Sunday, 28 February 2010

England overcome spirited Tamim

A comfortable win in the end for England against Bangladesh today, by six wickets with four overs remaining, but if Bangladesh had managed to muster a single batsman to stick with the ever-improving Tamim Iqbal, the total would've been far more challenging.

Tamim's 125 off 120 balls was stroke filled, and he was particularly harsh on Ryan Sidebottom, who to my mind has his best days behind him and no longer belongs in an England shirt. A second spinner in James Tredwell, or perhaps Ajmal Shahzad who has more pace, would've been the better solution.

Bangladesh raced to 67-1 off their opening 10 overs where England failed to contain their aggressive tendencies, but thereafter England came back well. This was largely down to some brilliant bowling from Graeme Swann who finished with 3-32 from his 10 overs. Bangladesh had to make do with 228, which never looked enough.

Cook raced out of the blocks and hit a rapid half century, Kieswetter looked less assured, looked to get down the pitch to almost everything before Naeem Islam had him stumped all ends up. Pietersen looked ill at ease and only made 1 before being caught behind off Shakib al-Hasan.

Collingwood then came in and with intelligent shot selection and running finished Bangladesh off with 75 off 100 balls, Prior and Morgan both chipped in with 30s. I am increasingly of the mind that there is no other individual who brings so much so often to their team as Collingwood does to England.

For Bangladesh, Naeem and Shakib bowled well but Abdur Razzak is a not quite the bowler he was 18 months ago, likewise Mortaza but he is still feeling his way back in to international cricket. Shafiul was only entrusted with 2 overs.

For the next game I'd like to see Sidebottom dropped, and probably Tredwell in althought Shahzad might be a more future-focussed selection. Whatever the selection though, on the evidence of today, England should have no trouble in completing another win.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

How has limited overs cricket changed tests?

There has been a lot of talk over the last few days of how limited overs cricket has changed the character of cricket, this comes in light of Sachin Tendulkar becoming the first man to breach the 200 mark in a 50 over match.

Sachin Tendulkar's 200 - highlights

So how has the advent of the limited overs game impacted on test cricket?

I've looked at the last 110 years of test cricket and the fluctuations in the average run rate decade by decade, and whilst a compelling case is not necessarily revealed, it would seem that since limited overs cricket came in to play a more uniform trend has emerged.

In the 1900s the run rate was 2.82, and in the 1910s it was 3.10, a 10% increase in the scoring rate from one decade to the next. However in the 1920s it dipped by a sizeable 14% to 2.66, before clawing back 1% to 2.71 in the 1930s. The 1940s saw half as many tests as the 1930s, for very obvious reasons, and the run rate dipped again by 3.3% to 2.62. In the 1950s we see a marked dip, of 12.2% back down to 2.3 runs per over.

However, moving into the 1960s we see an 8% increase to 2.49 and thereafter it is an upward trend. In the 70s we jump another 8% to 2.69, 6.3% up in the 80s to 2.86 before, interestingly (honest), it flatlined in the 1990s and stayed at precisely 2.86. In the 2000s we see it move up again, by 12% to 3.2 and then in the nine tests so far this year we've seen an 8% jump to 3.45.

If I haven't sent you to sleep by now, I'm doing well. You could argue that limited overs cricket has changed nothing, because the rate in 1910 (3.1) is not as substantially different as you might expect to now (3.4). However its pretty clear that run rates have been on the up ever since limited overs cricket was introduced.

Ever since the first ODI was played in 1970, the run rate in test cricket has increased by about 35%, that's a pretty big difference. Interestingly if you look at the run rates for ODIs alone, they've increase by almost exactly the same amount, but I suspect some of this specific increase could be accounted for by the introduction of fielding restrictions and power plays.

I must say though I was expecting a more marked increase in run rates since ODIs were introduced from one decade to the next, and I can't account for the fact that players are only scoring a bit faster than they did in 1900, but an interesting exercise nonetheless!

Update: It occurs to me that its probably worth noting that the volume of ODIs in the 2000s was significantly higher than in the 1990s, and likewise from the 80s to the 90s. There were just under 1,000 ODIs in the 1990s, but 1,500 in the 2000s, so the maintenance of an increased run rate over 50% more matches makes it a bit more marked I suppose.

Tendulkar: The Don?

There's a poll on the Guardian today asking 'Is Sachin Tendulkar the Best Batsman Ever?', and the results so far have surprised me enormously.

As it stands, 91.5% of voters think the Little Master is the finest batsman to ever grace a cricket pitch, can this be right? I expected it to be marginally in favour of him, partly because its 24 hours since he scored the first ever double hundred in ODIs, and partly because Indian fans are so fanatical about him. But more than 9 in 10 people thinking he's the best ever?!

His numbers are staggering, make no mistake, 31,045 international runs, 240 scores of 50 or betters in 608 matches, that's a fifty every 2.5 matches over a twenty year career - so surely he's the best ever?

One thing is for sure, he's the best batsman of the modern age, whatever that means, let's say the last 40 years. Lara was a great, so too Richards, Ponting likewise and a few others, but Sachin is better.

I'm going to reveal a massive cop-out here - it doesn't make sense to compare Tendulkar with the likes of Bradman and Hobbs. Bradman and Hobbs played in the era of uncovered pitches and both averaged more than Tendulkar in tests, Bradman averaged 99.94 and Hobbs scored 199 First Class hundreds (100 of them after his 40th birthday!).

Tendulkar is playing in the age of professional cricket, indeed he is the ultimate professional, he has played against some of the greatest spin and pace attacks ever (Walsh and Ambrose, Waqar and Wasim, Warne and McGrath, Murali) and has displayed probably the finest longevity of any living cricketer.

Bradman and Tendulkar played in such utterly different eras of cricket that it makes no sense to compare the two. They are both legends of the game and we should be very grateful that we're living to see one of them at the very peak of his powers.

Note: Before he died, Bradman said he thought Tendulkar was the batsman most like himself and it is said that after watching him in the 1996 World Cup Bradman never missed a Tendulkar innings, high praise indeed!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar

Whaddaplayaaaaa! Incredible, there are almost no words to describe his innings of 200* today, but I imagine I'll have a go at waffling a few hundred myself.

The groundsmen said before the match today that this was a 300+ pitch, and he wasn't wrong, but I wonder if he expected India to post 401, with 50% of them coming from one Little Master? Half of the total scored by one man who faced less than half the balls in the entire innings. Unbelievable.

I haven't seen the innings yet, and thanks to the entirety of India logging on to Cricinfo, I very nearly missed the moment he went to 200 as well, but from what I've read and looking at the numbers from the innings, it was out of this world. Just three sixes in an innings of 200 from 147 balls is remarkable - the previous record of 194 held by Saeed Anwar and Charles Coventry contained five and seven sixes respectively.

Tendulkar has never been a power hitter, he carresses the ball and he was clearly at his carressing best throughout today's knock. It is somehow appropriate that the man some would argue, myself included, that the greatest batsman of the last 30 years (at least) should have become the first man to breach the 200 mark in One Day Internationals.

There is simply no one to touch him in this format: 17,500 runs, 46 hundreds, 93 fifties, nearly 2,000 fours and 134 sixes, an average of 45 at a strike rate of 86 from an incredible 442 matches - and the small matter of 154 wickets before injury stopped him from bowling his leggies or whatever they were.

I was absolutely gutted when Sachin got out for just one in the only match I've seen him play - England v India at the Oval in 2007, I also then had to sit through Rahul Dravid set the world record for the slowest 12 in test history (96 balls in case you're interested).

He is truly one of the greats of the game, regardless of the format, but today cements his place in history as the first man to score 200 runs in a One Day International, and that will never be taken away from him.

Will the IPL ever fulfil its obvious potential?

The start of the third IPL tournament is a little over two weeks away and there's a seemingly endless stream of stories appearing to question whether it will go ahead with its full gamut of global superstars.

Reg Dickason, the England security consultant who was so prominent in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist outrage in 2008 - and indeed instrumental in getting England's players (rightly) to go back to India to complete the series, has written a report seriously questioning the security of players if they go to the IPL.

A group called the 313 Brigade, apparently an off-shoot of al-Qaeda, has issued a specific threat to the tournament and has advised other countries that their players are not safe if they travel.

This comes off the back of last year's tournament being moved to South Africa at the last minute because Indian authorities could not guarantee the security of players with an election taking place at the same time. Does this litany of security concerns fundamentally undermine what is clearly an excellent event?

I don't necessarily think it does, there are security concerns at every international tournament so we shouldn't balk at the first sight of danger. However it does, like it or not, constantly leave a question mark over the tournament and that can't be good for its future development.

This isn't just bitterness because England are perceived to be outside the tent attempting to piss in where the IPL is concerned. I think its pretty obvious for all to see that there are constant question marks hovering over Lalit Modi's Twenty20 behemoth. Unless the security concerns can be put to bed once and for all this will in my opinion only detract from what its meant to be about: cricket.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

KP "I'll bat at number three in Australia"

Fiiiiiinally!!! I have been saying, since time imemorial it feels like, that England's main man, Kevin Pietersen, should bat at number three. Its the trickiest slot in the order, you have to be able to see off a new ball and play within yourself, or you could have to come in an maintain the momentum built by a substantial opening partnership. You have to be a quality, confident batsman.

That's exactly what KP is for England, he's our most talented batsman and by some distance our most confident batsman! Ok, so Kallis doesn't bat at three, neither does Yousuf or Tendulkar, but I personally think that is due to their advancing years, all of them should bat at three.

So when I saw this Pietersen interview with Lawrence Booth in the Daily Mail, I was absolutely delighted. He's actually putting his hands up and saying he'll bat at three for England. Of course he couldn't just switch there for the Ashes tour, so Andys Flower and Strauss should call his bluff, put him at three for the Pakistan series and tell him he needs to get ready for the Ashes!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Is Kevin Pietersen back to his best?

Kevin Pietersen's ultimately futile 62 from 40 balls today against Pakistan was superb, filled with some really brilliant shots. A couple of massive sixes and a few proper cricket shots, the bottom line is he scored plenty of runs very quickly. Razzaq's faintly ridiculous 46 off 18 aside, no one else really looked like scoring runs as easily as he did, which is a mark of just how good an innings it was.

So is he back to his best? He was hitting the ball exceptionally hard today, the one that Shahid Afridi 'dropped' must have come at him at a million miles an hour. That's a good sign, he's had a bit of time in the middle now and he was certainly middling it.

During Sky's coverage they showed a graphic which listed the top ten Twenty20 International scorers, Pietersen lies second in that list, with a significantly better strike rate than the man above him - Brendon McCullum - and that's some achievement in itself.

He's a vital player for England across all forms of cricket and if indeed he is back to himself then it might not be so far fetched to think that England could challenge for top honours in the World Twenty20 in May....

On another note, I think its time to try England's 16th opening pair in Twenty20 cricket, Denly looks a bit out of his depth at this stage and today Trott seemed either unwilling or unable to change gear. Lumb and Kieswetter, that's the pair we need I reckon.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Eoin Morgan is my hero

Along with Ramps and Sehwag. What a player, I haven't yet seen his innings from today's Twenty20 which England won at a canter by seven wickets, but I've got it Sky Plussed and it might just be one of the few things I don't delete in the ever present quest to keep the memory above 50%...

He took his sweet time today, at one point he had 10 runs off 20 balls, a strike rate of 50 in Twenty20 cricket is a veritable hanging offence. But he knew what he was doing - at the back end of his innings, the business end if you like, he went berserk, he took 32 runs off Umar Gul's last 9 deliveries. That's the same Umar Gul who took 5 for 6 against New Zealand and 4 for 8 against Australia and has a T20 strike rate of 12...Morgan just swept him aside.

His kind of confidence and ability is tailor made for Twenty20, but that's not to say he couldn't transfer that ability into the longer forms. Certainly he should be a mainstay of the ODI middle order. But is he, as the heroic Rob Smyth (he put a link to my blog on the Guardian OBO today!) put it, "the next cab on the test rank"? His record in four day cricket to this point isn't spectacular - his average is 36, with 6 hundreds in 48 matches, but a player with his kind of temperament and destructive potential would be a real bonus for our test side's middle order.

I don't think it'll be too long before he's given a go in the test side, he has claimed he's not ready yet, but I reckon if push comes to shove he'll have enough faith in his own ability to make a success of it.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Australia's aura

This is an absolutely cracking bit of cricket writing by Rob Steen at Cricinfo. Its about the aura that Australia play with, simple enough, but its very eloquently described.

Its something that England can never hope to replicate. England players are proud to be English and proud to play for England, but we never operate with the kind of bravado that the Aussies do.

That means England have to be better than Australia by that little bit extra...if England play Australia with theoretically equal sides, the Australian attitude will enable them to prevail. They never give in, their heads never drop, they just keep on coming at you regardless of the situation. England on the other hand will tend to get bogged down in the situation, if its not going our way our shoulders will drop and we'll let the match slip away.

This won't happen every time, and sometimes England will shock me and show some real character. In fact that has happened more times than I'd have thought over the last 12 months (Centurion, Cardiff, Cape Town), but with Australia its routine, and you have to admire them for that.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

England's Best Twenty20 XI?

Supposedly England's best 22 Twenty20 players squared up against one another in Dubai today, and the 'second string' came out on top, largely thanks to 3 frugal wickets from Adil Rashid and 81 more bludgeoned runs from Craig Kieswetter.

Neither side was perfect, so which were the 11 best players on show that England should take to the World Twenty20?

Openers: Trott & Denly or Lumb & Kieswetter? On the strength of today's game, there's no contest, the latter two scored 138 runs compared with 28 for Denly and Trott, but its not quite as simple as that. Certainly in 2009 Denly and Trott performed very well in the Twenty20 domestically, so they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. However Lumb and Kieswetter made plenty of runs domestically too, hence why they're out there in Dubai. As much as I rate Trott and Denly, for the World Twenty20 I'll be taking Lumb and the Saffer.

Middle order: Pietersen-Collingwood-Morgan-Wright-Prior or Gale-Bell-Carberry-Trego-Tredwell? This one's easier in my view, the Lions middle order isn't quite of sufficient quality for the World Twenty20. As good a players as Bell and Carberry undoubtedly are, I don't think they're the sort of player who will prosper in this format at the top level. I don't know enough about Gale and he hasn't covered himself in glory on this tour. Pietersen-Collingwood-Morgan is a classy middle order and should be the spine of our OD and T20 sides. Has Wright found his niche in the lower-middle order for England? Possibly, so I'll take a punt on him. Prior misses out here because Kieswetter is taking the keepers' gloves, and it might just be worth giving the hard-hitting Trego a go, although I'd be more inclined to go with a proven allrounder like Mascarenhas personally, or perhaps Denly could fit into the middle order here.

Bowlers: Bresnan-Broad-Sidebottom-Swann or Rashid-Woakes-Finn-Kirby? I think Bresnan, Broad and Swann have done enough in the last 12 months in all forms to take them to the World Twenty20, any of them will be very unlucky to miss out. So who gets the final bowling slot? In reality Anderson will almost certainly go but I continue to have doubts about his ability to adapt quick enough to not be destroyed too many times in Twenty20. I like the look of Woakes, and Finn has that height to create problems for many batsmen, and there's also Ajmal Shahzad to think about. I have yet to see enough consistent evidence that Rashid has curbed his tendency to bowl a couple of four-balls an over - but I hope he does soon! I think I'll take another gamble and stick Steve Finn in the side.

So my combined England/England Lions team looks like this:

Kieswetter (WK)
Collingwood (C)
Trego (or maybe Denly!)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Why are South Africa so inconsistent?

They may yet put on another strong batting performance to stave off defeat against India, indeed the game seems tailor made for a big Smith hundred ably assisted by the likes of Kallis and Amla, but why are South Africa so inconsistent?

Just a few days ago they were making India look a bunch of rank amateurs, completing an innings and six runs victory, and yet now they're staring down the barrel of the same result. Their batting has plenty of quality, even if Prince and Duminy are walking wickets at present, Kallis, Smith, Amla, ABdV - all class performers.

They're strong in the bowling too, Steyn is the best in the business at the moment, Morkel, while only devastating on certain pitches, is undoubtedly a handful more often than not and Kallis is very useful. Parnell is still very raw but will probably grow into a good bowler (and a useful lower order bat too). Their main weakness is in the spinning, Harris is a worthy performer, but I can't stand watching him bowl that outside leg line, its an insult!

So why don't they string together loads of wins? Maybe its in their heads, they do have a reputation as having a tendency to choke, so perhaps the pressure of a 'favourites' tag is too much for them to bear? That's the only solution I can see, there's too much quality in that side for it to be ability-related.

At least it makes for interesting series!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Afghanistan - can they better Bangladesh?

In two very short years Afghanistan have shot into focus in the cricketing world, from playing in Division 5 of world cricket in 2008, in Jersey of all places, to qualifying for this year's World Twenty20 after defeating Ireland, The Netherlands, USA and the UAE over the last few days.

They achieved associate membership to the ICC in 2001, while still under Taliban rule, and cricket has been played in the country since the mid 19th century. So the fact that they should turn out to be half decent cricketers is not necessarily much of a surprise, but it is such a romantic tale.

That a terribly war-torn place like Afghanistan has a sports team to cheer is a very good thing. And they look a cracking unit too, some decent spinners - Mohammad Nabi looks to have bowled very well (and he can chip in with the bat), a very useful fast-medium in Hamid Hassan and while the batting probably isn't quite up to scratch yet, it certainly isn't a disgrace.

Make no mistake, they are going to be the whipping boys at the World T20, but along the way they might give some of the big boys a bit of a scare. Are they going to be better than Bangladesh? It could happen, they're a very long way from Test status now (some people would say that's true of Bangladesh also!) but give it a decade or so and they could grow into a very useful outfit. Bangladesh struggled to kick on after a very promising 2007 World Cup, so its a case of Afghanistan cricket seizing their moments, if they do that it could happen for them!

Sport can be a very important part of a nation building itself. If the people have something to unite around then it can be about so much more. It is also a good thing for cricket generally to have another team on the horizon. Afghanistan making it to the World Twenty20 is a brilliant story and I wish them the best of luck!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Has English cricket "missed its chance"?

The ever-excellent Andrew Miller writes here on Cricinfo about a discussion with Surrey's very own Chairman, David Stewart, and the MCC Chief Exec, Keith Bradshaw.

In 2008, following the success of the inaugural IPL, Stewart and Bradshaw, together with Rod Bransgrove at Hampshire and Lancashire, floated the idea of a system of city based franchise cricket in England - nine franchises playing 57 matches over 25 high-summer days (mainly at the test grounds). The idea barely got out of the starting blocks because it could never command the support of a majority of the ECB board.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my sympathy for the consideration of city based franchises in the UK, and that remains my opinion. From 2008 to 2010 the financial situation of many of the counties will have worsened significantly and I do wonder if the franchise system - for Twenty20 cricket alone - might have served county cricket better than the current structure.

Members of county sides, myself included, still consider the County Championship the most important competition, indeed many members don't bother to show up for the Twenty20 games (I do, cricket is cricket, and I want my money's worth!). So why not give a clear delineation between the longer form and the shorter? There's no way to sex-up four day cricket, there just isn't. Ok, you can encourage more result-oriented wickets, but there's still a lot of standing around. I love it, but I'm in a huge minority.

The opinion of Stewart and Bradshaw is that the ship has sailed on a joint venture of this kind, and the fact that Hampshire are now in bed with the Rajasthan Royals seems to back that up, but there must be a way back. The ECB needs to get the counties around a table and thrash out a way to increase revenues by creating a more vibrant and enticing Twenty20 tournament, but in doing so it must not compromise the four day game.

I don't doubt that there would be huge barriers to progress, not least of which individual players' contracts with counties, but I'd rather see some sort of domestic resolution than see one more county, with over a century of history, taken under the wing of a three year old IPL franchise.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The case for fast tracking Craig Kieswetter...

England Lions soundly beat a Pakistan A side featuring a couple of familiar names, but it nonetheless would've been a shock to see the Lions come out second best. What was particularly pleasing though was the performance on Craig Kieswetter.

Although playing as a specialist batsman - Steven Davies took the gloves - Kieswetter proved his worth as a hitter with 77 not out from 52 balls featuring three sixes, one of which was apparently quite huge. There is talk of him being considered for the World Twenty20 in May, but I'd go one further and suggest he should be considered for the 50 overs squad as soon as possible.

Kieswetter qualifies for England proper next week so would presumably be eligible for a late inclusion in the squad going to Bangladesh. I don't expect it to happen and perhaps it would be a little harsh to vault him ahead of Davies who has done nothing wrong with the bat or gloves, but I think it'd be a good move.

The debate about whether we should have another Saffer in the side can be had elsewhere, it doesn't concern me a huge amount, I just want the best 11 players out there in England shirts. Matt Prior hasn't covered himself in glory in limited overs cricket for England, he averages a distinctly uninspiring 24 from 52 matches, at an equally uninspiring strike rate of 74. The selectors seems unsure as to whether he's a hitter or not, so maybe its time to try another.

This is not, by the way, a case of me lacking faith in Steven Davies. I think Davies is a cracking player and I am delighted he's with Surrey, but I do think Kieswetter has that x-factor which could lead to him being a real success for England. Moreover, if Kieswetter is playing for England then Davies will be available for Surrey more often (I'm not sure we can rely on our backup wicketkeeper for too long!).

In the coming years, an England batting lineup featuring Kieswetter, Michael Lumb, Eoin Morgan, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, maybe even Peter Trego, would be packed full of six-hitting firepower - something we've been lacking in recent times. Maybe a tilt at the 2011 World Cup isn't out of the question after all....

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Surrey "leading pursuit of IPL riches"

This story on Cricinfo has left me a little confused. It would seem that Surrey are pursuing some sort of IPL tie-in, but the reverse of the agreement Hampshire have signed with the Rajasthan Royals (story here), i.e. Surrey would be the senior partner.

Because of the Oval's position so close to the centre of London and with a large potential South Asian fan base to tap in to, Surrey's CEO, the very ambitious Paul Sheldon, seems to want to position the club in order to take advantage of the relatively un-tapped IPL riches.

I'm not sure about the clamour to become so intimately involved with the IPL, sure it might bring in more money, but where does it take the club, and ultimately, English cricket? This may be a failure of imagination on my part, but I just can't see where this is going. Perhaps as the ideas are fleshed out a little the picture will become clearer, but as it stands, I am firmly in the sceptics camp.

I am all for the globalisation of cricket, and I like the idea of the Champions League, but if each IPL team/county/state side is twinned, all we're going to get is an overcrowding of an already busy schedule, packing it with yet more Twenty20 cricket. You can have too much of a good thing, and I fear we are going down that route.

India: in rude health!

I was reading through the announcement of the India squad for the visit of South Africa coming up, the main squad contained a couple of new(ish) names, S. Badrinath and Abhimanyu Mithun, who both look good players, but it was the quality, and age, of the players in their Presidents XI side that really struck me.

I'm not very familiar with India's domestic competitions, alas, but a look at some of the players they've got coming through shows that though they're going to lose some thoroughbreds in Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman in the not-too-distant future, their future is in good hands.

Names like Rohit Sharma, Manish Pandey and Manpreet Gony are familiar from the IPL and have all at one point or another shown glimpses of huge talent. Sharma in particular who is already captain of Mumbai and vice captain of the current IPL champions, Deccan Chargers.

But there are others who have yet to feature much in the IPL and on the international scene. Three batsmen in particular catch the eye. The first of which is Cheteshwar Pujara, 22 years old and with 46 first class matches under his belt, he averages a shade over 57 with 13 hundreds (including one triple hundred!), the numbers say he's got a long career ahead of him, and he looks to be very well thought of too.

I've been following Abhinav Mukund in this year's Ranji Trophy, he's just 20 years old but he averaged just under 50 with 484 runs from 7 matches. But it was his record in the previous seasons that marked him out, he averages over 53 from 25 matches with 8 hundreds (again including a triple!). He's only likely to improve with experience too.

Lastly, Ajinkya Rahane, who at 21 is averaging over 63 for Mumbai, and despite being the only one of these three without a triple century, is sure to be a star of the future. He scored 172 against the England Lions side who were allowed in the Ranji Trophy in 2008, and who boasted Monty Panesar, Liam Plunkett and Steve Kirby in their attack.

I'm less sure about their bowling stocks, they don't have much to shout about at the moment beyond Zaheer, with Ishant and others in indifferent form (there's always Piyush Chawla!) but in the batting department India boast an embarassment of young riches. And I haven't even mentioned Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay - all of whom have already tasted international cricket with some considerable success. OK, replacing three players with over 62,000 international runs between them is going to be incredibly difficult, but at least they've got plenty of candidates!

South Africa's thrashing of India gives perspective

India, the world's number one ranked side, were comprehensively battered by a South African side firing on all cylinders over the past few days.

Dale Steyn, England's tormentor-in-chief in the latter part of their series took match figures of 10-108, moving him to within five wickets of 200 in just his 37th test. His strike rate is heading south of 38 - just incredible. Morkel also roughed up India's slightly weakened batting order, and Parnell and Harris also chipped in.

The nature of the beating, the sort that England managed to avoid, does not mean England are a better side than India. India were missing Dravid and were playing two debutants in Badrinath and Saha, with a relative newcomer - M Vijay - at number three. However it does show just what a good side South Africa are, they are playing away from home in conditions that ought to be tough for them to adapt to, but they are just proving that good bowlers get wickets on almost any surface.

I criticised England's batting in South Africa, and in some cases this was justified, but its clear that dealing with Steyn and Morkel is one hell of a task - I doubt that there is a better new ball pairing in world cricket at the moment. Moreover Hashim Amla proved what a good player he is growing in to with an enormous double hundred, and Ashwell Prince aside, South Africa look to have a very settled and talented top seven.

South Africa deserve to topple India at the top of the rankings, and barring a much improved performance in the one remaining test in this 'series', they probably will.

Friday, 5 February 2010

A return to the days of the 100mph bowler?

Shaun Tait, the mercurial and injury prone but tall and lightning quick Aussie bowler was recorded bowling at 160.7kph in the Twenty20 against Pakistan in Melbourne today. That's as near as damn it to 100mph (99.86mph to be precise).

In these days of over-coaching I wasn't sure we'd ever see a 100mph ball again, so I was pretty surprised when I heard about it. Tait has always been quick, regularly over 90mph, but I wasn't aware he'd reached these heights. He won't ever be able to bowl regularly like that, his action is unorthodox and he has no follow through, the strain on his back must be phenomenal, but Twenty20 might just be his game.

Australia had some attack in the game today, Tait and Nannes took the new ball, both bowling over 90mph and then Mitchell Johnson came in first change, and he's no slouch either - his first over did go for 20 mind you (I suppose 88-90mph must seem pretty pedestrian after facing Tait).

There are a few guys around the world at the moment up around the 90mph mark, Steyn and Morkel for South Africa, Aamer for Pakistan, Kemar Roach of the West Indies, Malinga for Sri Lanka and Rubel Hossain for Bangladesh is pretty quick. England are notable by their absence from that list, which is a serious issue in my view.

As much as I love to watch a quality spinner toying with a quality batsman, or vice versa, there's not much that can beat a genuine thoroughbred quick doing battle with the best of batters. Holding and Boycott, Donald and Athers, even Steyn and Collingwood, its pure theatre and the more quality quicks there are on the international circuit the better in my opinion!