Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Hello, remember me? So despite not posting for almost a year I didn't delete my blog in case I randomly decided to write something again, which I am now doing, partly because I finished school and have a lot of free time on my hands before I start university in four and a half weeks.

Anyway, on to the cricket. England are no longer number one in the world, in tests anyway - they are bizarrely number one in ODIs which probably owes more to home series wins than how good they actually are in the format. South Africa were better in all areas in the series - they batted better, which wasn't necessarily difficult at times; they fielded better - with England particularly letting themselves down in this area; and they bowled better - an area that had been a big strength for England in recent times. South Africa became number one, and deservedly so, but here are some reasons for England to still be (slightly, at least) cheerful.

  • Jonny Bairstow is a player that it's fair to say I'm biased towards, being a Yorkshire fan and him being one of my favourite players, but in that final test at Lords he proved himself. Obviously there is still a long way to go for him, and playing in India over the winter will be tough for him, but he was under a lot of pressure in the last test and came good. He had in some parts been written off for his struggle against the short ball, and he found himself replacing Kevin Pietersen, a man with 21 test centuries and who has been one of England's biggest stars since his debut. It was always going to be a difficult task but he performed and played some shots that Pietersen himself may well have been proud of, if he was that sort of guy. His second innings fifty helped kick start England's innings after the top order failed again and though they lost the test, he seemed to kick start the 'go down fighting' mentality. It was the start of what could be a long career for the Yorkshireman, as a specialist batsman or as a replacement for Matt Prior in the future.
  • They are no longer number one. Weird one maybe? But when you look at their form since becoming number one - losing in the UAE; struggling in Sri Lanka; beating a weak West Indies team but not emphatically; and playing below their ability in what was always going to be a tough series against South Africa -  it looks like that ranking may have been a burden rather than anything else. If you look back at India as well, who became number one and then got hammered 4-0 last summer by England, the number one team in the world has lost ten of their last fifteen matches. India's bowling attack is weaker than England's and their batting line up struggled in the English conditions, but it still shows the 'curse' of the top spot. After being number one England stopped being the hunters and became the hunted, and may well have been left without clear goals as well as becoming complacent about being the top team. Now they are back in the pack and will be desperate to find their way back to the top.
  • Steve Finn seemed to figure it out at Lords in the second innings. Finn has always been a lucky bowler, picking up wickets when not always bowling well, but has been expensive too. This was evident in the first innings - he took four wickets but his economy was 4.16 and though his wicket to dismiss Amla was a cracker, the wicket (or not) of Kallis was a gloved delivery down the legside. In the second innings though, he again took four wickets, but this time at an economy of 2.74. Like Bairstow, he still has work to do which is expected at 23 - his movement is generally in to the right hander which makes him less of a threat in test cricket where movement away is preferred. Continue like this though, and he will make that place his own as he has the advantage of pace and bounce that will always trouble batsmen.
  • Team spirit may be on the up now that Pietersen is gone and unlikely to feature in India. Now, nobody really knows what's going on in that whole saga, and it's getting a bit boring really, but it does look like he was having a negative effect in the dressing room. None of the players have come out to publicly support him, implying he's not too popular, and the buzzword of the last test was team spirit and how it's got better. Sometimes a big player going can have a positive effect with the limelight not being stolen by one person - this was seen at times when Flintoff was out of the team and also in the recent ODI series following Pietersen's retirement. India is a long tour and without too much freedom for players, meaning strong team spirit is a must. If the players continue to pull together then the tour of India could go better than expected.  
So these are some good points, but still I can't gloss over that there are some serious problems that need to be addressed. The batting line up was below par, with Bell and Strauss both averaging under 30 and Cook's century helping him to an average of 32.50, far from his standards of the previous year. The number five/six spot continued to be a problem - Bopara failed again in the first test and then disappeared and Taylor struggled - though of course he deserves and will get more chances. Kevin Pietersen topped the bowling averages, which says enough really. Broad, Anderson, Swann and Bresnan all averaged over 35, particularly disappointing when the series was being touted as having the two best bowling attacks in the world. The fielding also let England down, meaning the bowlers had to create more chances as well. Drops and half chances being taken could have made the series a lot closer - Amla early in his triple century innings, Petersen before he made 182, Amla early in his second innings as Lords. South Africa took their chances, their bowlers continually looked threatening and their batsmen didn't offer second chances and made England's bowlers pay. Somewhat like England against India last year, how the tables have turned.

On to the future. A tour to India is always difficult, one of the hardest in the game and particularly with a team that appeared to have an allergy to spin bowling last winter, and that will be down on confidence. They certainly aren't short of points to work on before then. But I do believe there are some reasons for them to be cheerful and I trust in Flower and Strauss to be the right men to help bring England back up. They did it after the low of 51 all out in the West Indies, and they hopefully can do it again.
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