Category Archives: Test Cricket

Point-to-prove XI for 2014

Reflection of the previous year often aids with informing the expectations of the season to come. As we recover from a year of retirements and the changing the guard, we can look into a crystal ball, and see who will be looking to have a more productive 2014. Not all in this list have had a disappointing 2013, but, all will be looking to have a purposeful year ahead, and really prove something.

*2013 statistics are amalgamated from all formats of International cricket.

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1. Jesse Ryder [New Zealand] – 2013:

Batting: 1 innings – 0 runs. Average 0 |

Jesse Ryder is a special talent, but certainly not a fulfilled one. His staggered career has developed at an uneven rate, which has given rise to the fact that at 29 years old, he has played just 18 Test matches, and only 41 ODIs. He’s better than that, but it needs consistency, and discipline on and off the field. Combining the two could allow Ryder to explode back onto the scene, which may be important with T20 contracts up for grabs. A century on the first day of 2014 is a good sign, but with Ryder, it is never far away from something unexpected.

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2. Murali Vijay [India] – 2013:

Batting: 14 innings – 704 runs – Average – 48.82 | Bowling: Overs 1 – Wickets: 0 – Average: 0

After having made his debut in 2008, Vijay’s chance for Test cricket has been stifled by the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag at the top. They have since been put to one side, and Vijay’s chance has finally emerged. 647 Test runs at an average of 46.76 in 2013 was a good grounded response to continued selection. But, with the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara for company in the batting order, he must stay relevant, and not be a passenger. In order to not be buried in the drama of Indian cricket, and the high octane performances of others, he must push the boundaries, and really build a reputation.

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3. Azhar Ali [Pakistan] – 2013:

Batting: 15 innings – 272 runs – Average: 31.77 | Bowling: Overs: 7 – Wickets: 0 – Average: 0

Pakistan are about to go through a turbulent period, with Misbah Ul Haq at the ripe age of 39, and Younis Khan at 36, spare parts are desperately needed. Azhar Ali was steady for a number of years for Pakistan at number three, but severely fell away in 2013, with just two fifties, and averaging under 20 in Tests. 270 runs in 14 Test innings is not good enough, when in the previous year, he scored more than double that in less matches. There is lots to work on, and lots to like about Ali, but he really must show he has a future for Pakistan, post Misbah and Younis, by seizing number three by the horns, and not letting go. Pakistan cricket is a roller coaster ride sometimes, and a solid, steady number three is what is needed. Step up Azhar.

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4. Joe Root [England] – 2013:

Batting: 48 innings – 1579 runs – average: 38.51 | Bowling: Overs: 118.0 – Wickets: 8 – Average: 69. 87

The golden boy of English cricket is finding out the hard way that top level cricket is very difficult. Averaging 34.48 in Tests last year, he has been moved up and down the order perpetually, not being allowed to settle. He has been worked over by Australia’s quicks, exposed horribly, and although having played the short ball well, he has not been the defensive rock that England had hoped for at the top of the order. Whereas some will attribute this to him being unsettled due to constant change, it must also be recognised that he has not made any of the positions his own. He is only young of course, but the sooner he consolidates a position, the better, and that is the task for the year in all formats.

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5. JP Duminy [South Africa] – 2013:

Batting: 32 innings – 948 runs – average 35.11 | Bowling: Overs: 177.4 – Wickets: 20 – Average: 36.90

The left hander has gained a reputation as a One Day specialist, which is something he will be keen to repute. He has only played 21 Tests in his career, and has always been placed in the lower middle order, coming in to bat after a flurry of world class batsmen such as Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers. Nobody doubts his One Day credentials, but his First Class average of nearly 50, simply does not translate in Test cricket, where he averages a meager 32.88. He will be looking to assert himself, and prove he is not just a One Day specialist.

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6. Angelo Mathews [Sri Lanka] – 2013:

Batting: 34 innings – 935 runs – average: 34.62 | Bowling: Overs: 200.4- Wickets: 23- Average: 40.34

As a player, and as a captain, Angelo Mathews has struggled to form a cohesive Test side. He played in 28 limited overs games, whilst having only three full Tests in 2013, which outlines the difficulty of long term planning. A general depression in form in Tests, has been contrasted by a strong-ish year in coloured kits. In Tests, scoring under a hundred runs in the year, and taking not a single wicket showed his ineptitude, yet in ODIs, his 585 runs and 19 wickets helped build his character as a leader. 2014 needs to be the year in which the Sri Lankan captain strengthens his place as the leader, and transfers limited overs contributions to Tests, because if he doesn’t Sri Lanka will be far too heavily reliant on the old guard.

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7. Quinton De Kock [South Africa] – 2013:

Batting: 23 innings – 928 runs – average: 42.18 | Wicketkeeping: Catches: 33 Stumpings: 4

With the retirement of Jacques Kallis, a position in the batting order has opened up. Quinton De Kock has had a fantastic year in limited overs cricket for South Africa, the only format he was afforded selection with 928 runs, including four centuries. He is the obvious player to come into the Test side, and as a wicketkeeper, he has an added string to his bow. Some will say at 21 he is too young to fill Kallis’s enormous hole, but  someone has to, and in spite of his inexperience, De Kock has shown considerable ticker in his performances so far.

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8. Darren Sammy [The West Indies] – 2013:

Batting: 35 innings – 709 runs – average 26.25 | Bowling: Overs: 260.1 – Wickets: 21 – Average: 50.04 | Fielding: Catches: 30

The West Indies beleaguered captain is chronically unable to lead from the front, and must show some more substance. His toothless bowling produced eight Test wickets in nine innings in 2013, and his Test batting average of just 21 is not exactly electric dynamite. He is economical and steady, but he is clearly picked as a and captain in Tests. After having been relinquished of the role in 50 over cricket, it’s surely only a matter of time before a new captain of any degree of competence emerges, which could render Sammy obsolete. He continues to be a solid limited overs performers, but especially for Test cricket, he needs to start showing his worth. 2014 must be the year of Sammy, where he shows his value to the team not just as a captain.

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9. Ravichandran Ashwin [India] – 2013:

Batting: 24 innings – 359 runs – average: 17.95 | Bowling: Overs: 617.1 – Wickets: 81 – Average: 28.60

Disposed of for the second Test in South Africa, India’s spinner seems to be inept outside of the sub continent. 95 of his 104 Test wickets have been in Asia, which does not take away from his achievements, but it suggest he is a one dimensional and inexperienced performer outside of India. When his side plays England in five Tests in 2014, he will be desperate to be in that side ahead of Pragyan Ojha, the genuine spinner, or Ravi Jadeja, the genuine allrounder. He must break out of his Sub-continental mould, and really secure his spot in the side by developing a stock ball, and learning to use variations more intelligently. Until he does that, he will never have success where there is less spin to be had.

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10. Steven Finn [England] – 2013:

Batting: 15 innings – 142 runs – average: 10.92 | Bowling: Overs: 324.5 – Wickets: 44 – Average: 32.63

In 2011, Steven Finn became England’s youngest bowler to 50 wickets, at the age 22 years and 63 days. The tall seamer was set to be ‘the next big thing’, but failed. Struggling with control, even when he got wickets, they were expensive, and he has spluttered and coughed his way through his career since being dropped in 2011. 2014 simply must be the year for Finn to settle his action, and lead. Whatever format, ‘If’ he has a serious future, and ‘If’ he wants to carry the legacy on that was laid out in 2011, this year has got to be the turning point. He is clearly a good bowler, and has performed spectacularly well especially in limited overs cricket, but without consistency, he will always simply be remembered as the bowler that occasionally performed well. Getting a consistent reliable action is his task for the year. If he does, success will come his way.

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11. Ishant Sharma [India] –

Batting: 17 innings – 34 runs – average: 3.77 | Bowling: Overs: 367.2 – Wickets: 47 – Average: 34.53

How do you solve a problem like Ishant Sharma? A tall, gangly fast bowler, that is robotic. His bowling lacks the emotion that a fast bowler should have, sometimes more stiff and unimaginative than a bowling machine. 12 Test wickets at an average of 48.16 in 2013 has reinforced his dire 2012 performance which produced just seven Test wickets at an average of 75.57. He is only 25 years old, despite having been around since 2008; but time is running out regardless of his age. Only for so long can India continuously pick this uninspiring and ineffective bag of unfulfilled potential. 2014 might be Sharma’s last chance to prove everyone wrong before he is dumped on the scrapheap once and for all.

Other contenders: Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon.

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Captain Sammy – Part of the solution or the problem?

Darren Sammy has plugged the West Indies problems as a captain for some time. Whereas he has been relinquished from his limited overs captaincy, his captaincy at Test level has stabilised the West Indies side much like Misbah Ul Haq’s has for Pakistan, but unlike Misbah; Sammy’s role is not worth the drama it causes. He is not there on merit and it’s time the West Indies stopped wasting a place in their side, and gracefully said thank you, and progressed on in Test Cricket.

Turning back the clocks, the appointment of Darren Sammy as captain came after a host of catastrophes. West Indies captains came and went almost as often as Australian off spinners, as both board troubles and internal disputes meant that the likes of Chris Gayle, Ramranesh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo and others, had short unsuccessful stints as captains. Sammy has won nearly a third of his Tests, despite a thoroughly mediocre individual record, but undoubtably, the fact that he was barely selected before captaincy, indicates why he is in this side.

Selection to captain is a dangerous and wasteful tactic. Mike Brearley is the obvious case, whereby the team recognised his value as a captain, regardless of his ineptitude at Test level as a batsman. But, he was successful, captaining England in 31 of his 39 Test matches, winning 17 and losing only 4. Because he had a clear role, and excelled, the team was willing to carry him.

Sammy has had remarkably little impact with bat or ball, and is unable to lead from the front, yet, out of his 35 Tests, 29 have been as captain, and there have been eight wins within those nine, which is considerable bearing in mind the West Indies terminal decline in recent years. His tenure has included a T20 World cup win also, which crowned the West Indies resurgence. He is a significant part of recent success in limited overs cricket, and certainly represents a scrappy and hardworking attitude, but he is certainly not selection on merit for Test cricket. Nobody doubts his limited overs use.

With the bat, an average of just 21.96 is entirely pedestrian, even at number eight. His first class average of just 23.95, suggests that this Test average is not doing him a dis-service; as he is not a genuine allrounder. Out of his one Test century and five fifties, four fifties have come against Bangladesh Zimbabwe and New Zealand, which are lower ranked sides.

With the ball, his meagre average of 36.01 highlights his mediocrity. Nibbly medium pace, gives the same impression as with the bat; that his position as an ‘allrounder’ encompasses minimal on field value. He barely breaks the 80 miles an hour barrier; which although at times has been ‘steady’, is impotent.

Sammy acknowledges “that my role is to build pressure and be the workhorse of the team”, according to ESPN Cricinfo. The West Indies have so many options, and wicket taking options at that, that it feels like such a waste to continuously select a workhorse, when a bowler that bowls upwards of 90mph, or a recognised world class spinner is forgone. Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Jerome Taylor, Shannon Gabriel, and Sunil Narine sit on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity, whilst Sammy impotently probes.

He has done a stellar job given the enormity of the challenge that encompasses the West Indies captaincy. But, he prevents penetrative bowling in the present, and prevents development and gelling of the team in the long term, because realistically, he is holding the job until a more permanent fixture emerges.

His ordinariness as a cricketer does not compensate for his full heart, nor his steady captaincy or workhorse-like attitude. He is not Misbah, because he is not time and time again saving his team. He is perpetuating its insecurity, and it can’t go on like this If the West Indies are a serious Test team.

But is there a better option to captain?

Surely the West Indies have a potential captain that could contribute to the team, and maintain some degree of stability. The West Indies has a number of potential captains, although none of them tactically as strong as Sammy. The obvious options that spring to mind would be senior or established players such as; Dwayne Bravo, who is now the ODI captain. Perhaps Marlon Samuels, although he has been known to have an uncontrollable and often overconfident attitude, which may be a liability. Or Denesh Ramdin, who is the wicketkeeper, and captain of Trinidad and Tobago.

Alternatively, The West Indies could adopt an entirely new captain, such as Kieron Pollard who has recently snuck into the Test squad against New Zealand, after a period of being a limited overs specialist.

It is clear that there are relatively limited stocks of captaincy talent within the West Indies domestic competition, as captaincy in the day four format, is dominated by very experienced, such as Ryan Hinds (Barbados) and Assad Fudadin (Guyana), the weak, such as Jamaica’s Tamar Lambert, or the numerous aforementioned National players who also captain their domestic side.

There is an exhaustion of options, and it would seam a potential new captain would be Dwayne Bravo or wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, as both are permanent fixtures in the side, and have captaincy pedigree.

Yes, he has captained well, and has been a part of the solution to a greater problem, but he seems to be a part of the problem, far more so than the solution. He encapsulates the West Indies.

Fighting with themselves before they can fight the opposition. Whilst the removal of Sammy may prove difficult in terms of captaincy, having a complete team, with nobody being carried will surely aid long term success in the Test Format.

Are Bodyline restrictions still relevant?

Bodyline infamously sparked the 1932-3 ashes into controversy, changing attitudes and eventually laws for the fielding side and fast bowling.

This was the notion of the fast leg side theory.

Bowling a particular line and length, aimed at the batsmen’s body, or their leg stump line. This forced Australian batsmen to chose between deflecting the ball to a fielder in the leg side bodyline field, or being hit and injured, as it occurred in the days of no helmets and limited protection for batsmen.

With the Vatican announcing that it wants to play cricket, protection for batsmen has never been a more important issue of course, but to imply that batsmen are at the same level of risk in the 30s, is slightly delusional.

This concept was seen as unsportsmanlike, as it was hostile bowling aimed at injuring batsmen instead of the aim of the game, which was getting them out. Aiming the ball deliberately and hastily at batsmen was essentially intimidation. It embroiled the game in one of its most hotly contested controversies engulfing a single debate:

Is it ok to use intimidation [i.e. trying to hurt the batsman] to take wickets, or is it unsportsmanlike?

It happened a long time ago, during the Ashes series of 1932-33, and much has changed since then. Perhaps what has altered the most is the laws of the game.

In the immediacy of bodyline, amid diplomatic pressures both politically and between the MCC (then the governing body of the laws of the game) and Australia, this tactic was left down to captains and umpires to regulate. It was entrusted in them to ensure that bowling was in the ‘spirit of the game’ and that it was the intention for bowlers to get batsmen out and not to attack their body.

Of course, anyone that watched the West Indies of the 80’s, or Denniss Lillee and Jeff Thomson run in, are perfectly aware that they intended to intimidate quite often, and that the tactic of intimidation is legitimate if it is part of getting a batsman out in a plan.

It was not until 1957 that the law we know of today was established; that being that the fielding side may not have more than two fielders behind square on the leg side. This law was created before helmets, before covered pitches, before the injection that was the innovation of limited overs cricket with bat and ball, before mystery spin and most importantly, before the enfranchisement of more teams.

It is fundamentally a law to quash relations between England and Australia during an era in which fast bowling was genuinely dangerous. Cricket has undoubtably changed, and so should the laws. How do India and Pakistan seriously relate to this law, which they have never engaged with, and are essentially subject to, due to a previous dispute of old enemies.

Helmets have come into the game, as has extensive protection. Covered pitches are now firmly out of use in the Test arena, and a culmination of limited overs technique, and the use of science in sport, makes the game a very different one than it was in 1932-3, or 1957.

Modern cricket is certainly geared to be a batsman’s game, with bigger bats, shorter boundaries, selection of bowlers often on the basis of all-round contribution, and ability to adapt and innovate. Against quick bowlers, the use of reverse and switch hits have revolutionised One day batting, as has fielding restrictions.

Bearing in mind that especially against quick bowlers, batsmen are more protected than ever, the pitches are more benign than ever, and modern batting is more exuberant and innovative than ever, surely it is now time to re think this archaic law that presents a case that only two fielders are allowed in a quarter of the pitch, so the batsman doesn’t get hurt.

Not only against quick bowling is this law seemingly outdated, but against spin it is completely arbitrary. Versus spin bowlers this is an inherently irrelevant law, on the basis that spin bowlers generally are not bowling at a pace that is potent enough to injure. Batsmen would not have to worry about getting hurt, so the fact that two fielders are the limit on the leg side simply doesn’t factor into their decision making.

This law needs re assessment. Fielding sides have a tough enough time as it is with modern bats and modern batting, not to mention protection of batsmen and fielding restrictions, without being chained by further unnecessary restrictions. Bodyline laws were relevant 60 years ago. We must adapt and change in the same fashion that the game has