Monday, October 23, 2006

Round one goes to the Aussies, after they unleashed the full force of their pace attack against a hapless England one-day line up to devastating effect.

Australia's rout of England in the ICC trophy group stages has prompted grumpy old Geoff Boycott to call for Duncan Flecther to annouce his retirement plans in his Daily Telegraph column. Boycott ridculed Fletcher and Flintoff for batting in-form Paul Collingwood at number 6. Collingwood replied that '"You cannot set the batting order expecting to be five down after 10 overs."
Are there any positives to come out of Saturday's defeat? Perhaps there are a few if you look closely.
Firstly test batsmen Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood all looked in good touch. Collingwood will probably miss out in the first tets if everyone is fit, but should there be an injury expect him to be raring to get after McGrath and Co. Bell especially has looked a different man recently than the nervous youngster who froze and padded up to a Shane Warne slider last year. Bell will probably bat at number 5, between Pietersen and Flintoff, and should bring a nice balance to a sound-looking middle-order.
Secondly Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting has continued his run of low scores. Punter has been in terrible form throughout both the DLF Cup and the ICC trophy. Matthew Hayden has been bitten by a dog and Dennis Lillee is worried about the number of Aussie's on the wrong side of 35. Forsaking Pontings second innings century at Old Trafford only Justin Langer batted well against Harmison and Co. last time around. Hussey will probably start this time around, but should the old dogs fail again in the first couple of games expect Aussie calls for their blood.
Thirdly, young speedsters Sajid Mahmood and Jimmy Anderson, both contesting the third seamers position, took top-order Aussie scalps on Saturday. Hopefully Harmison will get his radar back with the new red ball and Flintoff will be ready to bowl at 100% come November 23rd.
Maybe things aren't all that bad after all. Young Alistair Cook looks like he is made of the right stuff, Trescothick will be back and so will Hoggard and Giles and Panesar in the bowling department. This could leave us with the biggest selection problem England has had since the Thorpe/Pietersen conumdrum before the last ashes series; Ashley Giles or Monty Panesar?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Slingy fast bowler Shaun Tait is staking his claim for Ashes selection in the Pura cup, as South Australia look to bowl out New South Wales for less than 280 on the final day tomorrow.
Tait took 4-70 in the first innings to help his side to a useful lead of 95 runs. Sidelined through injury after his stint in the baggy green in the 2005 Ashes series, Jason Gillespie took over the mantle of first change bowler against bangladesh.
Gillespie, who averaged 11 with the ball and made a double hundred as nightwatchman on his return against the Tigers, seems less than optimistic about his reselection however. Calling for the selectors to pick 'young punks' the veteran speedster praised Tait, saying he 'can run through teams'.
'He bowls with genuine pace, swinging yorkers and he's unpredictable. He's got some serious talent.' Gillespie continued. Tait has taken 5 wickets at an average of 42 runs in his two test matches so far. Both were against England during last years Ashes series when Gillespie was dropped for averaging 100.
Gillespie has never really been his old self since losing the new ball to Brett Lee. Even though McGrath was sidelined in the Edgebaston test and Gillespie was allowed to open up once again he bowled with less zip than he used to and was generally treated like fodder by Englands batsmen.
Gillespie might be showing some bias however, as Shaun Tait is his new ball partner at South Australia. So far in the Pura Cup match Gillespie has blanked, returning first innings figures of 13-1-41-0. After a poor season with Yorkshire no wonder he's so optimistic about not getting the nod this winter, let alone ever seeing the new ball again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The first round of matches finished to today with the West Indies sneaking a win over the out-of-sorts Aussies. So far no batsman has made 100 and both seam-up, accurate medium pace and spin bowling has caused trouble on some less than perfect Indian pitches.

Time to reflect on what the rest of the tournament may hold with a team-by-team run down on who's hot and who's looking shot so far.

India are now 9/4 favourites with William Hill for the trophy. Their pace bowlers looked the part against a hapless England in the opening match, however their batsmen are still yet to find the sort of form that will deliver the home-side the trophy. Now that the Windies are on song, having beaten the world champions today, it's quite possible India might face an early exit. If their batsmen don't make big improvements expect them to lose to Brian Lara's men and the Aussies.

Australia are 3/1 second favourites even after their disappointing result today. The Aussies will be happy that Adam Gilchrist has returned with a bang, making 92 today. However they seem insistant on continuing to open up with Shane Watson and their middle order are looking sloppy. Their bowling has been nothing special and unless they beat India Ponting's men will probably go out in the first round.

Pakistan can be had to lift the trophy at 9/2. Even without Inzamam, Ahktar and Asif they have one win on the bag and look ready to go onto better things. Razzaq is clearly enjoying the big stage and is pressing for man of the tournament after his all round performance that included taking 4-50 and hitting a quickfire 38 to see his team home against the Sri Lankans. Expect them to win their next two games as well and finish top of the group.

You can still get 7/1 on the West Indies. Now they only really have to beat England to be sure of a place in the semi-finals and if the Aussies beat England on Saturday the pressure will be on India when they meet on the 26th. Lara continued his good form, and with runs in seemingly short supply in this tournament this will be re-assuring for their supporters. Expect the Windies to definately qualify for the Semi's.

Sri-Lanka are also 7/1 and looked good against Pakistan in a tight game. Their top 5 batsmen are all scoring runs and this should be enough to see them passed the South Africans and the Kiwi's. Expect Sri-Lanka to go through with Pakistan.

New-Zealand are 7/1 chances as well after winning against the Saffers. Only skipper Stephen Fleming scored runs in their victory over South Africa, they look likely to lose to both Sri-Lanka and Pakistan.

South Africa are 10/1 shots. Graeme Smith's men were not convincing in the slightest against the Kiwis and should be no match for Pakistan or Sri-Lanka. Having said that both these teams are prone to bad days and judging on their current form, all the the saffers can hope for is that they both have one.

England are way out at 33/1 which says it all really. Harmisons radar is on the blink again and their batsmen are getting out in single figures. Can KP and Freddie save the day? Flintoff should revert to his favourite number 5 slot, KP in 4 and Yardy or Dalrymple at 3. It is more likely, however they stick with the current experiment and go to Australia having lost 3 out of 3.

Predictions for semi-finals? Sri-Lanka beat the West Indies and Australia beat Pakistan

Friday, October 13, 2006

Two days to go until the opening England - India showdown in the ICC Champions Trophy, and time to prophecise which eleven players England will field.
There has been talk that Flintoff might open up the batting. England haven't really got to grips with powerplay yet and time to experiment before the World Cup next year is running out. Expect this rumour to be a goer and positions 1 and 2 to be occupied by Strauss and Flintoff.
First wicket down and Bell will probably be walking to the crease. Bell made a brisk 53 in the warm-up game at Jaipur and has shown he has the mettle to dig in a bat through an innings in recent one-day matches. He can find the gaps and plays proper cricket shots to find his boundries. His orders from the dressing room will be: 'don't get out, rotate the strike, hold it together for the hitters'.
Pietersen, Englands best one-day batsman will stride in at number 4 and will be told to play his natural game. If Pietersen fires England will post a big total, Fletcher knows this and will be sitting in the dressing room with his fingers crossed.
Expect Yardy to bat in the number 5 slot. The young left-hander made a classy century in Sussex's innings victory over Notts in September and has been economical with his slow left-armers in the two games he has played. Yardy's orders will be to settle the innings in the event of early wickets or to hit quick runs if coming in at the end.
The number 6 spot belongs to Paul Collingwood. He is Englands most versitile and creative one-day player. Whether playing the singles game in the middle of the innings against the slow bowlers or hitting sixes in a tight run chase he has proved he can hold his nerve.
Jamie Dalrymple has been a revelation coming in at number 7. He made an unbeaten 79 off 69 balls in the warm-ip match and his slow bowling has been effective in the middle of the innings. Chris Read will bat behind him at number 8 and will be looking to prove his worth with the bat in the one-day arena should the opportuntiy arise.
With Flintoff not bowling England will pick three specialist pacemen and they will be expected to bowl 10 overs each. Expect Jon Lewis to miss out to Sahjid Mahmood, Steve Harmison and Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy, argueably our best one-day wicket-taker, will open up with Harmy and Mahmood will be expected to provide 2 spells of fast stuff around overs 10-15 and later with the old ball to see if he can extract some reverse swing.
Dalrymple, Yardy and perhaps Pietersen or Collingwood will be asked to apply the brakes in the middle of the innings. India's batsmen may decide to target Englands inexperienced spin-twins and this will be an interesting battle of nerves.
On paper England look like they have the players to embarrass India at home, the Indians will not be in the mood to lose to 12/1 tourment outsiders in their back yard though. Expect a close game and a real fight from both sides.
If one of Englands batters can make a decent hundred and Jimmy is on song with the new ball, India could end up on the receiving end of the first upset of the tournament. William Hill will gove you 7/4 on an England victory, 10/1 on Yardy to top score, 7/1 on Dalrymple and 6/1 on Collingwood.
Betting advice: a small bet on Yardy at 10/1 will be good value if he does start in the number 5 slot.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

England's young pace duo of Jimmy Anderson and Liam Plunkett have both declared their fitness for the Ashes, whist two Aussie fast bowlers are already on the physio's couch.
Stuart Clarke, a tall, accurate, fast-medium right-armer who impressed in South Africa earlier this year went down last week and will miss the ICC Trophy with a torn muscle. This will dilute his Ashes chances for sure, leaving young left-armers Johnson and Bracken competing for the third seamer's spot. Michael Kasprowicz has crocked his back, looking certain to be out of the contention for bowling places. After last time, when he and Gillespie got spanked all over the park, it's a doubt he was ever in the frame.
Alan Border, who recently argued in favour of fielding a 5-pronged bowling attack by playing Shane Watson as all-rounder has quit the board of selectors too. He stated he was too busy, too busy for what we might ask? They must be having some frantic debates about the balance of their side, what England fan wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall in that room? It's a good bet some of the guys aren't happy with the idea of Watson as a test match batsman.
In the England camp things are rosy. Liam Plunkett is '100% fit and raring to go Australia' according to his own words on the BBC TMS blog. Anderson is ready for the ICC one-day action ahead, and England would be fools not to let him open the bowling with Steve Harmison.
So much for Glen McGrath's statement to the Mail on Sunday last week that the Aussies would win the Ashes series 5-0. The 37 year old reckons he will be bowling at 100% by November 23rd, but it's more likely he is getting over the hill for a test match bowler. Perhaps this is one reason the selectors are arguing about whether or not 4 bowlers in enough to take 20 wickets against a confident England side with good competition for middle-batting slots.
This time in 2002 the Aussies would not have questioned their ability to win with 4 bowlers. The balance of power has shifted. Not only do England have more internationally experienced fast bowlers to call on, the aussies have to win the series to get back the urn. This means they have to bowl us out twice and their pace men are starting to drop like flys. There is the option of playing 2 spinners, but allegedly Warne doesn't like playing in the same team as MacGill.
Expect the Aussies to start with Johnson as third seamer at Brisbane. Englands best hope is that that their left-handed openers will make him look a national embarrassment. This will bring on a crisis for their selectors and a media backlash. Watson's position is still not clear, call it 50/50 whether he'll be in the final 11.
William Hill still make England 4/1 to win the series but have dropped the price on an England win at the first test from 11/2 down to 9/2. Expect this to fall a bit more before the toss the on 23rd November, especially if another convict gets crocked.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sri Lanka stretched their legs today, easing to a 37 run victory over Bangladesh in the first ICC qualifier.

The Sri-Lankans, back under the captaincy of Marvin Attapattu, were never pressured by the Banglesdeshi bowlers. All of the top six batsmen made quick runs with Upul Tharanga keeping up his good form with a dazzling 105. The men from Ceylon will need to hit the ground running in order to lift the trophy and today will have served as a good aclimatiser for the real action ahead.
Providing the Windies don't slip up against Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, the winner of their match with Sri-Lanka will get the easiest run in the group stages, the loser facing the Aussies and home side India.
Sri-Lanka's bowlers did not fare as well as will be needed if they are to lift the trophy however. The usually miserly Muralitharan went for 45 runs off his 10 overs, perhaps a sign the Bangladeshi batsmen are improving, however none were good enough to score the runs needed at sufficient pace.
If Sri Lanka beat the Windies, they will need to press home the advantage of match practice against a rusty New Zealand, an Imzaman-less Pakistan that no-one wants to captain and a South Africa that has warmed up against a poor Zimbabwe in alien conditions.
Over in England's group Duncan Fletcher has hinted he might have some tricks up his sleeve for the Aussies. In the 2004 trophy Micheal Vaughan surprised them by bowling 10 economical overs of his off-spin and taking 2 wickets. What will the plan be this time? Will Kevin Pietersen take the ball against Ponting's men?