Saturday, 15 December 2012

Australia want the one they can't have

Nearly six years after Shane Warne retired from Test cricket, Australia are still desperately searching for his replacement. Just look at Fawad Ahmed, a Pakistani asylum seeker to Australia who, soon after gaining asylum had a BBL contract with the Melbourne Renegades. Why? Because he's a leg-spinner.

Never mind the fact that he's 33, and last played First-class cricket in 2009. Never mind the fact that he's never played a t20 match, and his First-class record is unremarkable. He's a leg-spinner, so three different BBL teams wanted him. Still, he does have a excellent record in grade cricket, with 167 wickets at 12.22, so who knows, he might do well.

Adelaide Strikers went back nearly ten years to find 39 year old slow left armer Brad Young, who played a couple of ODIs for Australia in the late 90s. He's also been doing well in grade cricket with 19 wickets at 14.11, but is that enough for someone who averages 44.71 in First-class cricket, and has never played a professional t20 match?

Add the likes of Warne continuing in t20 ad nauseum, and a comeback to the national team for Brad Hogg, and Australia has a serious lack of faith some of its spinners. This is also shown in the Sheffield Shield wicket charts. The highest placed spinner on the charts is Steve O'Keefe with 9 wickets at 34.55. He's been consistently one of the best performing spinners in the Shield for the last couple of years, yet the likes of Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer, with far inferior records have made it to the Test team ahead of him.

Australia's spin policy is flawed, both in domestic and international terms. Nathan Lyon may be doing well so far, but I'm liable to put his selection down to dumb luck. After Warne retired, Australia tried nine different spinners before settling on Lyon. To put that number in perspective, there are six state teams, and each of them tends to field one spinner at a time.

Lyon is doing okay at the moment, with a Test average hovering around 30, and his skills developing well. Yet there still seems to be pressure on him, both Warne and MacGill criticising him, with the former suggesting himself as a replacement. That can't do too much for the self-confidence.

The solution to all this is simple. Let Lyon play, stop nitpicking with him and if you want good enough spinners, prepare pitches that encourage them to attack. It can't be a coincidence that few spinners average under 30 in the Sheffield Shield, yet most have an economy rate under three. They're bowling defensively. You're not going to breed attacking Test spinners by making them have to bowl defensively in domestic cricket.

Lyon has already shown he's got a good head on his shoulders, and he'll know he has the support of his captain. He bowled well against South Africa, and while he isn't the finished product, the difference between him and Warne at the same stage of his career is six wickets and an average of 30.64 to 28.06. He's a good spinner, he's not Warne but he could become Graeme Swann. Let's face it, that's better than Nathan Hauritz, Beau Casson, Cameron White, Michael Beer, Xavier Doherty, Jason Kreizja, Steve Smith, Bryce McGain, or sodding Marcus North.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Piyush Chawla and the leg-rollers of doom

Spinners who don't rip the ball annoy me. Leg-spinners who fail to try to rip the ball anger me more than almost anything else in cricket. Be a fucking off-spinner if you don't want to spin the ball. For fucks sake Chawla, 43 year old arthritic Warne playing in the tinpot IPL clone still turns the ball more than you. You're 23, spin the damn ball.

Here follows a list of leg-rollers. I hate them all with a passion, please comment if I've forgotten someone, I'm sure I have.

Kaushal Lokuarachchi
Previously subject to a scout report on this very blog, I wrote that the ball ambles out of his hand, and even though he got decent figures for a T20 when I watched him (2-30) he bowls rolled, flat, fast filth. Also on his Cricinfo profile he says that he prefers to play one day cricket to Test cricket. It shows - 5 wickets at 59 in 4 Tests.

Faf du Plessis
The fourth rule of leg-spin (after rip it hard, rip it harder, rip it until your fingers are sore) is, all part time bowlers must bowl at least two boundary balls an over, through trying to rip it too hard. David Warner has this down to a fine art – until he started bowling medium pace in an ODI – but Faf is too South African to ever understand this, so he bowls reasonable leg-rollers that take a few wickets, give away a few runs but annoy me.

Piyush Chawla
Where do I start? Apparently he has a decent googly, not that it really matters since it and all his leg breaks go straight on. He's a big fan of Warne's slider, but has misunderstood it's purpose and is now using it as his stock ball. His action may look energetic, but not much of that transfers to the ball, which rolls out like a sponge, gently rotating through the air. He did get the wicket of Ian Bell today, but then, even I could do that.

Samuel Bardree
Yes, he can keep the runs down in T20 cricket, but has he got any penetration at all? Of course not, he's just another roller who varies his rolling enough to get away with it in T20, but hasn't played a First-class match since 2009. He's an international bowler, who's 31, and hasn't played a First-class match in three years, and only 14 overall. If that isn't an indictment of his style of bowling, I don't know what is.

Tarun Nethula
Okay, so I don't really know who he is, but he's a Kiwi leggie, who's only played ODIs for his country. He's probably shit, and probably bowls ODI run containing filth. 

So, most of the leggies these days are shit, and even the only international one I like got spanked for the worst ever match figures, and bowls no balls almost as much as Morne Morkel. Plus he's technically a Saffer now. I'm going for a long lie down, then an hour long Warne YouTube video session.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Who writes Ponting's scripts?

The title says it all. When everything else is said and done, why do I watch cricket? For the narrative. In that narrative there are heroes and villains, and as an Englishman, one regular villain was that beady eyed squinting little man who pulled like no other and would never let himself be beaten.

Yet, in recent years, the runs turned from a flood into the occasional spurt, and Ricky Ponting began to look like a rather sorry figure. When he was injured for the final Ashes Test nearly two years ago, Michael Clarke took over the captaincy and Usman Khawaja seemed to be the man who would lock Pontings spot down, after the most talked about 37 in Test history.

Yet Ponting bounced back, and struggled through for another two years, with one huge series against India and several more middling ones. Then his story comes to an end, playing one last Test, against South Africa, for the number one status.

Graham Gooch once said of Ian Botham: "Who writes your scripts?" Well, Ricky's scripts were never like Botham's. He's scored the second most Test runs of anyone, has the most Test wins, yet at crucial times his script has wavered. He took over the best team in the world, and lost three Ashes series with it, and left it a long way off the top.

Maybe his storyline will have one "Who writes your scripts" moment. As an Englishman I have no love for Ponting, but I am a sucker for a storyline, and a 4th innings match-winning hundred to go back to number one, that would be a fitting way for a great player to go out.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A suggestion for Tahir, and a look back at the googly bowlers

Back in the early 20th century, Bernard Bosanquet invented the googly, to, in his own words: “ridicule, abuse, contempt, incredulity .” Since then, it's become an almost vital part of leg-spin bowling. I say almost vital, because perhaps the greatest leg-spinner of all time – Shane Warne – rarely bowled one after his shoulder surgery, and still did pretty well. Also, the inverse sometimes applies, the googly isn't a leggie's be all and end all.

Imran Tahir has a pretty good googly. He turns it more than his leg-break, and it's not easy to pick, yet he's just been absolutely smashed by Australia (match figures: 37-1-260-0). He's not s bad leg-spinner, and he has a big weapon in that googly. So maybe he needs to start thinking in the opposite way.

Returning to the early 20th century, Bosanquet started the googly, and taught it to Reggie Schwartz, who emigrated to South Africa. Schwartz became one of a number of googly bowlers in South Africa, which seems extraordinary in today's spin starved country. During the 1905/06 home series against England, they played four googly bowlers in a match several times, in Schwarz, Aubrey Faulkner, Ernie Vogler and Gordon White.

Those googly bowlers helped instigate the first 'golden age' of South African cricket, beating England 4-1 at home, and... Maybe Tahir can take a lessson from them now. All the four were heavy users of the googly, and Schwartz even used it as his stock ball. Your best ball should be your stock ball, no? So why shouldn't Tahir reverse his thinking and use his googly as his stock ball and his leg-break as the change up? He couldn't do much worse could he?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Cook, Bell and how long it takes perceptions to change

Before the tour to the UAE earlier in the year, who was England's best batsman against spin? A lot of people would have said Ian Bell. Yet, where did the perception that Bell was a good player against spin come from? In the same vein where did the perception Cook was a bad one come from?

In Cook's first Test, in India nearly seven years ago, Bell made 9 and 1, getting out pushing forward at Harbhajan Singh in the first innings. Cook made 60 and an unbeaten 104, a century on Test debut. Whilst Cook made few more runs in the series, only playing the first two Tests, missing the third with a stomach bug, Bell only made one fifty in six innings on the tour, averaging 21.83.

That remains his best tour of India and his overall average there after the first Test of this series is 18.36 with one fifty and no hundreds. Given his poor record coming into this series in India, as well as Sri Lanka and the UAE His summer wasn't great either, scoring five fifties in the six Tests, but not making a single one into a hundred, and the bulk of his runs coming against the West Indies. After he goes back home for the birth of his child, there must be a huge question mark over his place in the team when he comes back.

But, back to the relative merits of Cook and Bell against spin, I think Lawrence Booth in the Mail put it best:
“When the pre-series form was doing the rounds – Sunil Gavaskar calls it 'hype', as if we are wrong to feel excited about Test cricket – Cook rarely featured in lists detailing England’s best players of spin. 
While Kevin Pietersen was bestowed with the capacity to take an attack apart, as he did in Colombo, Ian Bell was light on his feet (even if he couldn’t pick the doosra), and Jonathan Trott had shown the way ahead with his century in Galle. Samit Patel had muscled his way into the frame as well.”
Everyone but Cook was given a fair chance against the spinners, and they all failed. Pietersen can be a match winner against spinners, but just as often he gets out to stupid shots against them, Trott seems to prop forward and hope for the best, and Patel's reputation is built on playing Mendis (the Sri Lankan Chris Harris) well in a T20 that was already lost. As for Bell, where did his reputation ever come from?

In his first taste of high quality spin, in the 2005 Ashes, he fell victim to Warne three times in ten innings, and looked very uncomfortable against him. Still, this was the best spinner in the world, early in his career. After that he averaged over fifty in Pakistan, but fell to spin four times in six innings, including criminally Shohaib Malik twice.

So far, so average. Then came his first tour of India and a home series where he thrashed Pakistan for 375 runs in four Tests. Still there was no career defining innings against spin. While his tour of Sri Lanka in 2007 got him 261 runs at 43.50, he succumbed to Murali five times in six innings, the other dismissal a run out.

That was his last tour of the subcontinent - bar one series where he thrashed Bangladesh - until the UAE earlier in the year, and if you look at his whole career in the subcontinent bar Bangladesh, he has an average of 28.43 and only one hundred in 17 matches. So where did his reputation as a good player of spin come from, two decent tours, Pakistan in 05/06 and Sri Lanka in 07, plus butchering poor spinners on English pitches.

That's what he is, a good player of poor and average spin on flat pitches. Of course when he does that he looks inordinately good, unlike Cook who never looks aesthetically pleasing. Cook however has the will to tough it out, and has worked very hard with Graham Gooch to turn what might have been a weakness at one point into a strength.

Compare both their averages in Asia (including Bangladesh this time) and Cook has five centuries and an average of 53.96 and Bell has two and an average of 34.44. Take Bangladesh out of the equation and Cook's average drops to 46.45, whilst Bell's goes down to 28.43. The evidence is there, and the perceptions will change soon too.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The mystery of Kulasekera

Watching the 4th ODI between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, I was struck by the skill of Nuwan Kulasekera, bowing at Rob Nicol. In his third over, he worked over Nicol, and even with three wides in the over, managed to pick up the wicket with his last ball.

He showcased almost all his skills in just one over, his natural in-swinger swinging big for the first ball, then seaming one slightly away from Nicol, beating the outside edge, and repeating the trick next ball with a lovely out-swinger. He also bowled a couple of good bouncers in-between, which were wided, but would have been fine in a Test match.

He got the wicket with the last ball of the eventual nine ball over, Nicol coming down the track and popping the ball into mid on's hands. The wicket came thanks to the pressure built up through the over, not allowing Nicol a run off the bat, pinning him back with bouncers before beating him with swing and seam.

With such prodigious skill, why has Kulasekera done so averagely throughout his career. His ODI average is high at 33.94 and his Test average is 34.41, having only played 15 matches. It's not as if he is constantly getting better either, his ODI average this year is 41.67 and his Test average is 36.37 He has all the tools to succeed, a big in-swinger, a well disguised straight ball and out-swinger added to his game in recent years, skiddy pace without being all out quick and a decent bouncer.

Maybe he moves the ball too much, sometimes it's the ball that moves a little that takes the wicket. Or maybe it's that the ball swings from the hand, even if he swings it miles, batsmen tend to get bat on it. Perhaps if he used his in-swinger as a shock weapon he'd do better, although as it is his natural ball this seems unlikely for him.

Sri Lanka have the making of a good seam attack, if only they could put it all together, with Lasith Malinga's injuries stopping him playing Tests, Chanaka Welegedera also plagued by injuries, and Kulasekera never quite living up to his promise.

With a good spell of consecutive Test matches, close together – something Sri Lanka won't get for a while – Kulasekera could get into some kind of rhythm. Against Pakistan in 2009 he bowled the most balls in a series by that point in his career, picking up 17 wickets at 15.05. He got that sort of series again against Pakistan, in 2012, and while his performance wasn't great (8 wickets at 36.37) he has the chance in the upcoming Tests against New Zealand to show that he's a good Test bowler.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Inverarity is wrong about the doosra

And so is everyone who says you can't bowl it without chucking. I’ve changed my mind a little over this debate. My biggest post in terms of hits (86) with was this one, about Saeed Ajmal and my opinion that he chucks his doosra.

In one sense I haven't changed my mind, I still think Ajmal chucks his doosra (not to mention his teesra) but I also said in that post that I didn't see how it was possible to bowl the doosra without chucking it. I’ve sort of changed my mind on that one.

Saqlain Mushtaq was one of the first to bowl the doosra well, and there were never to my knowledge any questions about his action. Muralitharan obviously couldn't fully straighten his arm, and I don’t believe he necessarily chucked his doosra.

This brings me to John Inverarity and his comments about not wanting young Australian bowlers to bowl the doosra. Talking to an Australian Cricket Society lunch he said, "The question is being asked now about 'do we develop the doosra bowlers or not'. That's a question of integrity for Cricket Australia. I don't think we do" He also said "We've got to keep our integrity and teach our bowlers to bowl properly"

Would he not even want them to bowl it if they could bowl like Saqlain or had a hyper-flexible/double jointed wrist that allowed them to do so without chucking? What needs to be recognised is that calling someone for chucking can ruin their career, and so encouraging bad actions is a bad thing to do, but not all doosras are produced from bad actions

So, that doesn’t mean that a blanket ban on bowling the doosra should be imposed by Australian cricket. Most off spinners won't be able to manage it, Graeme Swann has freely admitted that he has tried and failed to bowl a consistent doosra, but some might.

Inverarity, in trying to get rid of the doosra, has set himself all sorts of unorthodoxy. Wrong footed actions like that of Mike Proctor, or more currently Jack Shantry, may be a bad thing to teach, but that doesn’t mean they should be coached out of people to whom they come naturally.

Without unorthodoxy, comes no innovation. Bernard Bosquant was impugned for being against the spirit of the game for inventing the googly, yet now nobody would argue against the googly as being a part of the game.

The googly is a good comparison to make, because for a hundred years, leg-spinners have had their ball that goes the other way, surely the off-spinners should be allowed to at least try to bowl theirs? 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Sri Lanka are swimming against the T20 tide

Just when Sri Lanka had a t20 team that could prove as a blueprint to others, they’re looking set to take it back five years by ignoring the formula for t20 success these days.  Sri Lankan chief selector, Ashantha de Mel told ESPNCricinfo that his team needed more “strong hitters who can clear the boundary successfully” and seemed to imply that Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Matthews weren’t bi g enough hitters.

Way to miss about a century’s worth of evolution in the t20 format. Back in 2003 when the format made its domestic debut in England’s Twenty20 Cup, teams were unsure of how to approach it, most batsmen seeing it as an opportunity to have a slog at every ball, and most bowlers seeing it as a way to ruin their figures.

In just nine years that’s changed significantly. Bowlers are now being discovered in t20, where the ability to keep pressure on is  invaluable, batsmen are learning that rotating the strike is important, and even though it’s just twenty overs, so is keeping wickets in hand.

Just look at West Indies’ win in the World t20 final, they were just 32 for two after ten overs. It was a poor start, but they hadn’t panicked, if they had they might have lost several more wickets, and not given Marlon Samuels the chance to make a competitive, and in the end match-winning target.

Sri Lanka’s strategy after losing early wickets may have been the same, but it didn’t come off for them on the day. Adding two or three inexperienced power hitters like Dilshan Munaweera wouldn’t have necessarily given them a better chance.

All the stats show that classy batsmen are the best in T20 cricket. Out of the ten highest averaging players in T20Is, eight are successful Test batsmen, showing how important class can be if you combine it discerningly with a bit of power at the right times. That list includes no Sri Lankan batsmen, but both Jayawardene and Sangakkara average 30 or over and have healthy strike rates.

By all means, add some power hitters down the order, but Sri Lanka’s top three are as good as any in the T20 game, adding Dilshan to the aforementioned players. The problem is players like Lahiru Thirimanne, whose part in the World T20 was puzzling, as a specialist batsman, batting up and down the order, scoring 27 runs in 4 innings, yet playing all seven games.

His place could be taken by another bowler, allowing Sri Lanka to play Herath and Dananjaya alongside Mendis, or by an all-rounder, both of those solutions would balance the team more. Even if they replace Thirimanne with another batsman, they need to add someone who can bat at four, someone classy, the sort of player who has been a success in the longer forms of the game. They might not be able to find that player, but that’s what they should be looking for. 

Hat tip to Rohit-Cricket for the stats I used, very interesting piece about the best T20 players being good in all formats. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

How interesting is the CLT20

Getting interested in the CLT20 might be a difficult thing for me. It's getting to the stage of t20 burnout, there hasn't been an international in another format since 5h September and there won't be another one until the beginning of November. Once we get to then there's some tantalising Test and ODI cricket on the way, but before then we have another three weeks of t20 as South Africa plays host to the Champions League.

I'm no huge fan of the tournament, it is skewed ridiculously in favour of the stakeholders for an ICC endorsed event  - it has its own window in the calendar – and the fact that it's in a form of the game that isn't even my second favourite is another sticking point. But it is the only televised cricket - bar a small amount of domestic cricket live-streamed by the Australia and New Zealand boards - on at the moment, so I can imagine I'll end up watching it anyway. If you can't get caviar, you’ll have to make do with fish eggs.

I've got a feeling that I will end up being fairly interested in it, because even though it has its down points, there is a chance to find out about new players that I've never discovered before, from Unmukt Chand of Dehli Daredevils to some of the brilliant fielders in the Auckland Aces team.

Close matches are the most important thing though. The World t20 lost my attention at times in the first group stage, because, as fun as the occasional thrashing can be, game after game of Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan getting tonked doesn't make for a good tournament. Hopefully the qualifiers will mean that all eight teams involved are well matched, although the four overseas players of each IPL franchise, compared to the two of most other teams, will skew the competition to an extent.

So in summary: it's cricket, so I suppose I will be watching... though I may be bored to death of t20 cricket by the end of it. Thank God for Test cricket in November - even if it is in the middle of the night. Who needs sleep anyway?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Winning on first innings runs: the coward's way out

North Zone's cowardly failure to enforce the follow on against West Zone in the Duleep Trophy Quarter Final is symptomatic of what's wrong with Indian cricket. Let me break it down for you. In their first innings North Zone put a imposing total of 484 then bowled West Zone out for 164.

That left them with a lead of 320 on first innings, more than enough you'd think to enforce the follow on. But North Zone chose to bat again. That's a perfectly acceptable decision, assuming they were going for quick runs. 67 overs later they declared on 208 for seven, setting West Zone 529 in 29 overs at, oh about, 18 an over.

Now why you say would a team set such a ridiculous target and stop themselves having a chance to win the match outright, well because they were ahead on first innings runs they had already secured qualification assuming the match was a draw. There was no incentive for North Zone to go for the win, although the fact that they didn't even try to give themselves any time to win the game with such a big lead reflects badly on captain Shikhar Dhawan.

It's a easy argument to make that rules promoting such a negative form of cricket at domestic level leads to negative, risk-averse players coming through into the international team. Look at MS Dhoni, a man who lacks any kind of initiative to try to force wins. Compare him to Michael Clarke, who has made a point of setting attacking fields and clever declarations to try to force wins out of a team which doesn't have the legends of the previous era.

When they went in to bat in their second innings, North Zone had 14 overs until the end of play. What would Clarke/Brearley/Benaud etc have done? They'd have sent their batsmen out for quick runs, tried to set 400 then declare at the end of the day. 400 as a last day target on a pitch which neither team scored at over three an over in their first innings would have been near impossible, and 96 overs would be ample time to go for the win. Alas it wasn't to be, and it's to the detriment of Indian cricket.

I'm not sure there is a solution to this problem, because there needs to be a tie breaker to put the team through in a knockout cup like the Duleep Trophy. First innings runs is a logical one, but the unintended consequences are dire, so if you've got a better idea stick it in the comments.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The case for a First-class IPL

There are many things to dislike about the IPL: the rampant commercialism, the corruption, the excess, not to mention Danny Morrison. There is however one good idea underlying it. That’s the way that it brings together all the best players in the world, scatters them throughout ten teams, and pits them against each other, regardless of national or regional allegiance.

If you take out the ‘Indian’ part of the name; making it a truly international tournament, remove any player restrictions bar a salary cap, and change the formant, you could have something special. Imagine a global first class tournament, mixing players from every cricket nation. You could have venues across all ten of the Test playing nations, all the great grounds in the world, from Eden Gardens to Lords.

This has been mooted before, by the American Marxist cricket write Mike Marqusee, in an essay named “Nations for Sale.” It’s a prescient piece of writing, almost predicting the IPL. My idea is basically copied from his idea, as he writes:
If I had my way, I’d ban nations from sporting competitions. I’d like to see cricket’s big matches contested by city based clubs, as in football (Bombay v Manchester, Bangalore v Melbourne, Lahore v Cape Town). And, as in football, I’d like to see these city based clubs incorporating players from all over the world. Critics of big time Premier league football will throw their hands up in horror, but remember that it is the unbridled power of commerce that has poisoned the Premier League, not the admixture of nationalities. In cricket, as we have seen, that power inflates the importance of national success or failure. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could undercut it by choosing other types of identities?
These identities can still become poisonous, as club football shows, but I’d argue that it wouldn’t change the essentially generous nature of cricket support. True, you do have fierce rivalries (India v Pakistan, England v Australia, Yorkshire v Lancashire) which can spill over into something poisonous. That doesn’t mean, however, that the support isn’t generally good natured. In what other sport do you generally applaud good play from both teams?

The main difference between Marqusee’s idea and mine is the fact that he envisions this replacing the international sporting arena as it is now, whereas I see it as adding to the cricket world as it is now. Practical issues stand in the way of this happening though; there just isn’t the time for the competition unless you spread it over enough time to stop dead the acceleration of interest. Nobody’s going to follow a competition that takes place in small and sporadic intervals, possibly unless you make it a straight knockout format.

That’s part of the compromise option, which may be the only viable one. For this, the example is the Champions League T20. How about a Club World Championship, based on a knockout format, between the winners of all the first class leagues (or for format convenience’s sake, the top eight Test nation’s leagues). Just think, this year you could have a quarter final draw featuring Rajasthan v Lancashire, Queensland v Northern Districts, Pakistan International Airlines v Titans, Colts Cricket Club v Jamaica. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of that has got me salivating. Put a month window in the schedule and let’s get it on.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why don’t England have part time spin options?

Today’s ODI against South Africa showcased where they and most other international teams have an advantage over England: part time spin bowlers. The combination of the part time spin of Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Dean Elgar picked up 2-39 off 10 overs. That’s a full bowler’s worth of overs at a decent run rate, and two wickets, from three players who were not in any way picked for their bowling.

Most other ODI and T20 teams in the world have this sort of thing. Pakistan are the masters of this, in their T20 team against Australia today, in addition to two specialist spinners they had the part time spinner turned front liner Mohammed Hafeez, and the serviceable off-spin of Shoaib Malik. Australia only picked one frontline spinner in Xavier Doherty, but behind that had Cameron White bowling leggies, off spin from David Hussey and Glenn Maxwell

There also a surprising amount of aggresive openers who bowl off-spin for some reason, the aforementioned Hafeez, Gayle, Dilshan, Sehwag. England don’t have one of those, although if Joe Root gets the vacant openers spot in Tests he bowls some useful off-spin.

At the moment England have Tredwell bowling frontline spin in their ODI team in place of the rested Swann and Patel as something between part time and front line. That’s it though, and there is the problem England might come across in the World T20 in Sri Lanka. Other teams may go in with one or two frontline spinners, but back that up with a bevy of batting all-rounders bowling spin, and part time spinners. England’s squad contains three players who bowl any kind of spin - two specialists and an all-rounder - Graeme Swann, Samit Patel, and Danny Briggs, not a part time spinner in sight.

If Kevin Pietersen had been involved he would have taken that number to four, but compared to every other team’s part timers, he is more of a bowler of flighty filth, rather than of accurate strangulation. Compare that to Pakistan’s squad, which have five frontline or regular part-time bowlers, plus two very occasional leg-spinners. Those five, who are all likely to bowl if they play, and will all be useful. Even New Zealand have five possible spin options, making England look pretty light on the spin front.

That could be a factor which loses the tournament for England. It seems unlikely that the England seamers will have a huge amount of success; Bresnan and Broad are out of form and the pitches are unlikely to be to Steven Finn’s liking. It’s unfortunate that England lack these part time spinners, but it’s hardly surprising, skiddy medium pace of the sort practiced by the likes of Ravi Bopara is more usefully in English conditions. Will this hole in the English attack prevent them winning in Sri Lanka? Very possibly.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Scout Report: Will Beer

There’s something about a leg-spinner that automatically makes them more interesting to watch than any other kind of bowler. It’s the sort of thing that made a Sky commentator describe Will Beer as a “more unorthodox bowler” than the rest of the bowlers in the match. Whilst that makes little sense as Beer bowls a fairly orthodox style of a long standing type of spin – he’s no Murali – there is a grain of truth hidden in the comment; the fact that leg-spinners have been rare in English cricket for a while.

Not now though, there are a better crop of leg-spinners around than for a long time. Adil Rashid and Scott Borthwick have both been selected for England, and below them there are some other talented players, from Tom Craddock at Essex, to Max Waller at Somerset, and Will Beer at

Whilst the first two are regular first team players, Beer is one of those who struggles to get a place in the first team at his county. He’s only played five first class matches with his way blocked by Monty Panesar, but he gets the limited over job regularly for the county.

That’s what happened last night against Warwickshire at Hove; he was preferred over Panesar despite the fact that he’s never replicated his T20 form in List A cricket. Still, he started well after being brought on in the 18th over, immediately settling into a good line and length with just a fraction of flight.

In his third over he missed a sharp caught and bowled chance off a full toss, but after than almost everything he bowled was gold. He got rid of Tim Ambrose with a perfect leg-spinners delivery, drifting in to pitch on off stump before spinning and taking the edge on the way through to the keeper.

His second wicket was a stumping, beating Jim Troughton in the flight, and getting lucky that the batsman was lazy in thinking he had his foot back in. He hadn’t and he had to go. His third wicket came in his penultimate over, a leg break kept low outside off stump and Darren Maddy chopped on trying to cut. He ended up with figures of 8-0-27-3, his best performance yet in List A cricket.

Given that it was in the end a match winning performance, I’ll start with the positive attributes the young leggie has. He gives the ball just enough flight, has a pretty decent googly (I couldn’t pick it), keeps it accurate, and never looked flustered.

On the negative side, his fairly low arm action could make him susceptible to dragging the ball down, though he’s showed no evidence of that so far. He also bowls fairly slowly, which will help him to spin the ball on helpful wickets, but he may need to push his pace up on unhelpful ones. The wicket he bowled on tonight didn’t offer much turn, so I couldn’t judge how much he turns the ball, but it looked to me that he may need a little bit more rip. That’s a difficult judgement to make though.

Performance 9/10
Potential 7/10

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Kevin Pietersen wants to be Sachin Tendulkar

Kevin Pietersen has always been seen as somewhat of an arrogant player. While nobody can look inside his head, it seems like an accurate assumption. Others have speculated that his arrogance is part of a deep seeded insecurity about himself. What some might see as arrogance, others can see as a need to please, a need to be liked and revered.

Sachin Tendulkar has spent his whole career being revered. No cricketer, bar perhaps Don Bradman, has ever had the amount of adulation that Tendulkar has received over his career. Whereas Pietersen has always strived towards that sort of adulation, Tendulkar has received gracefully it as a side product of his success doing the only thing he wants to do in life.

Kevin Pietersen wants to be Sachin Tendulkar, he desperately wants that idolatry, he desperately wants ever more fame and success. Most of all, he wants the freedom that Tendulkar has in the Indian team, to duck out of series at the drop of the hat.

Given that Tendulkar has been ‘rested’ for four out of six ODI series since the World Cup in 2011, and was hardly a regular before that, it’s hard to avoid the interpretation that he picks and chooses his own series. He’s been resting up at home when India beat Sri Lanka in an away ODI series, yet for the series before that he turned out at the Asia Cup, to notch his hundredth hundred (and arguably lose India the game in the process).

Before that he was rotated in and out in the Australian tri-series, but he missed two series against England, home and away, an away one against West Indies. It’s now early August, and the last game Tendulkar played was in the IPL for Mumbai Indians. Yet, he still needs more rest, and can’t bring himself to play the ODI series against Sri Lanka.

His schedule is the one that Pietersen is aiming for, virtual ever present in Tests, technically not retired from ODIs – but only coming out for the big occasions – and playing the entire IPL. The only difference is that Tendulkar is no part of the T20 set up for India whilst Pietersen has made clear his desire to play in the World T20 later this year.

The only problem is: Pietersen isn’t Tendulkar. He’s a very good, bordering on great, batsman but he isn’t the national icon that Tendulkar is. That means he can’t get away with what Tendulkar does. The ECB have been as intransigent with Pietersen as the BCCI have been flexible with Tendulkar, but the comparison is worthless. The BCCI make special arrangements for Tendulkar, but Pietersen cannot expect the ECB to do the same thing for him.

Monday, 18 June 2012

R.I.P Tom Maynard 1989-2012

I only saw Tom Maynard bat once. It was the first game, the first day of this season, and he came in with Surrey in trouble, at 119-4, and as he batted six wickets fell around him. Nobody managed to maintain a partnership for long, and Maynard ended up not out with 86 as Surrey ended up all out for 264 in their first innings of the summer. Surrey won the match by 86 runs. He truly was a match-winner.

Since I wasn't at the Oval for the rest of the match, my foremost memory of Tom Maynard isn't that he helped win that match for Surrey. It's the sixteen fours he crunched in 101 balls. He played with such panache that day, I came home enthused with this young talent. I couldn't have imagined that little over two months later he would be dead.

At the game that day, I was sitting taking notes, meaning to write a blog post about the days cricket later. I never got round to it, but my notes are probably still lying around somewhere. They undoubtedly carry about a page's worth of writing on Maynard's cuts, cover drives, crunching pull shots that day. If I could find them I would write it here, knowing that was only a partial view of the man. I didn't know Tom Maynard, but I've felt genuinely sad today at his passing, based on some knowledge of him, and one great innings I saw him play. I guess everyone who knew him, ever saw him play, or even heard about him in passing as the next big prospect will see his death from a different persepctive. I just keep thinking about that great innings, and what could have been.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Bad light stops Test cricket in its tracks

Today, one over after tea, the umpires came together and my heart sank. Shortly after, they led the players off the field. Bad light stopped play. Twenty five minutes later the light was about the same, so everyone wandered out again. Six overs later, the light had apparently deteriorated enough for them to have to go off again. Again, the umpires stood around checking the light for ages, then half an hour later they walked out at 6pm to resume the Test match. An absolute shambles.

The biggest problem with the bad light rules and regulations is the opaqueness of the whole process. While most other rules in cricket are pretty transparent and easily understood (with the exception of Duckworth-Lewis) the ICC rule for taking players off for bad light are ridiculous and basically unknown.

In the ICC playing conditions it says:
The umpires shall be the final judges of the fitness of the ground, weather and light for play
So far, so simple. Now they expand on this:
If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions of ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire, so that it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take place, then they shall immediately suspend play, or not allow play to commence or to restart. The decision as to whether conditions are so bad as to warrant such action is one for the umpires alone to make. 
I think, the important words there are: 'risk' and 'dangerous.' It's difficult to tell, watching on TV whether the light is dangerous, but I think the reactions of the players and the spectators at the grounds are the things that need to be taken into account, and the incredulous reaction as the umpires led the players off the field twice today speak everything. A little dim light surely isn't that dangerous?

The light meters are the most opaque part of the whole process:
Light meter readings may accordingly be used by the umpires:  
a)  To determine whether there has been at any stage a deterioration or improvement in the light.
b)  As benchmarks for the remainder of a stoppage, match and/or series/event.
Nobody knows what the benchmarks have to be, but basically it seems that the umpires decide that it's too dark, take a reading, use that as a benchmark and not come out until the light gets better. But how much better? And do the benchmarks change from match to match? There are so many questions, and until the ICC clarifies this or changes the rules, farces like today will continue to happen.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What's gone wrong with Essex... again!

It seems like every season is the same for Essex fans, a squad is assembled that looks good on paper, which proceeds to start well then quickly go downhill for the rest of the season, as promotion stops looking like a possibility early on.

1) Something wrong in the dressing room
I don't have any inside line to the dressing room, but it stands to reason that there's something wrong. There are a lot of big characters in the dressing room, and the fact that so many players leave the club then go on and realise their potential at different clubs - from Chopra, to Middlebrook, Palladino and Wright - points to something poisonous at the club. This is compounded by things such as the spot fixing scandal which must have affected the dressing room, and things like Tsotsobe's belief that it was: "impossible to work in this environment" further illustrate the point. There's got to be something wrong there, and the players who are causing this need to be got rid of.

2) Inconsistency in selection
It's getting ridiculous. Essex started the season well with an innings win over Gloucestershire, mostly propelled by a hundred by Billy Godleman and second innings bowling from Graham Napier, but the Essex management for some reason seemed to think that 5-58 from Napier and a useful 28 wasn't enough to keep his place, with Tim Phillips coming in for the next match. Phillips himself only stayed in the team for one match in which his bowling wasn't used - indeed, despite being picked as a spin option, Tom Westley's part time off-spin was used and he wasn't. There are other examples to use, but I think this is the most blatant example of ridiculous selection. There seems to be no grand plan at all. 

3) No senior opener again
Godleman seems like a useful player, he has five first class hundreds, but there is still no senior experienced opener at the club. Bringing in Petersen was only ever going to be a stop gap solution, and we cannot rely on Cook being at the club ever now he is 50 over captain. So why did Essex pick up a fast bowler and an all-rounder in the winter? Those are positions the club is strong in, yet the openers continue to be picked from a mixture of Godleman, Pettini, Westley and Mickleburgh. All but one of them are young players, and only one of them is a specialist opener, and whichever one of them - hopefully not Mickleburgh - is the long term opening option, they need a senior partner.

4) Pettini up and down the order
Pettini has been one of the most consistent player Essex have had this season, so in many ways it would seem to make sense building the batting line-up around him in a stable position. Instead, Essex have shunted him up and down the order to accommodate star names like Shah and Bopara. Pettini has moved from four, down to six then back up to four, then opened. Stick in a position like number five, and trust him to make the runs there.

5) Foster batting too low
Foster, as the captain, should be able to command a higher place in the batting order, especially as the highest averaging player this season. Instead, he's spent most of the season batting at seven, and eight at times, rather than being the top order player making solid runs, he's the fire-fighter who rescues Essex from 50-5. Foster should bat above the all-rounders, not below them.

6) Owais Shah
There was a reason Middlesex let him go, while he is the most talented of players, he's just not committed and motivated enough to score the runs to justify batting at number three. Something that I think sums up Shah is watching him fielding at Leicestershire last season, on his heels, stopping balls with his feet, it just doesn't seem like he cares enough.

7) Where's Topley gone? Why is Willoughby here?
He started the season so well last year, yet even with nineteen players being used by Essex so far this season, his way has been blocked by the number of fast bowlers Essex have, which makes the signing of Charl Willoughby even more perplexing, you can only play maybe four - and normally three - frontline seamers, so why do we need so many?

8) Who's the number one spinner?
Essex don't seem to know. Phillips and Craddock have shared the spinning duties so far this season, with a mixture of Greg Smith and Tom Westley's occasional off-breaks. Phillips was even picked for a game and not given a single over. Pick one spinner in each format, Craddock for the County Championship and Phillips in the CB40 and T20.

9) Don't know how to win
Essex have been a team who draw a lot so long that they seem to have forgotten how to win. Against Gloucestershire at the beginning of the season they won by an innings without having to think much, but whenever in the last couple of seasons, some quick batting, declarations or any creative ways to secure a result have been needed, Essex have come up short.

This isn't a definitive list, I've barely touched upon the CB40, but there's something seriously wrong with Essex, a team with such talent should not be near the bottom of Division 2 in the County Championship, when  teams like Worcestershire battle above the sum of their parts to secure a place in Division 1.  Despite this, Essex have bowled fairly well - helped by the early season conditions, and hindered by the inconsistent selection. The first innings batting however, is not good enough, only once passing 400, and when there's so little platform, the bowlers are up against it. Big changes are needed, and soon. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Scout Report: Kaushal Lokuarachchi

Like most Sri Lankan names, this leg-spinner's name is a bit of a mouthful, so I'm going to go with his team-mates and call him 'Loku' for the rest of the blog. 

Loku is undoubtedly a decent cricketer on the Sri Lankan domestic circuit, but I'm afraid on this showing he's nothing special. He's one of those new breed of 'spinners' you get from T20, they roll the ball out and spear it in, are afraid to give it any work or flight. 

He may have got two wickets against Pakistan today, but one was a long-hop pulled to short mid-wicket and another was a straight ball which Umar Akmal played all around. He's played a couple of Tests and 21 ODIs before, but the fact that he only has five wickets from his four Tests sums him up: no penetration. He finished with 2-30 off his four overs, respectable figures in T20 normally, but given that few players managed to get in on the pitch, he surely would be disappointed, especially given the three consecutive boundaries he gave away from his last over.

The main problems with Loku are that he doesn't 'explode' through the crease and just rolls the ball out of his hand, meaning that despite bowling at a pace quicker than most spinners, he's pretty gentle. Shane Warne's leg-break used to fizz out of his hand, Loku's ambles apologetically.

Performance 6/10
Potential 4/10

Friday, 1 June 2012

James Taylor stakes his claim for Pietersen's place.

The current England selectors seldom pick a player on one innings, like they would have done regularly in the 80s and 90s, so James Taylor's 115 from 77 today wouldn't have secured Pietersen's place in the limited overs teams, but it does put him in contention.

He started stodgily, making 25 off 45 balls, haring between the wickets to pick up singles and twos to just tread water as far as a one day innings is concerned. Then he picked up a length ball from Sean Ervine and deposited it over mid-wicket for six.

That was followed by three more boundaries in the next over, then ten more spread over the last seven overs, along with some more quick running between the wickets. He hit some magnificent shots among the lot: a precise drive timed over long off for six; a full toss flicked over long leg for six, a dilscoop/ramp over fine leg for four. Balls pitched outside leg and going down went over extra cover, wide of off stump balls went over mid-wicket. Fourteen boundaries in all.

Tonight was the first time I'd ever seen Taylor bat for an extended period, having seen him get out cheaply twice before. It wasn't the player you'd see in the championship, but it shows why he averages nearly 50 in one day cricket. He was inventive and clever, used his quick hands and strong wrists to manoeuvre the ball around for singles and flick the ball over the ropes for six. Not many players can hit sixes that look that effortless.

It's unlikely that he'll be the man to take over from Pietersen in either limited overs team - although he has already made his ODI debut, against Ireland last year. Ultimately the selectors seem to have their eye on other players, Jonny Bairstow could slot back in after taking over the Test No.6 spot, and Ravi Bopara is also a contender, along with Alex Hales who could fill Pietersens's opening role in both limited overs formats.

The selectors shouldn't rule out Taylor for the openers slot though, he's a top order player, and has the sort of mental resilience to be an opener, but also the all round game to do it. He reminds you of so many players, Chanderpaul like physique and wrists; the acceleration and helicopter shot of Dhoni today; Graham Thorpe's ability to always find a single. He's not any of those players, he's his own man though, and he's surely going to get an England place within the next couple of years.   

Friday, 16 March 2012

Sunil Narine, Xavier Doherty and the difference between float and flight

The first ODI between West Indies and Australia was a tale of two spinners. One is more experienced in domestic and international cricket, but the other is a player of huge promise. When Xavier Doherty came on to bowl during the 15th over of Australia's innings, my mind was cast back to two test matches last Australian summer when Doherty wheeled away for hours on end fruitlessly as England piled up two huge totals. 

Since then he hasn't played another Test match, but he's emerged as an important part of Australia's limited overs plans. Today was an odd day for him, but one in which he hopefully learnt some important lessons about international bowling. The first of these is the difference between float and flight.

One of the most important things for a spin bowler, maybe second behind spin, is flight. It's an often misunderstood concept; a lot of cricket fans think of flight as a bowler floating the ball up in the air slowly. They think of it as the sort of rubbish a club bowler sees get clobbered into the next county. 

That perception is wrong though, bowlers with good flight are among the best spin bowlers, in all forms of cricket. Think of Dan Vettori, think of Graeme Swann and going back a few years, think of Shane Warne. None of them got wickets by bowling fast and flat, they got their wickets through flight and spin. 

What Xavier Doherty did in his first over of bowling wasn't flight, it was float. He bowled slow, he tossed it up without any real work on the ball, and it disappeared three times into the stands in that over. He worked it out though and started to rip the ball a bit more, flighted it, floated the odd one up rather than all of them and varied his pace better. He got wickets like that, one caught at slip off a sharply spinning delivery, one LBW off a straighter one, one stumped off a sharply spinning delivery, then a tail-ender caught down at long off. These dismissals proved something important for Doherty: flight doesn't work unless you give the ball a bit of a rip.  

Doherty's innings figures of 8-2-49-4 encapsulate his performance. There were good overs and bad overs, wicket taking balls and some absolute rubbish. He was inconsistent overall, but once he stopped floating the ball and started spinning it he was always threatening. 

Sunil Narine is the next 'big thing' in West Indies cricket, and unusually since the days of Ramadhin and Valentine, he's a spinner. The pitches in the Caribbean have been undergoing a remarkable transformation in the last few years, they've got slower, lower, dustier and spinners have started to prosper. Evidence of this is in the fact that all five of the top wicket takers in the West Indies first class competition are all spinners. They've all taken their wickets at an average of under 20, and chief among them is Sunil Narine who has 31 at the scarcely believable average of 9.61.

The reasons for his success seem to be many and varied. He has been helped by the pitches, but he turns the ball, has control over line and length, and gives it a little bit of flight. While he doesn't flight the ball much, he doesn't fire it in quick and flat and hope to contain the batsmen. He contains the batsmen by attacking them, varying between his off break and some kind of doosra. 

He took 1-24 off his ten overs, and just went for one boundary, that in his second over. His one wicket was a classic off-spinner's wicket, pitching on the left-hander's off stump from around the wicket, turning and catching the edge through to Dwayne Bravo at slip. 

After a performance like this, his performances in the the domestic competition and the fact that the Test match pitches are likely to spin, he looks in contention for a place in the team for the first Test. Unfortunately, whether he will be available is another thing. The Indian Premier League kicks off on 4th April and clashes with both the Australia and England Test series for West Indies. Given that Narine was brought for $700,000 in the recent auction, it seems inevitable that he'll be in India trying to prevent 'DLF maximums' rather than putting Australian batsmen in a spin in the greatest form of the game. More's the pity. 

Friday, 9 March 2012

I couldn't say it any better than them.

When I heard that there was a press conference, that Rahul Dravid was going to announce his retirement, part of me didn't want to believe it. That part of me wanted to see him play on for a lot longer, I haven't seen enough Dravid innings to speak about him that eloquently, but I knew his importance, as did anyone who loved Test cricket. So I thought I'd let those who knew him, who saw him bat, who appreciated him the most do the talking.

One place to start is the man who batted a place below him in the Indian batting order for over a decade, and in that time often overshadowed him. Sachin Tendulkar said of him:
There was and is only one Rahul Dravid. There can be no other.
From a bowlers point of view, Jacques Kallis said:
He had one of the best techniques in the game and was always a prize wicket to get. The game will be a little poorer without him but I wish him well in his retirement
Dravid was an integral part of an Indian team who shed the tag of poor travellers under Sourav Ganguly who said of him:
"He was a perfectionist. His determination, technique and commitment towards the game was something special. It's really tough to become another Rahul Dravid. It will not happen overnight. It has taken him long to get here; one has to go through a lot of hardships and commitment."
King Cricket praises his adaptability, he's been there and done it all:
It’s hard to imagine there’s a situation in cricket that he hasn’t faced. 120 to win, three wickets in hand, cloudy conditions, fifth day pitch, left-arm quick round the wicket? Yep, been there. 15-overs to go, run-rate eight-an-over, flat pitch, 40 degrees, finger-spinner, field spread? Yep, been there too. Been everywhere. Seen everything. Know what to do.
Jason Gillespie was one of many bowlers to bounce back off 'The Wall', but he thinks that Dravid was much  more than just a wall.
Many might call him a defensive batsman in the mould of a Jacques Kallis or a Michael Atherton, but Dravid ranks up there with the great batsmen of the game. To simply refer to him as a defensive player is selling him short as a batsman. He was a wonderfully gifted player and we all enjoyed the way he played the game.

Sambit Bal talked about Dravid the man, not just the batsman, the well rounded individual that not all cricketers are.
It's almost as if he leaves that part of his world behind him when he leaves the cricket field. And perhaps that's why he can see the cricket world from the outside, reflect on it objectively, and see the ironies and futilities of stardom. It's a rare and remarkable quality. It has helped him engage in relationships in the outside world without baggage.
Rob Smyth in the Guardian talked of a player ever learning:
Dravid was never too proud to seek advice. "Greatness was not handed to him; he pursued it diligently, single-mindedly," Dravid wrote of Waugh in that foreword. It's a compliment that works both ways. Waugh recognised Dravid as a rare species, and so should we: as somebody who achieved greatness as both a cricketer and as a human being.
Sidvee talks about him as an all-rounder, a constantly adapting and versatile cricketer.
I find it hard to think of a more versatile cricketer. You were one of our finest short leg fielders. You were, for the most part, a remarkable slip catcher. You have opened the innings, batted at No.3, batted at No.6 (from where you conjured up that 180 in Kolkata). I’m sure you have batted everywhere else. 
You have kept wicket, offering an added dimension to the one-day side in two World Cups. You even scored 145 in one of those games. You captained both the Test and one-day teams. Sure, things didn’t go according to plan but you were a superb on-field captain. More importantly you were India’s finest vice-captain, an aspect that is often conveniently forgotten. Jeez, you even took some wickets.
Harsha Bogle compares the man and the batsman, and finds them very similar.
Rahul Dravid batted exactly like the person he is: stately and upright, dignity and poise his two shoulders, standing up to everything coming at him with minimum fuss. He picked his shots carefully, almost like he was weighing the risk for fear of letting himself and his side down. There was little about him that was flamboyant - there isn't with an oak - and patiently, brick by brick, he built giant edifices. He is a good man and he batted like a good man.
The last word, I'm going to leave to Dravid himself.
Finally I would like to thank the Indian cricket fan, both here and across the world. The game is lucky to have you and I have been lucky to play before you. To represent India, and thus to represent you, has been a privilege and one which I have always taken seriously. My approach to cricket has been reasonably simple: it was about giving everything to the team, it was about playing with dignity and it was about upholding the spirit of the game. I hope I have done some of that. I have failed at times, but I have never stopped trying. It is why I leave with sadness but also with pride.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Famous last words

Before Sri Lanka played the first CB series final against Australia, Mahela Jayawardene wrote a piece for Cricinfo looking back at the defeat to India, win over Australia and their chances in the CB series finals. Towards the end of the piece he wrote:

We've managed to keep Australia's openers quiet so far and hopefully we can do that in the finals as well.

Ah. How did that go Mahela? One opener made 163, the other made 64 and the opening partnership was 136.

Maybe you should avoid tempting the fates in future.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The men fighting for Eoin Morgan's place

Now Eoin Morgan has been dropped from the England test squad for Sri Lanka, a precious spot has opened up in the XI. Spots like this don't open up very often in the continuity based Strauss/Flower regime so there is plenty of competition for this one spot.

Ravi Bopara seems to be the preferred candidate of the England management. Whilst there are still doubts over his class at Test level, he is very much the next man in line, and this England team loath line-jumping. Bopara will almost certainly get his chance, even though there are many reasons why perhaps he shouldn't. 

One of those reasons is the balance that Tim Bresnan can bring to the team as an all-rounder. He'll never be as destructive a bowler or batter as Flintoff was on his best days, but other than that he could well end his career a better player. He's a technically correct and powerful batsman and chronically under-rated bowler who's won every Test match he's played for England. Slot Bresnan into the team and Prior has the chance to move up to No.6 and England can play five bowlers, with Panesar/Finn rotated in and out depending on conditions.

The other option for a batsman at No.6 in this tour at least is Samit Patel. In most series his selection would make a lot of sense, a powerful batsman for the lower order, and a second spinner. However after Monty Panesar's form in Pakistan it seems very unlikely he'll be omitted, and a third spinner would start to feel like overkill, even on Sri Lankan wickets.

In the long term the best prospects may not even be any of the ones in this squad. Since England use the No.6 position to blood their young players, if Bopara doesn't cement his place soon there will be a host of players creeping up on him with James Taylor the most likely to take over.

Whatever does happen, it's to be hoped that England don't pick a line-up in Sri Lanka and set it in stone. They've got to No.1 in the world by having continuity in selection, but now the way to stay there (or get back if South Africa win in New Zealand) is to have some kind of flexibility to conditions and different teams. England have used the squad system for their bowlers already, it may be time for them to use it for their batsmen.  

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Is Kieswetter reaching the end of the line?

England have always had an obsession with having big hitting players at the top of the order in limited overs cricket, and those players being wicket-keepers. The first obsession came from the perfectly logical notion of taking advantage in the power-play overs, but the second seems to have no logical basis behind it whatsoever.

The elevation of Craig Kieswetter into the England team, almost exactly two years ago was on the back of an excellent innings for the England Lions against the senior team. He then followed that with a century in his third ODI (albeit against Bangladesh) and a vital role in winning the World T20, when his partnership with Michael Lumb was crucial to bringing home the trophy.

Since then, he's started to be exposed as a one dimensional sort of player, he averages under 30 in ODIs and while an average of 25 in T20s is decent, his strike rate of 122 is good but fairly pedestrian compared to the very best in the format. While he may be adequate in both forms of the game, he has some glaring weaknesses in his game. His wicket-keeping veers between adequate and dreadful, and is never really as good as the likes of Buttler, Bairstow or Davies, the three main candidates for his spot as keeper.

With the new Cook and Pietersen partnership in ODIs looking long term, it surely must be the best time to try it in T20 cricket as well. If that doesn't come off, Alex Hales should be next in line to open with Pietersen, as the man in possession before this tour. Dropping down the order is unlikely to be the solution for Kieswetter as his rotation of the strike isn't good enough to bat in the middle overs. With all the batting and keeping talent around at the moment he just isn't good enough, and should be squeezed out of the team as quickly as possible.

Friday, 17 February 2012

I'm not angry Essex, just disappointed

It's not been a good day for Essex CCC today, that is abundantly clear. Just how bad a day it has been may only emerge later, once the dust has settled. For the moment, we know that Mervyn Westfield has become the first English cricketer to be jailed for match-fixing, and that Danish Kaneria is going to be facing some very awkward questions, and the possibility of a life ban from cricket.

Whilst the Kaneria revelations came as a shock, they were hardly a complete surprise. He had been arrested at the same time as Westfield, and there was a general feeling that even though he was never charged, there was no smoke without fire.

What seems to be the most shocking part of today's hearing is the fact that the fixing allegations seem like they were quite widely known in the Essex dressing room, and yet everyone seemed to turn a blind eye. As ESPNCricinfo put it:

"His behaviour at Essex failed to raise alarm bells, despite Mark Pettini, the club captain at the time, saying in his statement to police that Kaneria had discussed fixing with James Foster, a former England international and the man who was to succeed Pettini, and David Masters. The three later discussed the episode but did nothing about it, on the grounds that Kaneria was joking.
 The batsman Varun Chopra, now with Warwickshire, also recalled a phone conversation in which Kaneria had said "there are ways of making money, you don't have to throw a game."
After Westfield's late-night revelation in 2009, Palladino told two junior team-mates Adam Wheater and Chris Wright. When Westfield was confronted by Wheater, however, he denied the story."

Questions really have to be asked, especially of the three senior players who seemed perfectly happy to take it as a joke and not ask questions, and perhaps Westfield's barrister (quoted in The Cricketer) said what many would have been thinking:

"Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, said it was “startling” that no one reported Kaneria to authorities, and accused players of perhaps deliberately “turning a blind eye”, because despite his links to fixers, Kaneria remained an important match-winning bowler for Essex."

Whatever truly happened at Essex during this time, the stink of the episode is likely not to wash off the county for a while. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Can Alastair Cook play T20 cricket?

The record for consecutive ODI hundreds is three matches. If Alastair Cook makes a hundred in the third ODI against Pakistan, he will join the company of  Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwar, Herschelle Gibbs, and AB de Villiers.

That company is higher rated than him in the one day game, all of them being candidates for being some of the greatest ODI batsmen of all time. While only two of them played in the time of T20, I don't think there would have been any debate that all of them would have made good T20 players, but it's taken as an obvious truth that Alastair Cook won't.

Now, I'm not saying that Alastair Cook belongs in that company, he's got a long way to go to match any of those players, but like all of them he's adaptable enough to play in any format he wants to. The main problem people seem to have with his batting is that he doesn't have enough big shots to play successful T20 cricket. This ironically is one of the same reasons people said that he couldn't play ODI cricket, and look how wrong they were.

The bottom line in any format of cricket is that if you don't get out, you can score runs, and Cook is good at not getting out. He knows which shots he can score from, and has added new ones to his one day game, like his supreme sweeping so far in this series.

Another irony about Cook's form in the limited overs format is that in many ways it negates one of his biggest weaknesses. Even when he's playing well, he always has to be cautious outside off-stump as his technique can lead to a lot of balls being edged into the slips. However, in ODIs and T20s the slips are generally nowhere to be seen, which frees Cook up to slash with impunity.

I'm not saying that Cook will be a success in T20 cricket, there is always the chance that he will fail. But is England's T20 team so good, and opening partnership so brilliant that he shouldn't be considered? I don't think it is. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The ODI second spinner debate

With the call up of the destructive and exciting Jos Buttler, there's been less interest in the call up of Danny Briggs to fight with Samit Patel for the second spinner spot. Brigg's is undoubtedly a talented young cricketer, but his limited overs record is underwhelming and with another left arm spinner in the squad it seems like his presence has little use to it.

Patel is perfectly reasonable as an ODI bowler, he can be a little expensive but does seem to have a knack of picking up wickets. Briggs seems the opposite, he is fairly economical but doesn't pick up enough wickets. Another option the selectors may have considered was Monty Panesar, but his ODI record doesn't back him up and the notion that he just wheels away on the same line and length, which is easy to score from in one day cricket, has yet to be fully dispelled.

Briggs probably won't play all of the ODIs and if he's unlucky may not get a game at all on this tour. It's clear that partly he's there for the experience. The England selectors need however to avoid making the same mistakes as they did with Adil Rashid, taking him on tours too early and not letting him finish developing at county level. It's a pity that Rashid's championship form was so poor all last summer, because he seemed to do well in the CB40, and he should be just about the perfect choice. At his best he's a better spinner than Briggs and as good a bat, although not as destructive, as Patel.

If the third spinner in the party is there to gain experience and is for the future, not the present, Briggs is a decent choice, but if they're looking for a man for the present, Samit Patel seems to have the spot by default, but Rashid should be eyeing his place enviously.

Monday, 6 February 2012

It's time for ODI month

The conclusion of the third Test between England and Pakistan heralds the beginning of a month without any Test cricket. Until the 7th of Match the international cricket calender consists solely of ODI and T20 cricket, and in this time four series involving eight teams, all but two of the full member counties, will be contested. With only one of these series having got going yet, it seems like an apt time for a preview, focusing on what each of the countries involved will be looking to take from this month

CB Series

Australia have already won the first match of the CB series against India, and in the tri-series also involving Sri Lanka they will be expecting to win comfortably. They've got a side packed full of big hitters, from David Warner at the top to David Hussey in the lower middle order. The Test series against India has show that they have good bowling stocks, but can they adapt to the ODI game?

India are for once underdogs in an ODI series, they'll be low on confidence after the Test series, but one good win could bring that all back. If they do get their confidence back they've got a formidable batting line-up and a couple of decent seamers for ODI matches. A lot will depend on whether MS Dhoni can inspire his team in the field, and Jadeja's all round role could be pivotal.

Sri Lanka are a team in transition and have a fair amount of promise, which seems to show in fits and starts. Malinga coming back into the team will give them a boost, and their batting looked good in the last two ODIs against South Africa. The key for them may well be how their other seamers, likely to be Welegedara, Perera, and Prasad, bowl

Pakistan v England

England will be looking to bounce back from a hammering in the Test series, and may well be relying on their opening bowlers to make most of the damage. The batting is unsettled, and Kevin Pietersen may be elevated back to the top of the order, but he and Kieswetter are both under pressure. One area they need to improve to have any chance is their batting when chasing.

Pakistan will rely on a bevy of spinners to strangle England's progress, and ensure they don't have to chase to many big totals. Their batting could be a weaker point, with the stodgy accumulation that served them well in the Tests less useful here. Hafeez and Umar Akmal will need to provide the quick scoring and Shahid Afridi will come back in, Pakistan utilising his new role as canny bowler and lower order madcap.

New Zealand v Zimbabwe/South Africa

Zimbabwe have just one ODI and two T20s left against New Zealand and having already lost the ODI series they're just playing for pride in that one.

South Africa's squad hasn't been announced yet, but later in the month they take on the Kiwis in a series that could be close. The Proteas' batting looks well balanced if de Villiers would just stop constantly shifting players up and down the order. Their seam bowling should thrive on the green pitches of New Zealand, so expect the hosts to be fired out quickly one or two times.

New Zealand have a batting order with a lot of potential fire-power in it, but it doesn't always live up to expectation. Their seam bowling looks promising, but South Africa's batsmen will be harder to dismiss than Zimbabwe's. Their squad against Zimbabwe looks fairly inexperienced, but the experienced players may return for the South Africa series.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

What can England learn from India's dead rubbers?

A fair amount of the build up to the third Test between England and Pakistan has focused on the fact that it's a dead rubber, and what both teams will be looking to get out of it. But what can England learn from how India have handled dead rubbers recently, and what should they do different.

Genuine dead rubbers don't happen all that often in these days of two and three test series, so that India's last three series have all involved dead an interesting stat in itself. Of course, two of them were part of humiliating whitewash defeats against England then Australia, and tucked in the middle was a series win over the West Indies.

In the first of those dead rubbers a lack-lustre India improved on their third test performance but were still comfortably dispatched by an innings. They surely would have been looking for some pride to salvage from the tour, but this eluded them.

Particularly worrying in that match was RP Singh and what he symbolised to the Indian team. The left-arm bowler hadn't bowled in a first class match since January yet was called up for the final test and looked woeful, a shadow of the bowler he used to be. That sort of panicky selection is not needed by England, and while the Morgan v Bopara debate should not be closed, now is not the time to make big changes.

Now is the time however to make big changes to how England bat against spin, and in many ways this echoes India's struggle against swing. Both teams have swung between strokeless and reckless against their respective Achilles heels. England need to show intent to score, rotate the strike, but be content to defend when they have to, and most importantly they need to take advantage of the bad balls. Ajmal, Hafeez and Rehman are not the best spinners who have ever lived, they are playable, and if England are to prosper in Sri Lanka, they need to start learning now.

Looking at India's loss in the fourth test against Australia what struck me most was the lack of real desire for the win. England know that this win could help them cling on to their number one spot. Surely that's enough to motivate them to use this test as a springboard to better things, rather than a damp squib ending to what for them has been a damp squib of a series.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Five to watch in 2012

I thought I'd use my insignificant knowledge of cricket to predict which players will come good this year. Feel free to throw these predictions back in my face at the beginning of 2013.

Adam Wheater (Essex, Matabeleland Tuskers)
Now, this one is a little bit of a cheat to start with, because he's already played over 30 first class matches and averages over 45, but I think this could be the year that Wheater starts to deliver in all forms of the game. For a player with the talent to score runs so quickly in the first class game it seems a mystery why he's relatively poor in limited overs cricket. My theory is that he is a bit like Sehwag in that he's very good at scoring quick runs against attacking fields, but one day fields put fielders in his favourite catching zones who eventually catch him out. Hopefully this year he can learn how to rotate the strike and score boundaries in limited overs cricket, a skill which can only help his first class cricket too.

Chanaka Welegedara (Sri Lanka)
Again, this is a player who has been around for a while, but he has started to come into his own towards the end of 2011, with two five wicket hauls, agains Pakistan then South Africa. He has a strong action and a reasonable domestic record, along with an unimpressive test bowling average. However, as a left arm seamer he looks like the perfect replacement for Chaminda Vaas, and could be the man to lead Sri Lanka's pace attack for many years to come. 

Gary Ballance (Yorkshire, Mid West Rhinos)
I've never seen Ballance bat so I'm just going on figures, but they are some impressive figures. He's only 22 yet has an average of above 50 in both First-class and List A cricket. Most of the runs he's scored have been scored in Zimbabwe where he averages over 60, but his average for Yorkshire is a respectable 41. His real problem is a poor coversion rate for Yorkshire with only one of his nine hundreds occuring in england. It is worth pointing out that bowling attacks in Zimababwe probably aren't as threatening as in the County Championship, so if he maintains his current form into the English domestic season it can't be long until England and Zimbabwe start fighting over him.

Tino Mawoyo (Zimbabwe)
He's not played a lot of international cricket, so I'm basing this on the one time I've seen him and the fact that his record so far is pretty excellent. He's an old style Test match opener in the Atherton sort of mould, in that he sees his job as to blunt the new ball and allow the stroke-makers around him to flourish. Being an opener like that, his leaving of the ball is top class, and although he scores relatively slowly it does allow him to accumulate some big scores. I'm looking forward to some more of his approach, Zimbabwe could do with more solid and dependable batsmen like him.

Tom Craddock (Essex)
Young English leg-spinners generally get over-hyped the moment they arrive on the scene, but maybe it's because of the roundabout way that he got there that's kept the hype around Craddock pretty low. As a leg-spinner myself I feel pretty excited when I see a talented young leggie in the English game, and I think Craddock is under-rated. He's not a huge turner of the ball, but he's got a decent googly and a genuine slider and bowls with some guile and great control. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Scout Report: Sachithra Senanayake

A tall off-spinner who more than slightly resemblances to R Ashwin of India in his bowling style, Senanayake made his international debut in Sri Lanka's win over South Africa today. He started off fairly steadily, coming on first change in the fifth over and only conceding two runs, but took some tap from Alviro Petersen in the next over and was taken off.

For a part time spinner himself, Dilshan seems to have a pretty poor understanding of how to manage spinners. The most important thing for a spinner, especially one on debut who's likely to be nervous, is to get some rhythm. Bowling your ten overs in five separate spells means that you have no chance.

It was true that in the second over of his first two spells, Senanayake went for a few boundaries, but he wasn't bowling particularly badly, he was just bowling to a tight field in a power-play against some excellent batting. In those spells Dilshan could be partly justified in taking him off quickly, but what was completely inexplicable was in his next spell he bowled very well to restrict South Africa to eight from his three overs, only to be taken off and brought back in five overs at the other end for one over.

That was his ninth over, and I assumed he would bowl out, but Dilshan peculiarly took him off then brought him back on another five overs later for his final over. Despite having to put up with this poor captaincy Senanayake bowled creditably in his second five overs, only conceding 19 runs, and only one boundary.

He finished with innings figures of 0-53 and beat the bat a couple of times once he settled in to one of his spells. His domestic record looks decent, and there are whisperings that he can bowl the doosra, although I saw no evidence of it today. Hopefully he'll get retained for the fifth ODI, it's clear that he's got something about him.

Performance: 6/10
Potential: 7/10

N.B. Dilshan's erratic captaincy wasn't just confined to the spinners, overall he made 25 bowling changes in a 50 over innings. Time for a bit of patience with your bowlers Tillakaratne.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

What's gone wrong for England - England v Pakistan 1st Test

England's main problem against Pakistan was their batting, and even though most players got out to injudicious attacking shots, they heaped pressure on themselves with their tentative approach. At times they were playing Ajmal like he was Muralitharan. None of the Pakistan spinners turned the ball that much, but the England top order repeatedly failed to get forward to them, and only Abdur Rehman was attacked much at all. Ajmal almost had free reign to bowl as attacking as he wanted, knowing the the English batsmen were tentative and mentally confused.

Going into their second innings, England were behind but in with a chance of getting back into the match. That chance faded quickly with three wickets for Umar Gul, leaving England 25-3. Whilst Gul bowled well most of the day, he got all four of his wickets with innocuous or poor balls. Firstly, Strauss was given out strangled down the leg-side when he didn't hit it, and after HotSpot didn't show any conclusive proof either way, notorious showman, and prize idiot, Billy Bowden's decision was upheld. That one may have been unlucky, but it was a lazy stroke.

After that, Cook got tucked up trying to hook, and instead of dropping his hands on it, went through with the shot with predictable consequences. The next was the worst of all, Pietersen showcasing his ludicrous lack of a back foot game by hooking straight in the air off the front foot to a grateful deep square leg. Later, Trott completed the set, with a flick devoid of any foot movement carrying off the edge through to Akmal behind the stumps. What all the dismissals had in common was that they were shots that didn't need to be played. All of them could have left their balls, and Pietersen in particular should have kept his shot down.

Considering how bad the batting was, the bowling wasn't that poor, and to dismiss Pakistan for 338 on a good batting track was a good effort. It's the batting that has to improve for the next test, and improve a lot.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Is Saeed Ajmal a chucker?

Chucking is one of the most delicate subjects in cricket, up there with claiming catches that bounce and where the line is in sledging. It's pretty much unanimously agreed in the cricket world that chucking is bad, wrong, against the rules and against the so-called 'Spirit of Cricket.'

So I'm going to be very careful with this, because I know how serious an accusation it is and I want to make one thing clear before I start. I don't believe that necessarily Ajmal exceeds the ICC's guidelines on how much the elbow can be extended most of the time. His off break looks perfectly fine, but it's the doosra and the so called teesra that seem to be the problem.

I don't see how any bowler can bowl the doosra with a straight arm, I'm a spinner myself and I've had a go at bowling doosras, and I just find myself chucking them. After his ICC mandated bio-mechanical analysis, Murali was told to stop bowling his doosra, and that makes me think, if Murali with his freakish flexibility chucks his doosra, surely everyone else does too?

In a Q+A article about whether Murali was a chucker or not, I found a few interesting points. One of them was that under the new rules, Murali didn't chuck his doosra, and another was that 99% of all bowlers have some arm straightening, and under the old rules were chuckers. How does this apply to Ajmal though? When reported he was cleared, but he remains under suspicion, and is presumably closely watched by match officials.

Despite Ajmal's brilliant 7-55 against England today, his teesra turned out to be a lame duck, a clearly telegraphed round arm ball that skids on a little. The first, and only time so far he bowled it, Stuart Broad played it comfortably. His arm did look suspect though, with it coming through over his shoulder then at the last second flicking more round his shoulder. I have to say I think he chucked that ball.

The more I look at videos of his doosra the more I think he chucks it, and the more I write the more this is sounding like a bitter Englishman. That's really not true. Yes, I am an England fan, but before that I'm a spinner and a fan of quality spin bowling. For the moment I'll concede to the ICC's judgement, but I do have one important point about it. When he was cleared, it was made clear that it wasn't an unconditional clearing of his whole bowling repertoire, he could be called again at any time. I wonder if match officials cede to that judgement whilst having their own concerns and not airing them. Being called for chucking is a horrible thing to happen to a bowler, but it may be a necessary evil. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Brits Abroad - The curse of the procrastinator

So last Monday (and the Monday before) I truly meant to write some Brits Abroad, then I was on Twitter and there were other things on the internet, and before I knew it was Tuesday. So I waited until now instead. Sorry for the delay (not that you really care that much)

In the two weeks I've been missing there have been some very notable performances, and I think it's only right to start with the best of them from none other than Luke Wright. No, I'm not joking, it's actually Luke Wright who blasted a scintillating 117 off just 60 balls. I don't think anybody believed he had an innings like that in him, especially given the fact that his best score in the rest of the Big Bash has been 27* and his bowling has managed just one wicket in the four innings he's bowled in.

ESPNCricinfo said that "The consistency of Wright's hitting was astonishing" and he broke the record for the fastest century in Australian domestic T20 history, reaching his ton in 44 balls. In the same match Owais Shah managed a creditable 55, the culmination of a good run of form for Shah playing for Hobart Hurricanes. Despite this Wright's innings took the Melbourne Stars to a 19 run win.

Elsewhere Paul Collingwood is having a tough time of it, failing to have got past twenty with the bat in any game so far, and his medium pacers not yielding many wickets. Michael Lumb hasn't got past a top score of 25, for Sydney Sixers, that score coming against the Melbourne Renegades. Jade Dernbach meanwhile has proven that his magic box of seventeen different slower balls isn't as good as it seems, having not played for the Melbourne Stars since mid-December.

Nothing to report from many of the Brits in Zimbabwe, with many of them having either gone home or been dropped. Actually playing, and very well at that, has been Gary Ballance who continues his brilliant form of all winter, scoring 124 in a 7 wicket win in the Castle Logan cup and a match clinching 77 in the Pro50, both in wins over Southern Rocks, who must be sick of the sight of him at the crease.

Other than that, there have been two new Brits arriving on the scene in Zimbabwe, Riki Wessels, the Australian born son of Aussie/Saffer Kepler... but for the purpose of this he's British since he's played for Northants as a home grown player since 2004. His best contribution so far has been in partnership with Ballance for Mid West Rhinos, scoring 133 in the same innings as Ballance's 124. Possibly the biggest partnership by two Brits Abroad this winter, I haven't been keeping count.

Another newcomer to Zimbabwe is Essex's Mark Pettini who has scored a 55 and 33 so far playing for the Mountaineers in a first class and one day double header against the Mashonoland Eagles.

Moving to grade cricket in Australia, Neil Pinner seems to be the only Brit who has done anything at all since 17th December, scoring 33 and DNB in a two innings match. Either something's wrong with the website and the scores aren't up yet, or Brits are really out of fashion in Australian cricket.

I'll get another post up next Monday if there's enough to report on, if not definitely the week after. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

2012 Predictions

1) England will still be the number one test side in the world at the end of 2012
It's a tough year coming up for England, the team have made it to the top of the rankings without really being tested in sub-continental conditions. This year brings test series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India away. If England win two out of those three series as well as their home series they should retain their number one spot and be on their way to becoming the dominant team of their era. I fully expect all of this to happen.

2) Pakistan to overtake India as the top Asian test team
I've got a blog-post all about this lined up, so I'll put this in brief, Pakistan's bowling attack is far superior to India's and their batting is better than it has been for years. Misbah's calm captaincy means that they've got a good chance of continuing their success, and an implosion looks unlikely for the moment.

3) Pakistan v England series to end 1-1
England have been sweeping all before them in Test cricket, but Pakistan are a good team and have more experience of these conditions. I expect a close fought series with all three tests being interesting games and both teams coming out of it with their reputations enhanced.

4) World T20 to be won by Australia
This prediction has no kind of logical basis behind it, but I just fancy an Austalian team with Warner, Watson and an array of decent new fast bowlers has a good chance to become the best T20 team in the world.

5) Australia to end the year at No.2 in the Test rankings
Australia had reached their nadir, last winter's Ashes defeat then the 21-9 at Cape Town was about the lowest possible for them to go. The only way has been up since, with series wins in Sri Lanka, a creditable draw in South Africa and a comprehensive thrashing of India at home. Expect this rise to continue

6) County Championship and T20 to be won by Somerset
If they win the T20 I fully expect Somerset to go on and win the County Championship. The logic behind this is sound, if they finally get a competition win they can dominate. The addition of Vernon Philander for at least part of the summer and Chris Gayle for the T20 means they can be a truly dominant team if they shrug off their 'chokers' tag.

7) Sri Lanka continue to sink towards West Indies and Bangladesh
In the ODI and T20 formats Sri Lanka are just about decent enough to give most teams a game, but going into the Test format without Malinga, and Ajantha Mendis' continuing decline, they simply don't have the bowling attack to bowl any team out twice. Fluked into a win against South Africa, and fluky wins are about all they can hope for until they find a bowling attack.