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    February 12, 2007

    England pose questions galore

    England's victory in the CBA series was, if nothing else, utterly bizarre. Their best batsmen and their best bowler in the series both went home. Their revenant captain came, saw, scored little, masterminded an excellent win, and returned to the ranks of the mortally wounded. Their full-time stand-in captain, known for explosive batting and expected to be a leader long on inspiration, short on nous, led the team to three consecutive wins against the side that had trounced him and his team 5-0 in the Tests. Even more, these wins weren't explosive, outstanding, once-in-a-lifetime efforts - they were workmanlike. Or, to be more generous, professional.

    Where did this come from? Aside from going some way to proving Matthew Hoggard right in his debate with Jagadish, this has been a victory for sensible (perhaps boring) cricket, as well as a victory for shambolic preparation. Without Pietersen, England have been reduced to two hitters: Mal Loye, who runs very few singles; and Andrew Flintoff, who has often come in to situations where he could not risk his wicket. England could struggle on small grounds with this approach, especially if Vaughan returns to join Bell and Joyce at the top of the order. If Sri Lanka brought pinch-hitting to the world in 1996, England might well end up with the batting equivalent of Dibbly, Dobbly, and Wobbly. Even despite this result, I'm struggling to see England making the semi-finals of the World Cup.

    And that's just the England team. With the World Cup on the horizon, what has happened to Australia? They have the class players, of that there is no doubt. Ricky Ponting continues to be an unspeakably brilliant batsman. But, in an ironic twist, their side is packed with bowlers who have failed to make an impression in the county game. Shaun Tait was by far the worst, with the ludicrous figure of 18-0-176-0 from 2 games for Durham in 2004. Brad Hogg, Shane Watson, and Cameron White have all put in excellent batting performances and mediocre bowling performances in the past few seasons for their counties.

    From the outside looking in, there isn't too much of a problem with Australia. They are still the best fielding side in the world, bar none. (South Africa are good, but drop too many catches.) Their batting line up is, if not clearly the best, certainly not clearly not the best. Their bowling has been average, but there isn't a whole lot wrong with a pace attack of Lee, McGrath, and Clark. The problem is the back-up. I like Brad Hogg and I think he should play, but it seems that if he plays, Shane Watson plays. Despite a decent record, I simply do not rate Watson's bowling. He doesn't obtain much movement, and he just looks hittable. With his injury record, he seems unlikely to ever be able to make himself a fixture in the side. Unfortunately for Australia, neither Hilfenhaus nor Tait can bat. Michael Clarke is a good spin option, but Australia's only other batting all-rounder who bowls seam-up appears to be Symonds.

    Finally, South Africa are in with a very real chance of being the top-ranked side going in to the World Cup. They need to beat Pakistan and hope New Zealand beat Australia to knock the Aussies off the top for the first time since the rankings were introduced.

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    Thus spake Geoff @ 3:57 PM |
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    8 sledge(s):

    Geoff: Quite the contrary, I'd say, when you say that Hoggard's comments are proved right. England didn't win this series because they were superb on _one_ day. They outplayed Australia and New Zealand five times. That's why they won. England's win was _not_ because "two people" won them the tournament. Last I counted, Collingwood, Flintoff, Bell, Plunkett , Panesar and Joyce (the last 2 being less of an impact than the others), didn't add up to two folks. World Cup wins don't have to be flamboyant - India proved that in 1983 and Australia in 1987. You need good all-round team efforts. Yes, you'll always get the odd situation where two guys win you a game. But if you have to win the tournament, two is around 6 too less.

    By Blogger Jagadish (12-Feb-2007, 4:22:00 PM)  

    But it was pretty much two players in each match. Joyce and Plunkett, Collingwood and Flintoff (twice), Collingwood and Plunkett. England were poorly prepared, and have had - as you have often pointed out - the wrong attitude. What does it say when a team in that state can reel off three in a row against the best side in the world?

    By Blogger Geoff (12-Feb-2007, 4:47:00 PM)  

    You can't have all the chaps firing in the same game. That's why I said that as long as you have around 6 people firing over the tournament, and 2 of them doing so in each game, you're doing fine.

    Last World Cup, barring Ponting, none of the other Aussie batsmen were consistent. But, they combined with Ponting in at least one game each, to rout their opponents. Nearly ditto with the bowling. Casting aside their bullying of minnows, Lee and McGrath were the only ones to perform reasonably consistently with the ball. Bichel had _one_ good game. Hogg was anonymous.

    India's performance was fairly similar - except it came apart spectacularly against Australia.

    What England's perform does tell us is that desperation matters a lot. Plus, I'm sure this England side really took the one-day series finals seriously.

    I hope this triggers off the acceptance in England's current players, former players, administration and media, that one-day cricket does count. Rubbishing one-day cricket and not preparing for that format of the game simply because the Ashes is more important will never happen again, I hope. England's 4 ODI wins in a row now are its best winning streak since that Sharjah tournament in 1997/98!

    You will agree that England came periliously close to being a laughing stock had they not reached the finals. They'd have been a non-entity at the ICC Champions Trophy and not got to the triangular finals. All this while the main prize (the Ashes!) would have been far beyond reach.

    By Blogger Jagadish (12-Feb-2007, 5:30:00 PM)  

    And by winning streaks, I'm only referring to serious opposition, i.e. no Zimbabwe or Bangladesh series considered!

    By Blogger Jagadish (12-Feb-2007, 5:31:00 PM)  

    England's victories has certainly made us all look at them again. I think they are finding something they didn't know they had, and I'll watch them closely in the World Cup.

    SA's fielding has been improved drastically since the summer started. Against India SA were OK, and now against Pakistan, they are really getting to brilliant, and better than Aus IMO.

    For the world cup though... My top teams are:
    West Indies (they are at home)
    And I think England sneaked in in fourth for me now.

    I haven't followed Sri Lanka recently so I am unsure of their abilities. NZ is very unpredictable so I won't count them out, but they are not in the top 4 for me.

    Also maybe India and Pakistan is just not high in my books as they both lost against SA. (The series is still alive for drawing, but I think SA will win it).

    By Blogger Reenen (13-Feb-2007, 12:21:00 PM)  

    I pity Australia's first two opponents at the World Cup (Scotland and Netherlands). They'll really take their frustration out on those two poor teams!

    As for the World Cup, I'd pick a top 4 from Australia, India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa and West Indies.

    Pakistan could be in trouble if their bowling is at half-strength and given Afridi doesn't play until halfway through the first stage.

    By Blogger Jagadish (13-Feb-2007, 4:31:00 PM)  

    Reenen: England may be playing better now, but Sri Lanka absolutely thumped them last (English) summer. As Sri Lanka don't seem to have let up since, I'd put them in the semis instead of England.

    Jagadish: but England did well here without preparing properly. Where's the incentive for better preparation next time? (I wonder if the fantastic win in the 1992 World Cup has influenced Pakistan since...)

    By Blogger Geoff (13-Feb-2007, 6:53:00 PM)  

    Stop press! Pakistan's bowling is more than likely to be at quarter strength. Rumours abound (reported in 'The News', a Pakistani daily that Shoaib and Asif have failed YAIDT (Yet Another Internal Drug Test).

    Although the PCB indicates that reports of the test are greatly exaggerated, the only conclusion I can make is that the reports are in fact accurate!

    Geoff - Yes. England did win without preparation. The incentive for preparation will come when they find out that you can't turn up at every tournament unprepared and win it. Besides, your lot are now among the favourites. Now that's one helluva reputation to live upto! Maybe that's another motivation/incentive?

    By Blogger Jagadish (13-Feb-2007, 11:53:00 PM)  

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