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2012 Review

This is a review of a glorious but hectic 2012 cricketing year. Forgive me if some things are left un turned or untouched.

This year proved to be a year in which the tables turned on England. England lost 7 matches, The South Africans assumed the number one ranking, and the Australians were constantly chasing both South Africa and England’s heals with a miserly 1 test loss the entire year. India struggled with 5 losses out of 9 and England with just 5 test wins out of 15. New Zealand (2 wins), Sri Lanka (3 wins) and the West Indies (4 wins) also struggled each playing 10 tests.

The only side not to have a lost a test all year, was South Africa and the only sides not to have won a test were Bangladesh (and Zimbabwe).

Graeme Smith with the Test mace

Graeme Smith with the Test mace

Throughout 2012 were 89 test centuries, 41 One day centuries and 4 T20 centuries. In tests, six outstanding batsmen can be picked out. For England; Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, who struck 7 centuries between them. For South Africa, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis with 8 tons combined and lastly Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey who almost single handedly prevented Australia from losing more than a single game with 9 tons between them (in 11 tests.)

A number of batsmen also deserve mentions, notably Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ross Taylor, Che Pujara, Azhar Ali and Graeme Smith who each struck three centuries.

This year of course was infamous for Kevin Pietersen’s saga with the ECB, including various ridiculous comments towards colleagues via text and word of mouth and of course his retirements. Pietersen nevertheless had an outstanding 2012 with three of the most memorable hundreds against Sri Lanka, South Africa and India, all of which turned entire games’ on their heads. Out of these three hundreds, his 183 in India was a special hundred, every other batsmen had struggled, but Pietersen came out and played in a fashion that he seemingly had no right to play on in.

On the bowling 2012 has bee a mixed bag. There has been spin success’ for Saeed Ajmal with 39 wickets in 6 tests, and Rangana Herath who took 60 wickets in 10 tests to top the wickets tally. Graeme Swann also was a significant wicket taker with 59 wickets in 14 games, although being considerably less effective than in his earlier career, he did contribute to a series victory against India, the first such win for 28 years.

Once more England, S. Africa and Australia dominated i the seam department with England’s James Anderson taking 48 wickets, South Africa’s Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander combined to take 82 wickets and it was a breakthrough year for Australia’s attack, successfully fusing experience and youth.

Notable mentions must also go to Kemar Roach who has developed into a genuinely world class and rapid bowler and Monty Panesar who took 33 wickets in 6 tests, including a 10 wicket match haul in India.

The One day form of the game saw England becoming a world class outfit thrashing Australia, equaling South Africa and becoming number one. They lost just 2 matches all year, with the highlight being the 5-0 victory over Australia which handed them the top status.

The second and newest form of limited overs cricket, Twenty 20, was dominated by a world cup in Sri Lanka. New champions were crowned, the West Indies. Darren Sammy led his side absolutely brilliantly and they showed they held a number of genuinely world class consistent performers and entertainers. Marlon Samuels who blasted a 56-ball 78 in the final and Chris Gayle who led from the top of the order with disdain and aggression. Shane Watson of Australia also must receive accolades for outstanding all round displays in all disciplines.

There were a number of players’ and associates of the game who left us in 2012. Beginning with the greats, we bid farewell and thank both Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting. Both had over 13000 test runs and averaged over 50 consistently. They anchored their team at number 3 and spent long periods as captain. Ponting and Dravid were once in a generation batsmen and payers. They have left an indelible legacy of batsmen-ship  captaincy, slip fielding, style and professionalism. They are irreplaceable and will be missed by all.

VVS Laxman and Michael Hussey also retired in 2012. Michael Hussey scored 19 test hundreds and over 6000 runs in 78 games (with one more game to go) and 38 year old VVS Laxman accumulated 8781 runs with 17 hundreds. Both were world class lower order test batsmen, experienced with expertise in guiding the lower order yet capable of going up the order too. True professionals and dedicated batsmen for their countries, they rose to big occasions and were utterly team-centric.

Michael Hussey retires

Michael Hussey retires

One of England’s most successful opening batsmen and captain’s, Andrew Strauss left cricket also. With 21 test centuries to his name and two Ashes victories as captain he will be fondly remembered.

Mark Boucher was tragically hit in the eye by a bail, leading to immediate retirement. It was a horrible way to have gone and Boucher finished with an agonizing 998 international dismissals as a wicket keeper, including 555 in 147 Tests. It is the record for dismissals and a major reason for South African success.

Elite Umpire Simon Taufel, stood in his last game during the T20 world cup final, which ended an 10 career spanning 74 Test matches, 174 One Day Internationals and 34 T20Is.

Two of the greatest one day players of modern times retired; Brett Lee and Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar mixed an aggressive batting style, perfect timing and a very heavy bat to revolutionise One day cricket. Tendulkar retired with a colossal 18426 runs and 49 centuries which took him over the 100 international centuries mark. Although Brett Lee was not the bowling Sachin, he contributed to a number of key World cup victories, and was renowned for his ferocious pace duels with Shoaib Akhtar. Lee finished with 380 wickets at a highly respectable average of 23.36. His pace and enthusiasm made him an exciting watch. Both will be sorely missed in colored clothing.

Two cricketers also experienced an untimely death in 2012, Surrey batsman Tom Maynard (23 years Old) life and career ended horribly early after being struck by a train. The death of 66 year old Tony Greig was the second major shock to the cricketing world this year. The South African that captained England, and was loved by Australians for his commentary, was diagnosed with lung cancer early in 2012, and died of a heart attack on December the 29th. The cricket world united in sorrow and memorial for these two figures.

Awards :

Test batsmen of the year: Michael Clarke has been simply prolific, scoring 1595 runs in 11 tests including a triple century, three double centuries and a regular century, not to mention three fifties. In 18 innings he has averaged 106.33 and he has broken the record for the most runs in a calendar year by an Australian. An historic year.

Test Bowler of the year: 60 wickets in 10 tests with 7 five wicket halls gives Rangana Herath this title. A high class bowler in a relatively pedestrian side, he has kept the Sri Lankans from embarrassing themselves although often hugely under supported.

One day batsmen of the year: is undoubtedly Virat Kohli who hit 5 one day hundreds, with an average of 73.28 in addition to having the most fours in T20is with 54. Kohli was the second highest run getter in 2012 in T20 with 471 runs, one run behind Martin Guptil who is in the lead (13 innings each).

The One day Bowler of the year: is by Saeed Ajmal with 25 T20 wickets at an average of 15 and economy of just 6 an over, which is highly admirable in the T20 format. Lasith Malinga has not come off in T20 disappointingly only taking 10 wickets, and although in 50 over cricket he is the leading wicket taker with 47 wickets, they have been over 32 games, indicating he hasn’t actually been that prolific. Ajmal takes the 50 over title as well, with 31

Test team of the year: Jointly held by Australia and South Africa – Australia lost just a single test this year and South Africa

ODI team of the year: England losing just 2 games this year and obtaining the number one ranking. Led expertly by Alastair Cook in One day cricket, England have had purpose and discipline.

T20 team of the year: The West Indies – Chris Gayle took the T20 world by storm to bash down competition in the T20 world cup, and deliver a unifying West Indian world cup victory.

*All stats correct as of 29th December 2012

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Little Progress In Defeat – The Bat

In 2011 England went to the top of the world rankings. I thought at the time England’s success although glorious was slightly deceptive. I don’t want to play down the ability of the players but there are some serious flaws. All the way back In 2011 England beat Sri Lanka 1-0. This victory was achieved through a freak collapse at Cardiff in which Sri Lanka were all out for just over 80. This propelled them to a series victory of 1-0 which of course was due to this freak collapse. It didn’t reflect how they had played or the fact they probably should have drawn that series 0-0.

After this, the much anticipated India tour of England took place. India were without Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir for the much of the series. Their much vaunted batting lineup did not perform and their bowlers were utterly toothless. India were not a strong or in form side. India lost 4-0 to England and went on to lose 4-0 again to Australia in Australia. India went from number one to losing 8 straight games. Clearly England did not beat a strong Indian side and did not exactly crush Sri Lanka. Although they were the top they had not beaten the best to go to the top.

Into 2012,  the England side came off the back of this summer beating a declining India and have had an awful time. England  have suffered 6 defeats, Despite this, If i told you that In 2012 there are 4 Englishmen in the top 6 of ‘most runs’ and Stuart Broad topped the most wickets column, you would probably say, “What is the problem?” I hope to pick this apart a little bit and show why it isn’t all as rosey as it looks.

Strauss has runs this year thanks to 2 hundreds against a weak West Indies side. It does not mask the fact Strauss continues to fail to perform against the top quality sides though. Not a single Fifty against South Africa. Not even a forty. His average in 2012 is 33.19.

In 11 matches Cook has 3 fifties and one Hundred. In the light of his prolific last few years, Cook has had a relatively poor year. Against the Proteas Cook scored one Hundred and no fifties.  Limited contributions.

A shocking leave

However, with an India tour looming, it surely isn’t a good time to drop the England opener and captain . It would be a bad time to drop a new captain in and arguably a tough time to start a new batsmen off. England aren’t even sure who to would pick. I suppose Root and Denly are the Heirs to the throne, but it would be hard to just kick Strauss out. The big pressure decision of course is that If Strauss does not go, England will not be playing Pietersen in the foreseeable future.

Just to reiterate the bad form of Cook and Strauss, In 2011 against India India Cook hit a magical 294 but scored just 54 runs in the other three tests and Strauss made it past 50 once and made a 40. This is a  deeply set , long term top order failure.

Trott has not scored a hundred in over 8 test matches now. Over 15 innings. Trott has not had a disaster in 2012 with 1 hundred and 5 fifties has failed to kick on.

Ian Bell on the other hand is having a disaster and England are paying for his failings. In 2012 has not scored a ton. Bell has 6 fifties and an average of 31.25 which is b not good enough. Bell looks good even when out of nick. Perhaps this is a reason why so few people have spoken about it. Bell doesn’t look out of nick so a score doesn’t look far away.

 Pietersen is at the top of most runs for England with two tons and two fifties. Pietersen takes games away and can score runs against literally anyone. However i won’t dwell on the Pietersen fiasco in this blog. We all know why his success is irrelevant for tours in the foreseeable future. Pietersen has been dropped.

Powerful Pietersen left out. How long will it last ?

Against South Africa England were outdone by superior opposition quicks. It was apparent that throughout 2012 England’s batsmen are struggling against simple planed out attacking bowling. Steyn and Philander bowled immaculate lines and lengths and forced batsmen to play time and time again. Especially with the New Ball they forced the game their way. Morkel was expertly was used to remove the left handers with angles. Most telling of all was how they dried up the runs and created pressure simply by having discipline.  It was planned to perfection and implemented well.

A positive could be Tahir being innefective averaging 47 in the series whereas against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, everyone struggled against Ajmal Rehman, Randiv and Herath. Then again this could just be the mediocracy and un-imaginativeness of Tahir.

The main positive with the bat has been Matt Prior. Prior scored consistent runs in the South African series simply by innovating and being natural and aggressive. Prior doesn’t get as much of a chance to bat whilst coming in at 7 so it’s understandable why Prior hasn’t got as many runs. If Prior isn’t even making the One day squad, surely there needs to be a reason ?

England’s most natural and free flowing batsmen. Selfless and aggressive

Bresnan this year has scored 81 runs in 6 tests averaging around 20 with a 30 strike rate. Not good enough for a number 8 picked on all rounder status and supposed Batting credentials. Likewise Broad only has one fifty this year. Swann has not got any fifties this year. They both played with certain freedom and fluency at Lords but that was in a chasing and losing cause. We do not see it often enough.

With the Exception of Cook in the first test and the deposed Pietersen, there were no hundreds from Strauss Trott Bell, Bopara, Taylor, Bairstow and Prior. A serious lack of hundreds. In India we need to turn this around. The pitches are flatter and big totals play big totals. We need bigger runs, more hundreds, Bigger hundreds and bigger partnerships. Amla style !

England need to try and get back to an attitude of hitting bigger scores through top order partnerships and having more patience against good line and length bowling. Too often Strauss and Cook got past 20 and 30 but failed to kick on. Too often Bell and Trott got past 50 and failed to kick on.

This has been the end of my look at England’s batting over the past year. Check part two for bowling and fielding !

Are England starting to crack One Day Cricket?

What we have seen from England in the last six to eight months displays what can only be seen as the final frontier of England’s cricketing ambitions finally being taken by the scruff of the neck and wrestled. That is One day cricket. England are improving and have had in them instilled some kind of method of playing One day cricket that has helped them to win. Big runs and quality bowlers. Not to mention the exceptional standards in fielding.

Last year when England played Sri Lanka with the tri captaincy formula we saw the dawning of a new light. Alistair Cook in one day cricket ? Surely not. Well it’s true. And it has worked a treat. He scored a hundred in the fourth one dayer and it was one of those tons for me that i watched and thought something feels a bit different. I think they key factor to why i thought this is that there was such a great balance of attack and defense. A good balance also between bat and ball in the side. England had depth but class, not depleting either bat or ball by playing a few all rounders which in the past have meant a team of Darren Sammy’s i.e. not good enough with either bat or ball really.

As of the last few months England are now on a five game winning streak. Within this thet have consistently had top order runs. When Alistair Cook brought up his fantastic hundred yesterday; it was the 6th consecutive occasion in which an english opener had scored a ton. Does that tell you something ? Yes. England have found a formular of attack (Pietersen previously but now bell, and defense, Cook and trott.)

Here are the 6 innings

19/6, – England v West Indies – Cook 112 off 120 ( 13 fours, 1 Six, SR 93 )

16/6 ,  England v West Indies – Bell 125 of 117 (12 fours 1 six, SR 107)

21/3- Pakistan v England, Pietersen  130 off 153 (12 fours 2 sixes, SR 84)

18/3 – Pakistan v England   Pietersen 111 off 98  (10 fours 2 6’s 113 SR 113) (also Cook 80 off 90 (9 fours 1 six SR 81) and)

15/2- Pakistan vs England Cook 102 off 121 (10 fours SR 84)

13/2 -Pakistan vs England Cook 137 off 142 (14 fours SR 95)

Captain Cook

I know Kevin Pietersen has now retired and will not be playing ODI cricket but it looks as if Ian Bell is a perfect replacement. His 125 at the rose bowl was a brilliant attacking fluent and stylish innings. It is exactly what England have been looking for at the top of the order. He is a technically brilliant batsmen and gives England a mix of stability and  slightly more attacking option than Cook yet slightly less than Pietersen.

Bell is a stylish and fluent attacking solution to top order problems

I am not claiming that after 6 good innings England have solved a problem they have always had. All i am saying is there is a renewed attitude towards the game. There is a deliberate sense of class and attacking intent. Sometimes aggression at the start. The Batsmen know the plan and there is a confidence in their techniques. Cook who was for a year or so very scratchy has had a phenomenal year or so and has reasserted himself once more as a quality player with his one day form.  Before 2011 the entire outlook was always a bit frantic and disorganized.

Englands top three have been firing and haven’t necessarily given the middle order a good run really. Trott has a few 40’s and Morgan and Bopara have a few fifties but essentially it has been all the top two or three. But England now also have a serious depth. With the openers getting a platform even if they do not get a hundred, the likes of Trott, Morgan, Bopara, Kieswetter, Bairstow Patel or whoever England decide to play will have enough of a springboard to accelerate. There are the likes of James Taylor, Bairstow, Buttler, Compton and Patel all vying for a spot also.

This could be the difference between mediocracy and the best in the world. Think about it. We used to get an England side with one or two fifties and a few 30’s and 25’s that led England to get 250 odd. Now we have some century makers  and some really attacking players that come in down the order. England bat down to 9 and 10 even with Swann, Bresnan and Broad being able to hit a long ball. We have a lot of people that can score up and down the order and people that could come into the side and fill a spot. England just need to decide once and for all who they are going to chose because indecision could create a lack of conviction.

England must carry on though. If they want to be the best they need more and bigger hundreds and to keep up the pressure with the ball

What is a good team though ? Just a strong batting unit ?? NO.

England have not just hit big totals and ground down the opposition but have blasted them away. At the Oval they were playing Broad, Bresnan, Anderson Finn and Swann. They rarely even use the 50 overs allocated because they have so many runs on the board and the bowlers are such high class they can get the opposition out before they have the chance to bat out 50 over. Not forgetting also that England have the likes of Dernbach, Onions, Tremlett, Woakes, Tredwell, Meaker etc waiting in the wings. They have serious depth on and off the pitch and all of them are mid 20’s with only Anderson and Swann over 30.

Hunting in a pack

Whilst the batsmen have been notching up tons, a strange phenomenon has occurred with the bowlers. In those six games above mentioned in which there have been 6 tons by openers, there has not been a single 5 wicket hall. In each occasion the wickets have been spread with bowlers like Bresnan getting 4 wicket halls at the Rose bowl the other day, Dernbach getting 4 in Dubai at the 4th One dayer, Finn four wickets in the second and first one dayers. When each bowler is getting wickets it means there is constant pressure. NO WEAK LINK. England don’t need a Brett Lee or Lasith Malinga as a strike bowler as they constantly take wickets.

Super Bresnan gets 4

Its apparent that England have a string of reliable top order batsmen i.e. Cook, Bell, Trott. They have a solid middle order capable of rebuilding or accelerating with the likes of Morgan, Bopara, Kieswetter, Bairstow, Bresnan etc.. and they have one of the best crops of fast bowlers in the world with the likes of Anderson, Broad, Finn, Dernbach, Bresnan, Onions etc.. and let us not forget that England have a highly ranked spinner also. Graeme Swann is a brilliant bowler to have to get the quality players out like Chris Gayle out. He often helps to build up some serious pressure whilst others feed off the lack of runs and get a share of the wickets.

Yesterday Chris Gayle hit 5 sixes within a period of 11 balls. Hitting Bresnan onto the roof and down the ground twice. It was Swann that eventually got him out for 50 odd. However, of late i think it would be fair to say England don’t lose track of the game as much as they used to. Even if someone like Gayle goes on a rampage, they will just get through it. Shortly after Gayle they were taking wickets but this is done through pressure of the likes of Swann and Broad. Regular wickets from every bowler means no weak links. England had Broad on in the middle overs. What team can have that amount of depth to bring on the 7th best bowler in the world to bowl in the middle overs ? England have never looked so good.

England’s spinner prizes out the stars. Gayle gone!

Whereas England have a brilliant spinner, arguably their one remaining real glaring issue is against spin. The likes of Ajmal, Vettori, Herath and other such quality spinners have always proved hard to play against. England need to learn to play a turning ball a lot better and hopefully having Swann in the side will help them do that. The fact in that if they are getting top order runs agaisnt the new ball the quality spinner in the side can only bowl 10 overs. Play that out.  This may however merely be England’s problems on the sub continent. If they can get over that it could be a lot easier.

England have a brilliant mix of top quality batting, aggressive intent, efficiency in the bowling and a taste for winning. I see this is as the start if a period of dominance and hope that England can build on success in Test and T20 to develop and prosper. The main problem i fear is that England’s middle order is not getting enough practice, and they are so dominated by success in English conditions that they may struggle in places like India or Sri Lanka. What we saw in Dubai and Abu Dabi reassured me a little but not hugely.

We need to try and win in India outright (not in a wc situation.) Losing 6-1 hurt. We need to beat them ozziesss as well.. that also really hurt.

Should be interesting !

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