he poses after his terrific displays in the 2011 Ashes series down-under, and it would be a real surprise if Jimmy doesn’t wind up coming very near the summit of the top wicket-takers list in this forthcoming series. If the conditions play into the hands of a man like Anderson who is so adept at swinging the ball both ways, then he could win the series pretty much single-handedly.

English players selected: 8
Australian players selected: 3

In summary, there is no surprise that England appear to have the better team on paper and if their superior number of selections in this combined XI is reflected on the scoreboard come the end of the series then they will have triumphed for a third consecutive time.

In-keeping with their dominance in this head-to-head selection, it seems only logical to predict that England will come out on top in the series by a score-line of something in the region of three tests to one. Only time will tell though…

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England Vs. South Africa Series Review: Marks Out Of 10

England:

Andrew Strauss: 3/10

It is easy to criticise a man who has captained his supposedly very strong side to a comfortable series defeat on home turf but more of a concern than his leadership skills has been his lacklustre performances with the bat at the top of the order.

Alistair Cook: 5/10

In stark contrast to his form in recent times this series was a bit of a struggle for Cook. Throughout the vast majority of the series he didn’t look overly comfortable against the strength, accuracy and potency of South Africa’s gifted bowling attack and this lack of ease is highlighted by the fact that he failed to pass 50 on any occasion apart from his series-opening hundred at the Oval. He may have started the series with a fine knock but from then it was all downhill as he failed to pass seven runs on three occasions.

Jonathan Trott: 6/10

By Trott’s exceptionally high standards to date this was not an overly brilliant series but he still got a couple of fifties and ended with an average in excess of 40 for the series so it would be churlish to pan him. He did of course turn his arm rather a lot too and though he failed to take a wicket in the series he did give a few of South Africa’s much-vaunted batting lineup a tricky spell or two and it isn’t really his job to rip through the opposition’s batting lineup after all.

Kevin Pietersen: 8/10 on the field, 1/10 off of it…

Pietersen Scandal

KP may have out-performed the rest of his team mates with the bat but his behaiour off of the field has been apalling

There was little wrong with Pietersen’s form with the bat as he amassed not far shy of 300 runs with the bat in the two tests in which he featured and he was also surprisingly impressive with the ball taking four wickets in the second test at Headingley.

Sadly though, it has been Pietersen’s off-field behaviour which has been the recipient of far more headlines as he has been embroiled in some reported in-fighting both in the England dressing room and with the top officials in the English game.

If the text messages to SouthAfrican players included the sort of content that they are alleged to have, then no matter how well Pietersen might have played in the second test, the decision to drop him for the final match was wholly justified. No man is bigger than the team and if he has been caught red handed when bad-mouthing his generally very popular and very respected captain then he shouldn’t be given an easy-route back into the side unless he has made some serious attempts to right his wrongs and until he has proven that he can act more maturely and can be trusted in a team environment.

Ian Bell: 3/10

When compared with the ease and fluency of his run-scoring exploits in the most recent test series’ on home turf Ian Bell endured a bit of turgid time of things against the South Africans, managing an average of  just 28.80 and a high score for the series of just 58. More so than the scores themselves the methods of dismissal will concern and irritate Bell as he was far too easily tempted into loose strokes by the South Africans, which saw him lose his wicket cheaply on more than one occasion.

James Taylor: 4/10

It is hard to make a fair judgement on Taylor’s first strides as a test cricketer as he was thrown right in at the deep end against arguably the best bowling attack in the world. He only batted in three innings in the series and in one of those three he was run out by Trott, in another he failed to get in before being dismissed and then in the other he made a score in the thirties which was probably far better than it sounds as he batted with great patience and he supported Pietersen very well en route to his big hundred at Headingley. It wasn’t the best start to life as a test cricketer but I’ve seen worse.

Jonny Bairstow: 8/10

He only played in one test match but boy did he do well. He struggled throughout much of his maiden test series earlier in the summer against the West Indies but the manner in which he stepped into the Kevin Pietersen shaped void amidst very tricky circumstances in the final test was truly admirable. He proved that he has real potential as a test cricketer and demonstrated an encouraging amount of confidence and intent at the crease as he notched back-to-back half centuries, it was just as shame that he fell five short of his maiden test century when he fell for 95 in the first innings.

Ravi Bopara: 2/10

Off the back of an impressive ODI series against Australia this was another major chance for Bopara to try and re-establish himself as part of England’s test side but it went pretty dismally. He scored 0 and 22 in the first test and then he removed himself from contention for a place in the side due to personal reasons.

Matt Prior: 7/10

Over the past couple of years Prior has fully re-asserted himself as England’s first-choice with the gloves and has become arguably the best keeper-batsman in world cricket and his performances in this series will have done little to harm his reputation. Prior was very impressive at times with the bat, never more so than in his courageous second innings knock in the final test, and he was generally very assured with the gloves minus a dropped catch which would have got rid of Amla for just two in the final test. On the whole this was another very decent series for the gloves-man.

Stuart Broad: 5/10

Broad showed glimpses throughout the series of what he brings to the England attack but he looked a little short of rhythm as failed to consistently threaten the South African batting lineup. He seems a little short of pace at the moment which is strange for a man with such a great fast bowling physique but he did however contribute well with the bat in England’s brave final day resistance today and he deserves credit for that.

Graeme Swann: 4/10

Swann Vs. South Africa

Swann was seen as the part of the England attack that might have given them the edge but it wasn’t to be

Having re-announced himself on the international stage in phenomenal fashion over the past few years, Swann has become one of the most feared spinners in the game but he is going through a bit of a barren spellat the moment by his high standards. Like his Nottinghamshire clubmate Stuart Broad he contributed bravely with the bat in England’s final innings of the series but his attempts to help England maintain their place at the top of the world rankings proved futile as they fell fifty runs short of an historic win.

Tim Bresnan: 4/10

Brezza failed to maintain his test match ‘lucky charm’ status as he tasted test defeat for the very first times in his career. He was made to look fairly ordinary by South Africa’s superior batting lineup in the first couple of tests and it was no surprise to see the more threatening Steven Finn preferred to him in terms of selection for the final test.

James Anderson: 5/10

This series proved to be pretty frustrating Anderson as he bowled well for long periods of the game without much reward for his efforts. There is little doubt however that Anderson will come back strongly from a disappointing series and I fully expect him to play a huge part in England’s forthcoming matches in their quest to now recapture what is no longer their place at the top of the world test rankings.

Steven Finn: 7/10

Having spent a bit of time in the wilderness in terms of test match cricket, young Steven Finn returned to regular action for the test side and played in the second and third matches of the series. In his two opportunities in the series he maintained his reputation as a great wicket taker at the highest level even if he did still have a tendency to spray the ball around and provide the opposition with run-scoring opportunities.

Finn’s best day of the series came when I was at Lords to watch the match and it was a pleasure to see two brilliant spells of bowling from the young man. His first spell of the day was brimming with pace and hostility and he must take a lot of credit for the wicket of Dale Steyn, which may have been taken by Broad but was set up by Finn’s aggression and accuracy. His spell of bowling in the afternoon though was the real highlight as he removed Amla, De Villiers and Rudolph in a devastating spell that saw him take 3 wickets for just 14 runs. It will be very surprising now if Finn isn’t selected next time England are in test action.

South Africa:

Graeme Smith: 8/10

Smith led from the front with some of his trademark stubborn, hard-nosed batting at the top of the order and he backed up his strengths with the bat with consistently good captaincy and he fully deserved to lead his side to victory.

Alviro Petersen: 6/10

Five of his six marks out of ten are awarded to Petersen for his marvellous 182 at Headingley as his other five innings in the series garnered a combined total of just 83 runs as he failed to match his opening partner Smith in terms of consistency. His first innings performance at Headingley was terrific and he showed enormous resolve to score big whilst the majority of his team mates failed to fire as they did in the other innings’ throughout the series. However, his form aside from this knock was very indifferent so it is hard to award him more than six out of ten even though he did average over 60 for the series.

Hashim Amla: 9/10

Amla Vs. England

Amla’s 311* was arguably the highlight of the series

Man of the series without a shadow of a doubt. Absolutely no one got anywhere near him in terms of run scored or in terms of batting averages in this series and his staggering knock of 311 not out at the Oval was the highlight of South Africa’s tour. This series was billed as a battle of the bowlers beforehand but in truth it has been South Africa’s staying power and persistence with the bat that has impressed the most and Amla has been the figurehead of this outstanding team display.

Jacques Kallis: 7/10

An enormous unbeaten contribution with the bat in the first innings was the highlight of the series for South Africa’s veteran all-rounder who otherwise failed to make any major contributions with the bat but as always he did offer South Africa an invaluable option with the ball and he defied troubles with persistent back spasms to contribute four wickets in the series.

AB De Villiers: 6/10

Having stepped into the breach in the wake of Mark Boucher’s untimely retirement, AB kept wicket pretty well on the whole in his first full series in the role but he failed to set the world alight with the bat. He did though average over 40 for the series which is respectable given that he was twice not required to bat in the series due to the stellar efforts of some of his team mates.

Jacques Rudolph: 5/10

Rudolph looked solid and added some depth to South Africa’s line-up in the absence of Mark Boucher but he only produced one innings of any real note when he scored 69 having been thrown in to open the batting for his side whilst usual opener Petersen was left back in the hutch due to severe stiffness. He hasn’t long been back in the side after a few years out of the reckoning and though he wasn’t a major force with the bat this time around he didn’t play himself out of the side either.

JP Duminy: 7/10

Duminy wasn’t called upon with great regularity in the series but when he was he proved just why South Africa deem him to be more than just a very good one day player. He contributed with characteristically steady batting down the order bagging himself the second highest South African batting average of the series whilst also contributing when needed with the ball.

Vernon Philander: 8/10

Philander came into this series with a fantastic start to his test career under his belt and he took little time in impressing upon England just why he has been such a success. He may not have been a prolific wicket-taker throughout the entire series but his five-for in England’s final innings was suitable reward for a series of accurate, disciplined and determined bowling. A series bowling average of 23.6 tells you all you need to know about how well he bowled.

Dale Steyn: 8/10

Steyn Vs. England

The world’s number one test bowler is now part of the world’ number one test side

It seemed for long stretches as if Steyn wasn’t quite at his sparkling best but he was still comfortably the biggest wicket taker of the series and as such deserves enormous credit once again. If you aren’t at your very best and you’re struggling with a couple of niggles but you still take the most wickets in the series by a distance then you know you’re a bit special.

Morne Morkel: 6/10

Morkel can at times be one of the most frustrating bowlers in test cricket but he performed pretty well as part of South Africa’s potent attack in this series. He averaged 34.5 with the ball which was less impressive than either Steyn or Philander but he did manage to take 11 wickets and he also chipped in with a few valuable runs right down the order.

Imran Tahir: 5/10

Tahir was arguably the least threatening part of South Africa’s front-line bowling attack but the veteran of English county cricket demonstrated his knowledge of English conditions in playing a part in South Africa getting the better of England’s disappointingly frail-looking batting line-up. The spinner department is arguably South Africa’s weak link and Tahir will surely have to better his average of 47 with the ball in this series if he is to hold onto his place in the world’s best test side.

A week in sport: Haye-Chisora, AVB’s continuing misery, Cycling Success, Carlos’ U-Turn and an ODI Reprieve for England

Too little, too late from Tevez…

He may have finally apologised for his pitiful behaviour over the past few months, but the sulkiest Argentine in Manchester has left it far too late for me.

Carlos Tevez, one of the most outstanding footballers in world football and a spoilt brat to boot, has behaved so apallingly for one so privileged throughout this season (one which he has contributed next to nothing to on the pitch) and he has been a figure-head of controversy ever since arriving on British shores.

His initial stint at West Ham came under intense scrutiny for the manner of the deal that brought him to England, but his stunning end of season form was enough to pretty much single-handedly keep the hammers in the Premier League. For that, much of the British public (West Ham haters aside) really took to him. He then went on to play a big part in his first season at Manchester United where his on-field industry and talent made him an immediate hit with the fans.

Since then though, Tevez’s likability has plummeted. A second season with United became dominated by contractual disputes and stewing on the sidelines before he eventually opted to cash in on a lucrative move to United’s fierce rivals, Manchester City. At City he has enjoyed great personal and team success when motivated but unfortunately he has done a good job also of maintaining a firmly irritating persona off the field.

His persistent cries of home-sickness and of dislike of the City of Manchester drew little sympathy given his £200,000-a-week pay-packet and this miserable nonsense continued into the summer of 2011 where he was subject to much transfer speculation. Unfortunately though for Tevez his efforts to find a way out of Manchester failed tand he was left to stew in the City he presumably reckons is ‘hell on earth’.

After failing to find a buyer, the ever-charming Mr.Tevez then sunk to his lowest professional ebb as he forgot that he was being paid a ridiculous amount of money to play football, as he refused to warm-up and enter the field of play when his team were in need of his services on a big European night.

All in all, Tevez is a gloriously talented footballer but perhaps more apparently, he is a pretty immature and dislikable chap when not on a football field. His antics in Munich are in serious danger of becoming the defining moment of his career and though he may finally have eaten some humble pie I think he has left an indelible, negative-stain on English football.

Carlos, my dear friend, you are a magnificent footballer but I suggest you bog-off to back to Argentina pronto so we don’t have to stomach any more of your tripe. Rant over.

‘KP’ and ‘Chef’ turn on the style as England salvage some pride in the ODI’s

With England’s reputation as the strongest side in Test Match cricket left looking rather debatable and even worthy of a little ridicule in the wake of their white-wash series defeat against Pakistan, it was down to our reliably unreliable ODI squad to restore some pride. Thankfully they did just that and the big names came into their own.

Having both restored their reputation’s as truly world class Test batsmen through their outstanding performances in 2011, Alistair Cook and Kevin Pietersen  both suffered enormous reality checks in the embarrassing recent Test Series defeat against a rejuvenated Pakistan side. Both men struggled to find any sort of form with the bat in the Tests but teamed up beautifully at the top of England’s batting order in the white-wash ODI series win over the same opponents which was sealed yesterday with a fourth consecutive victory.

Both men scored two match-winning hundred’s each and Cook too scored an important 80 to accompany Pietersen’s first century of the series in the third ODI. These knocks marked very timely returns to form amidst press and public murmurings about the security of both of their roles in the England setup, as Pietersen’s all round form was under scrutiny and Cook’s one-day captaincy was still under intense observation given his relative lack of experience and form in the format.

Both of England’s match-winning batsmen were beautifully supported by their bowlers en-route to a satisfying series win and it was the prodigiously talented Steven Finn who really impressed with the ball in hand.

The young Middlesex pace-man has worked tirelessly to add greater pace, threat and sharpness to his bowling since losing his regular place in England’s Test line-up during the Ashes last year and the work is certainly reaping it’s rewards. His form this series has provided a great reminder of his talents and has shown a real willingness to try and impress when given the opportunity to do so and as such he may have earned him self a re-call to the Test XI as well as securing a position in the One-Day team.

Cycling successes provide some momentum going into ‘The Games’

I hardly profess to be a cycling enthusiast but what better time to start getting into it than just a few months before the Olympics in London.

This week’s cycling World Cup (and Olympic Velodrome test event) provided early signs of some major success that could be set to come our way this summer. With the likes of Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton back in form and amongst the medals at the test event it seems that cycling will once again be a major strength for us at ‘The Games’.

We need all the success we can get this summer and the cycling World Cup has helped our charges gain some vital momentum in the build-up to their respective battles for personal and team success this summer. Success breeds success, so let the winning feeling continue.

British Boxers disgracing the rest of British sport

In a year of great excitement and promise for British sport, the last thing we need is morons like David Haye and Dereck Chisora ruining it for the rest of us. There is little that can be said about the embarrassing scenes in Munich the other day that hasn’t been said already, but here are my brief thoughts on the matter…

I’ll start by saying that I think the BBBC should revoke Chisora’s license and should decline any potential future attempts from David Haye to renew his should he decide that he wants to come out of retirement. To coin a famous phrase ‘there are two sides to every story’, and sadly for British boxing and the entire British sporting community both sides to this story are utterly pathetic and humiliating.

I was once a real fan of Haye’s but his persistent attempts to gain self-glorification were already wearing thin before this mess and now his actions in Munich have well and truly consigned him to the waste bin of my sport-filled brain. If you have read your way through my ramblings today then you may well be aware that Carlos Tevez resides their too.

Even worse though and even more irrelevant in my eyes is Dereck Chisora who has made a total backside of himself this past week. After a stuttering start to his career Chisora should have been wholly grateful for his opportunity to fight Vitali Klitschko for his World title but instead he opted to act like a complete yob. His pre-fight slap was bad enough, as was his apparent efforts to spit a mouthful of water at Klitschko’s younger brother Wladimir (how moronic can you get?), but apparently he could better himself in the idiocy stakes.

Though I believe Haye was once again exceptionally stupid and irritating throughout his contributions to the piece in Munich, Chisora, for me, has managed to come out of the event in an even worse light due to his disgusting threats and his inability to stay out of a row that should hardly have been a concern to him.

Chisora has often spoken of his desire to “slap” people that he takes a disliking to. Well, Mr. Chisora, I dislike you and if I could choose a sportsman to “slap” then it would probably be you (Haye would be a close second and Tevez third in case you were wondering…)

Just a quick word on Vilas-Boas’ predicament at Chelsea

5 games without a win is a considerable drought for Chelsea’s manager given their modern era of success but I hope Chelsea don’t get rid of Andre Vilas-Boas.

I for one think he was foolish to leave Ashley Cole, Michael Essien and Frank Lampard out of his starting line-up against Napoli yesterday evening but those decisions aside, he is smart, talented, interesting and incredibly eloquent. He is a breath of fresh air amongst some of the more placid and forgettable managers in the English game and I believe that in the long run that he could be a very good fit for Chelsea.

Things might not be working at all well at the moment for AVB but if Chelsea decide to back their man then they may well be rewarded strongly in the long run. Hopefully we will get to see the best of AVB in the near future and hopefully it will be enough to keep him in his job. Sadly though for Vilas-Boas, it appears that those involved with the club aren’t far away from a ‘final straw’ mindset… I wish him good luck, he might well need it!

England heading for a whitewash defeat and the batting stats don’t lie

Another day, another poor show with the bat. Couple this with the first underwhelming English performance with the ball on this tour and we have for the third time this series a predicament which sees England staring a Test Match defeat directly in the eye.

Pietersen has been just one of many disappointments against Pakistan

England’s paltry 141 with the bat was perhaps slightly excused after Pakistan were skittled for 99 on day one, but today’s show of solidarity from Azhar Ali and Younis Khan proved that the pitch was, in fact, fairly innocuous and provided the perspective necessary to highlight just how poor England were again throughout their first innings.

Though the bowlers too struggled on day two of the third and final Test, it is hardly fair to apportion much blame in their direction. It has after all been their efforts, almost in isolation, that have spared England complete humiliation in their first Test series since being named the world’s leading side in the format.

Today, the most notable of the negated England bowling threats was that of Graeme Swann whose usually  very effective off-spin was made to look entirely impotent by Pakistan’s star performers on the day. It may sound a little cliched to say that Younus Khan and Azhar Ali succeeded with the bat due to their ‘patience’ early on and their progressive build towards ‘taking the attack’ to England, but that just about sums up the majority of the day’s play.

Aside from this show of resilience from Pakistan and England’s first slip of the series into the realms of ineffective bowling, the current cause for major concern must be the lacklustre batting displays which are a world away from Down Under at the start 2011 and the run-thirst demonstrated on home turf against India in the summer.

The clearest indicator of the fall from grace for England’s batting line-up on this tour is the comparison of their averages so far in the three match Test-Series with those put together during India’s visit in the summer, where England of course dished out a whitewash series victory of their own.

During England’s ‘Indian Summer’ the vast majority of their batting line-up enjoyed huge success and it was Alistair Cook at the top of the order who led them out of the blocks in style, carrying on from his outstanding form away to Australia in the Ashes. His average in the India series was very healthy, up in the high fifties, even if that was courtesy of an outstanding knock of 294 at Egbaston. This stunning contribution in Birmingham meant that his series average was nearly 40 runs-per-innings higher than his collective contributions against Pakistan this winter.

Cook’s partner in crime, Andrew Strauss, didn’t have quite as healthier average as his fellow opener but the captain did manage an average in the high thirties which is better than his low thirties average so far this series.

Jonathan Trott, the recent recipient of the ICC’s top award at their yearly celebration of all things cricket, may have suffered a series ruining injury over the summer against India but prior to this he had chipped in with a series opening 70 before a slump which saw him average in the mid-twenties. His form with the bat in this series has actually seen an improvement on his contribution in the summer, with his average up in the thirties but three scores of sub-twenty out of five innings is still a cause for concern.

Kevin Pietersen who seemed to have returned to something like his dominant best against India with a world-beating average of 89, has too struggled throughout the present tour. After some worrying early indicators in the warm-up matches, KP has continued to struggle against the Pakistan attack managing a measly 49  collective runs scored over his five innings’.

Along with Pietersen, it was Ian Bell who really shone over the summer with an almost as imperious average of 84. Sadly though for Bell who’s summer was seen as something of an affirmation of his world-class status as a Test performer, his role against Pakistan has been far less glamorous. In alarmingly similar fashion to Pietersen, he has sunk without trace on the current tour contributing even fewer runs than his team-mate; a total of just 41 runs from his five visits to the crease.

The fledgling member of England’s supposedly match-winning batting line-up, Eoin Morgan, is one of the only batsmen worthy of a little sympathy for his torrid time out in the middle this series given his lack of Test Match experience. However, his lack of runs has also been a worry given the faith shown to select him ahead of the talented (even if not entirely reliable) Ravi Bopara. Morgan has averaged more than 20 runs less-per-innings during the present tour when compared to his contributions against India on home turf.

The common theme for England’s batting line-up is clearly that they have failed to deliver anywhere near as strongly as they did at home to India in the summer, with the exception being Jonathan Trott who’s average has actually been an improvement. There are of course several reasons for such a rapid decline in form and I am not going to bother claiming that I am next in line to Graham Gooch on the batting guidance front, but the foremost explanations are two-fold.

First, the England batsmen are ‘ring-rusty’. This may sound a little pathetic when they are meant to be top-class performers but a few months out of Test action is a long time and although they may have needed it for the sake of their long-term sanity, it hasn’t exactly helped them in the short-term. Also, there appears to be some serious deficiencies in their approach to batting on Sub-Continental pitches, which have seen the batsmen resorting consistently to either negative and tentative reliance on the back-foot and, alternatively, if all else fails, they have been lured into loose shots designed in vein to relieve pressure.

So then, there is an enormous amount for England to work on in the coming weeks and months but in the short-term a second innings of composure and positivity would go some way to restoring the apparently fragile confidence of their batting contingent.

 

Ajmal lays down the gauntlet as Pakistan overwhelm England on day one

When Pakistan last faced England in Test Match cricket their ability and reputation were left in tatters. Their feeble on-field performances and the disgraceful acts of some of their players off of it left the nation’s sporting and societal name completely tarnished. Thankfully though, the opening day of their latest series told an entirely different story.

For Pakistan national pride and identity is of utmost significance and the events of the summer of 2010 could scarcely have been timed worse. Whilst a few of their national heroes were demonstrating immense greed and selfishness, the country itself was left reeling in the wake of devastating floods. Insensitive and inappropriate as the actions of Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Asif, and Salman Butt were in isolation, they were compounded by the natural disaster unfolding in their homeland.

Joyfully, the opening day of this series will be remembered for what Pakistan do still have to offer to the world of cricket. Their spin-heavy bowling attack  tore into the world’s number one Test side, and arguably the world’s best Test batting line-up and dismissed them for a poultry 192.

Ajmal's brilliant variations and "Doosra" impressed rather than his thus far unseen "Teesra"

Without a doubt, the star of the opening day was Saeed Ajmal whose pre-match kidology spoke volumes for his self-confidence going into the series. His promises of a new mystery ball proved fairly unfounded in truth, but there was no doubting the effect of his brilliantly subtle variation.

England’s entire batting order (the brilliant Matt Prior aside) looked baffled by Ajmal’s ability to turn the ball both ways with very little change in action on what seems a very flat pitch. He isn’t a huge turner of the ball, but the craft of his bowling was plain for all to see.

His performance en-route to career-best figures of 7-55 today makes it seem remarkable that he has only played 17 Tests for his country before now when at the of 34 he is potentially right at the back end of his career. For a while now he has been thought of as being a better One-Day bowler for his country, but today’s performance went some way to disputing this and will have had a positive effect on his previously no-better-than-solid Test bowling average of over 30.

Ably supported by the rest of Pakistan’s more regulation bowling attack, Ajmal became by far the stand-out player on day one. His seemingly undying confidence has in the past gone a little unjustified but today he lived up to his own billing and really delivered. If he manages to maintain this level of performance and England continue to help him and his team-mates out with some silly indiscipline, then he could finally be the man Pakistan can rely on to see them to a considerable Test scalp.

Sceptics (myself included), might put a bit of a downer on Pakistan’s day one achievements with thoughts of ‘what might have been’ for their bowling attack had Amir and Asif not have taken a severely wrong-turn in their careers. Today though, certainly showed signs of a re-juvenated Pakistani side intent on trying to at least partially eradicate the ill-feeling surrounding their recent Test Match history.

If England don’t improve their fortunes quick-smart, then they may well find themselves staring down the barrel within three days in this opening Test. Not only will their players be ruing their errors but the selectors too must be feeling the heat having left out the in-form Monty Panesar in a Test that has seen nine wickets for the spinners on day one. In recent times the selectors have been pretty much faultless, but this decision could come back to bite them in a couple of days time.

English Cricket’s Dominant Present Matches Up To It’s Majesterial History

The recent success of England in the most historic and prestigious form of cricket should be the source of much national pride. In their recent 4-0 drubbing of the previous World number one Test side they demonstrated a level of conviction and authority rarely seen in English cricket’s more recent past.

The current success has brought with it an enormous amount of comparison drawing between England’s current crop and the most dominant Test outfits of the game’s long and illustrious history. To this point England have achieved a great deal under the guidance of Andy Flower and have earned a great deal of respect amongst their peers in the International game, but there is an awfully long way to go before they can be considered one of England’s very best sides. So far they have demonstrated the form and talent required to reach such historical heights but sustaining this period of domination over a longer span of time will be the ultimate test for them.

The Home of Cricket

This week I was fortunate enough to pay my first visit to the ‘Home of Cricket’. Not only did I visit Lord’s but I was fortunate enough to gain entry to the Members Pavilion courtesy of attending as the guest of a friend who holds an MCC membership. This was a fantastic experience and furthered my passion for the game and it’s history.

Some might say that the ‘old boy’ and ‘aristocratic’ nature of Lord’s and the Pavilion End is far too elitist and perhaps too stuffy for a modern era of increased equality and opportunity, but I must confess that I loved it.

Where else in British sport could you be seated in and around plump, middle-aged gentlemen wearing a glorious mish-mash of boldly coloured pinstripe suits accompanied by a flower-filled top jacket pocket and the classically coloured red and mustard tie of the MCC? It may seem way over the top, but it truly is a sight to behold.

You wouldn't wear it yourself, but it's brilliant...

I personally wouldn’t be seen dead in their chosen attire, but I didn’t half enjoy seeing them trying to pull it off and in a bizarre sort of a way they kind of managed it. The pride gained from showing off the traditional colours of the MCC is comparable to that of the most passionate football fans who couldn’t bare to be without their replica shirts come match day. It provides a great sense of identity for the game and pays tribute to the it’s very colourful past through remembering and representing it’s upper-class roots.

Warney's Tribute in the Pavilion

Aside from those filling the Pavilion End the place itself is so utterly and fantastically British. It is a structure of extreme civilisation containing a library, a food court, squash courts, lounge rooms, real tennis courts, a committee meeting room and of course the infamous Long Room. The place is filled with paintings and images of Cricket’s history and not just that of the home nation. Even the old-enemy Australia have their fair share of wall space with players such as the great Shane Warne honoured with a portrait.

The ‘Home of Cricket’ is a magnificent tribute to the enduring gentleman’s sport and underlines the value and traditions of Test cricket. In the modern era where shortened forms of the game are beginning to take greater precedence than they once did I think it is hugely important that the foundation of Test cricket is not forgotten or belittled.

Gladly, England’s current combination of extroverted characters suited to the modern era such as Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, and more classical, old-fashioned cricketers such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss has seen them rise to the top of the world’s Test pecking order and has provided the longer format with a much needed boost.

Swanny has become a key part of England's modernised line-up

The world of Test cricket has been lacking the sort of superiority and character provided by the all conquering Australian sides of the 90’s and early 2000’s and it is entirely appropriate that England, cricket’s country of origin, are responsible for the current re-invigoration of the sport’s most important format. Though my first visit to Lord’s was to see a one-day match between home side Middlesex and the visitors Sussex you can’t help but feel the presence of the International game within the Pavilion. I am now very much looking forward to the day when I get to witness the ground in all it’s majesty at an England Test match, hopefully this moment shan’t elude for too much longer.

England Vs India Marks out of 10: England take the lead to fuel belief of number one status

What a fantastic Test match and what a great victory for England. Their slightly undercooked opponents looked a little rusty and were never quite a match for the on-song hosts of the 2,000th Test match of all time.

Below are my marks out of ten for the two sides:

India:

Abhinav Mukund – 6/10

This was a plucky first outing at Lords for the youngster filling in for the rather more illustrious figure of Virender Sehwag. A breezy knock in the forties in the first innings demonstrated confidence and a desire to show real intent at the crease even when opening in a Test match.

Gautam Gambhir – 3/10

Nothing really from Gambhir in his new found role as the senior member of India’s opening partnership in the absence of Sehwag. Two small contributions and a nasty whack on the elbow to boot. He will hope the bruising and swelling has eased up a little for Trent Bridge, and after this lacklustre showing England may want to see him fit for action too.

Rahul Dravid – 8/10

First Lords Ton for 'The Wall'

Magnificent showing amidst a real lack of support en route to a first innings hundred. It was his first at the home of cricket and boy did he deserve it. It was a typically rear-guard hundred from ‘The Wall’ and it was just what India needed at the time. Despite not following it up with an equally important knock second time out he must go down as India’s star performer of the Test.

Sachin Tendulkar – 3/10

Usually the man for a crisis but not this time out for the ‘Little Master’. Two knocks of no real note and a bout of the flu for his troubles. Maybe he will get another chance to ton-up for the first time at Lords in what has been an incredible career. If his chance does come again then he might want to score with a little more fluency than today when at one point he had gone 39 deliveries without scoring a run.

VVS Laxman – 4/10

Just when India needed an experienced head to play himself in and settle alongside Dravid in the first innings Laxman holed out in miserable fashion. A flimsy paddle down to deep-square saw him perish and with it went much of India’s optimism. He did somewhat redeem himself in the second innings in an unfamiliar role at number three in the order by making a half-century, but he didn’t hang on long enough to have a real impact upon proceedings.

Suresh Raina – 5/10

The youngster showed real character to follow up a two-baller in his first innings with a rear-guard half-century in the second. Sadly for India his efforts were cut-short when he ran out of partners in the early evening.

MS Dhoni – 3/10

His two minor showings with the bat are worth half a mark, his attempt to at least try and Captain a side ravaged with injury and illness is worth another half, his OK glove-work is worth another half and the nerve as Captain and Keeper to throw off his gloves and turn an arm is worth the rest of his 3 out of 10.

Harbhajan Singh – 2/10

‘The Turbanator’ was ineffective with the ball in both innings as the spinners toiled on the pristine Lords’s track. Add into the mix a wimpy edge outside of off to Chris Tremlett in the first innings and a remarkably poor stroke to hole out in the second and you might come to the conclusion that he had a poor game.

Praveen Kumar – 7/10

The inexperienced military medium swing bowler was the only man to step up in Zaheer Khan’s absence from the attack for most of the first innings. As such he was very deserving of his five-for and he backed this up with a confident but brief lower order knock to help India scrape past the follow-on target.

Zaheer Khan – ?

India will be hoping their attack leader returns at Trent Bridge

A spectator for the majority of the game due to a hamstring strain but his two showings with the bat yielded no runs, not that it would have been him running them anyway. For the early stage of the game when he was fit for action he was very good and he had taken the only two English wickets prior to his injury.

Ishant Sharma – 6/10

Nothing with the bat at 11 and found wanting in a wicketless first innings of bowling. Found his rhythm in the second English innings and for a brief period revelled in tearing apart their top order. However, lunch then came to England’s rescue and Sharma was inexplicably held back for around 40 minutes after this break. When he came back on the aura had gone, promising signs though.

England:

Andrew Strauss – 4/10

Coming in off the back of two top-class knocks in India’s warm-up game the England captain again faltered a little with the bat. Two scores of no great note, but decent captaincy en route to one of the finest Test wins under his guidance.

Alistair Cook – 1/10

Brought back down to earth with a bump. There simply had to be a Test match coming up where Cook wouldn’t fill his boots and this was it. Hopefully better things to come as the series progresses.

Jonathan Trott – 6/10

Important gritty knock of 70 in the first innings in the worst of the conditions but failed to match t up with another good one in the second innings.

Kevin Pietersen – 9/10

KP has described this as his best Test knock

Glorious return to form for KP on one of his most prolific stomping grounds. His third Test double-hundred was outstanding and full of determination and maturity. He went through the motions in this most magnificent of innings, starting out slow in tricky conditions and cutting loose in the sunshine. Shame he tarnished his performance with a cheap dismissal for just 1 in the second innings but still got MOM.

Ian Bell – 4/10

Just as was the case for Cook, there was bound to be a Test where Ian Bell wouldn’t score big and this was it. Fluent forty or so in the first before falling victim to Sharma’s period of destruction in the second. Bell will be hoping this duck wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Eoin Morgan – 2/10

A poor showing from Ireland’s (and England’s) finest. Nothing to speak of with the bat and dropped poorly when the pressure was on to dismiss India in their second innings.

Matt Prior – 10/10

This hundred may well be Prior's most important innings for England thus far

Not the official MOM, but certainly got my vote. Really outstanding performance from England’s wicketkeeper/batsman. A brisk and exciting 70 odd in the first innings was followed up by an incredible unbeaten hundred in the second innings. Add to this an almost flawless performance with the gloves at Lords where keeping is notoriously tough and you can see why he is fast establishing himself as the finest number seven in world cricket.

Stuart Broad – 9/10

Broad allayed any fears over a lack of form

Came into this Test under the cosh with many feeling his place should have gone to Tim Bresnan. Maybe this was the spur behind an outstanding performance with bat and ball. He took the first three wickets of India’s first innings including that of Tendulkar en route to a four-for and followed this up with two more wickets in the second innings when if it weren’t for some suspect fielding and umpiring he could have had at least another two. A golden duck in England’s first innings was less than impressive but his unbeaten 74 alongside the majestic Prior helped save England from meltdown in their second innings. If only time were on his side he might have gone on to score a second Test hundred and it was fitting that he got the match sealing wicket.

Graeme Swann – 6/10

Like Harbajhan he struggled to really impress with the ball but he did comfortably out-bowl his opposite number. In addition to his efforts with the ball he provided able assistance with the bat when KP cut loose in England’s first innings, this contribution helped them assert their authority over their opponents at an early stage of the match.

Chris Tremlett – 7/10

Never looked fully fit but strived hard for his wickets and kept charging in to the bitter end. He got his reward with the prize scalp of Dhoni after tea on the last day and that seemed to be the spark needed to topple the lower order. Hopefully his niggles are minor and he will be all guns blazing come Friday.

James Anderson – 7/10

Not vintage all the way through from Jimmy but a great showing in India’s second innings. He eventually managed five-for and got his name on the honours board again at Lords, he will be disappointed with his lacking performance with the ball in India’s first innings though.

Will England prove themselves the new Lords of the Test arena

The world’s number one ranked side are coming to town and England must prepare for what could be their greatest challenge of recent years. India are currently rated the outstanding side in all forms of world cricket and England’s aspirations to usurp them at the top of at least the Test format rely heavily upon their forthcoming series.

Will Sachin be saluting his 100th International ton at Lords?

The challenge before them seems incredibly tough with India having unsurprisingly brought a fresh and full-strength squad after resting key names in their series against the West Indies. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Harbajhan Singh and MS Dhoni will all return looking to add to their already well founded track records in English conditions.

Add to this the enthusiasm and raw talent of their younger charges such as Ishant Sharma and England’s task really does appear to be formidable.

England’s long-term goal to become the greatest Test side in the world may not be such a huge problem as India are currently have an old squad which may be superb for now, but a period of transition is surely inevitable.

Soon masters of the sport like Tendulkar and Dravid will have to retire and the baton will be passed to the younger crop of talent. We await to see if the likes of Sharma can handle the pressure and continue to achieve when the experienced heads aren’t there to support them.

Sharma will be hoping to take on England's openers

For now though England must not get ahead of themselves. They have to prepare for the challenge of facing up to the most complete side they have encountered in years. This level of opposition has probably not been seen before an English Test side since the swan song of Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ in the 2007 Ashes series Down Under. Sadly we all remember only too well how that went.

Having mentioned such dark days it is important to underline that England have come along way since then in all formats of the game. This is probably attributable to the set-up in place to support the current English sides in all forms of the game. Head Coach Andy Flower along with major back-room staff David Saker, Graham Gooch and Richard Halsall has seen major improvements across all of bowling, batting and fielding. Such improvements have seen an increase in confidence and ‘aura’ surrounding this England side, as was highlighted so much throughout the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series. With an increased level of confidence in their ability, England have gone on to record back-to-back Ashes series victories both at home and abroad and have become the reigning World Twenty20 Champions. Though successes in the 50 Over format have been limited by contrast, the recent series victory against World Cup finalists Sri Lanka points towards a new and more positive approach to One-Day Internationals.

England's backroom staff watch on against Sri Lanka

At present it seems that the Test format is England’s strongest suit and that is why such emphasis has been placed upon achieving that number one ranking. The management and selectors of the Test side appeared to have invested a great deal of optimism and confidence in our current Test squad. There has been something of an epiphany regarding the depth of talent there ready and available for the selectors at present, and a realisation that we can now boast many of the world’s finest Test match cricketers.

The management appear to have aided the rise of players such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and James Anderson into the current world forces in their particular disciplines. Alongside these in-form stars England can now boast a truly matured and World-Class wicketkeeper/batsman in Matt Prior, a brooding Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad striving to recapture their finest form and an innovative, quick-scoring, middle-order run machine in Eoin Morgan.

KP and Broady will be hoping to rise to the occasion

Perhaps the most exciting part of the English game at present though is the fast-bowling department. In addition to the truly world class Anderson, England have a long queue of outstanding talent in this area. Messrs Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad, Graham Onions and Jade Dernbach have all represented their country within the past eighteen months and have each impressed. For now Tremlett appears to be a dead-cert in the line-up courtesy of some outstanding form after being brought in to the side halfway through the Ashes. Aside from this England could pick any one of the remaining six contenders to fill the remaining slot in their much-feared four man attack.

It seems likely that the selectors will stick with the currently out-of-form Broad, with his case strongly supported by the rewards reaped from having stuck with fellow youngster Alistair Cook in his times of trouble last summer. It seems that his ability to contribute quick and important runs down the order even if he isn’t firing with the ball may well maintain the edge he has over other potential suitors in the meantime. However, Broad must deliver and do it soon otherwise the others will start to prowl. This is the beauty of England’s current predicament, there really does appear to be a list of players able to step in to fill any non-firing members of the side. Few players are entirely safe in their position for the first time in a long time and this competition can only improve the current squad on a consistent basis.

With conditions likely to favour them, expectations of England are very high going into this series. They may be up against some of the finest players ever to play Test cricket, but they should aim high. They themselves now have really outstanding players, a mix of genuine raw talent and realised potential.

If they remain optimistic and perform to the best of their ability then I believe that they can prove the great strength of their current side and come out victorious. Having said that, it really will require their very best otherwise the series will be India’s for the taking. Both sides contain genuine match-winners and it should make for an intriguing battle, this is however dependent on whether the marvellous English summer allows some more cricket than it did against Sri Lanka.

Will the most open World Cup in memory serve up England’s greatest triumph?

England’s quest for the completion of an incredible year has this week reached the quarter-final stages of the World Cup. To complete the treble of Twenty20, Ashes and World Cup glory would have to be considered a year of unprecedented success, however, in order to achieve this they must first overcome Sri Lanka at fortress Premadasa.

England’s campaign thus far has been far from convincing. Defeats at the hands of associate side Ireland and the horribly out-of-form Bangladesh have called into question the fatigue-levels and mental state in the camp off the back of a busy winter, but England will know their work is far from done. They must keep in mind just how huger achievement it would be to complete this mission and that the end really is in sight. Their mentality in the bigger games has appeared committed thus far and that is the way things must remain.

England have demonstrated a major weakness against spin and the challenge of the master Muttiah Muralidaran, the famed ‘mystery-spinner’ Aganta Mendis and the in-form Tilekeratne Dilshan could well prove too much. ‘Murali’ and Mendis in particular can win this match single-handedly, couple that with the rampaging threat of Lasith Malinga and the task presents it’s own case. Though England undoubtedly boast match-winners too, it seems that Sri Lanka’s stars are far more fresh and in-form. In fact, some of England’s ‘X-Factor’ players such as Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad have already succumb to injury and left for home. Is it really possible for England to win this tournament without arguably their best one-day batsman and arguably their best one-day pace-man? The jury is very much out.

One thing is for sure, even if England do progress there is still a mountain to climb to win the tournament. With favourites South Africa the likely semi-final opponents and the prospect of the in-form Pakistan, hosts India, or reigning champions Australia waiting in the final it is clear for all to see that England are far from being crowned champions. Captain Andrew Strauss will be praying that the ‘dark-horse’ tag hanging round England’s necks at present will work in their favour as they seek some serious improvements going into these knock-out stages.

It has been a fantastic tournament so far, founded primarily upon the trials and tribulations of England’s campaign. They have been involved in arguably five of the greatest games of the tournament out of the six they have played, and have provided outstanding entertainment, if not any level of consistency. Players and fans alike will be hoping for victory this Saturday, but in truth I think the task is just too much for them. I tip Sri Lanka for victory and progression to a final against India. If this is the case then I believe India will rule triumphant on home-turf.

Whatever the outcome eventually is, it seems we are set for yet more excitement and hopefully a couple more surprises along the journey. England will hope to continue slipping under the radar and finding crucial victories from somewhere in the murky depths of the imagination, which so far they have stretched to it’s fullest extents. Perhaps only New Zealand are less favoured for glory, but Captain Strauss would be wise not to focus on this. They have one objective now and that is to win, we await to see if this is in fact achievable or whether it is more just a romantic pipe-dream.

England’s World Cup hopes fading as fatigue kicks in?

England have today slumped to a 6-1 ODI series defeat at the hands of the old enemy Australia. This in itself is of great concern to English hopes in the build-up to the World Cup starting later this month, but perhaps of more concern is the injury list.

Strike bowler Stuart Broad hasn’t featured since the second Ashes test, and other key players Tim Bresnan, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan and Graeme Swann have all had to return home for injury treatment in the hope they will regain near full fitness in time for the World Cup. It may not seem like too sorrier situation given the praise Andy Flower has received for having assembled squads containing strength in depth in all formats of the international game. However, even England’s range of backup options have succumb to injury, the likes of Ajmal Shazhad, Chris Woakes and Ashes hero Chris Tremlett are all currently unavailable for selection.

Stuart Broad Graeme Swann South Africa v New Zealand - ICC T20 World Cup

England will be praying upon the return to fitness of these four

The lack of any real one-day form on show from England throughout the series against Australia is perhaps attributable to the injury situation and the fatigue caused by the high-pressure Ashes series that has preceded it. Captain Andrew Strauss certainly seems to think so, and to that effect has demanded a restructuring of future international tours. Strauss believes that the one-day series’ in the future should be played in build-up to the test-matches, partly as a means of preparation and then to build excitement and anticipation in the lead-up to the test-series’. I for one would tend to agree with this.

The nature of the injuries picked up by the England players throughout this series supports the pleas of Strauss. They seem to have all been stress-related injuries that have been worsened through fatigue and through the pressure that has been put upon the players to play through the pain-barrier. It is certainly arguable that these one-day series’ should be shortened in the future, particularly in light of the importance of forthcoming dates on the international calendar.

On the face of it England are once again going in to a major tournament with seemingly little hope of success. However, all faith should not yet be shot to pieces. After all, we are the side that have most recently won a major international tournament in a shorter format of the game. Yes this was the Twenty20 World Cup and not in the 50 over game but the foundations in place throughout that tournament are still present if our major injury concerns return to fitness in time.

The ICC Cricket World Cup.. Will England get their hands on the coveted trophy

In Andrew Strauss we have a natural leader and fantastic opening batsmen. He will be accompanied at the top of the order my Matt Prior, arguably one of the most improved players in world cricket over the past couple of years. In at three it seems likely that Jonathan Trott will get the nod having proved to be England’s form batsmen of the series down-under. Our middle order is packed full of experienced  and world-class batsmen in the form of Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Ian Bell. All-rounders are a key part of the one-day game and we also have them in abundance; Paul Collingwood and Michael Yardy are certainly befitting of the role, and Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad are also very handy with the bat. Finally, Broad and Swan are accompanied by James Anderson in the role of wicket-taking strike bowlers. All three are that good and should form the basis of a potent bowling attack.

All being well the afore mentioned players will have all returned to match-fitness by the time things kick-off on the sub-continent. If that’s the case then England’s dismal form in the recent series shouldn’t count for too much and we can expect a fair crack at rounding off what could yet prove to be the best year in English cricketing history.