England Get The Trotts – Will It Lead To Runs?

The England selectors have handed Jonathan Trott the opportunity to make his England Test debut on Thursday with the news that he has replaced the stuttering Ravi Bopara for the final Ashes Test at The Oval.

Bopara’s omission from the squad is hardly surprising given the no.3’s performances with the bat this summer. He’s been a shadow of his former self, when you remember the succulent stroke play he punished the West Indian bowlers with just 3 months ago, but that was then and this is now. Bopara will have to focus on making amends for his Ashes nightmare when the Twenty20 and one day games begin in September.

I, like many England fans, would have preferred the selectors to have shown a little more faith in Bopara, who made an unbeaten 52 for Essex last week, steering them to victory over Middlesex. However, Bopara’s failure to regain his England place was down to his 7 dismal innings where his biggest score was 35 and he was averaging just 15. The statistics don’t lie. It simply wasn’t good enough. The bowlers Monty Panesar and Graeme Onions, who both bat at no.11, are the only players with lower averages than Bopara.

So to Trott, the man of the moment. He’s an unknown quantity in international Test cricket, which begs the question – Why choose to introduce him in the decisive Ashes Test, against an Australian team that have the bit between their teeth, and the momentum of a freight-train?

For such an important match, having a debutant may well be playing into the hands of the touring opposition. Australia will claim to be indifferent as to which 11 men they face on Thursday, but I’d bet that the prospect of facing a man of Trott’s inexperience will suit Johnson, Hilfenhaus and the rest of the Aussie attack.

I’m aware that Trott’s performances for Warwickshire this season have been exceptional, while statistics place him in the top four county batsmen, but to blood him for this huge, no, gigantic Test, does leave me scratching my head.

It would appear that Ashley Giles, a Warwickshire teammate of Trott’s, and member of the selection panel, seems to have a large influence on team selection. When you consider that Ian Bell, another Warwickshire cricketer, has kept his squad berth, Warwickshire favouritism seems to be in effect.

Bell, whose 3 innings this summer have confirmed that he fails to produce the goods against Aussie bowlers, has struggled after replacing Kevin Pietersen. If Bopara lost his place, then surely the faltering Bell should be making his journey back to county cricket too.

Without sounding negative, I do fear for the backlash if Trott fails at The Oval. Criticism will be flung at the selectors for choosing inexperience for a game of such magnitude, while if he was to make back to back centuries, then it would indicate he should have been in the XI since Cardiff, and that his introduction was long overdue. Who’d be a selector, hey?

But now, we wait, the squad is decided, it just a matter of the players doing their job for the biggest 5 days of their life. One man who has played in a game of similar significance before, Andrew “the first name on the team sheet” Flintoff, has huge wicket taking responsibilities, while Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann are surely to feature alongside Big Fred.

I’d be expecting Onions and Sidebottom to miss out, and then for Harmison or Panesar to take the final place in the bowling attack. The fact is that England requires all 20 Australian wickets, and so variety in their bowling attack is essential, so that we reign supreme at The Oval, finishing these Ashes as the victors.

Guest Post by David Owen

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First Test Reaction

If ever you thought that Sky Sports was too expensive, I’d suggest that the look on Pontings face in the closing minutes of the first Ashes Test was worth every single penny. He looked like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle.

Jimmy Anderson may well be the record holder for the most number of innings since debut without a duck but at 6pm yesterday you wouldn’t have bet on him and Monty batting out three quarters of an hour and saving the Test, would you? Let’s be honest here. Panesar only bats at number eleven because you can’t put him at number 12.Yet somehow survive they did and we go to Lord’s all square.

If I’d written this post at lunch on day 5 the title would have been something along the lines of “Spineless” or “Clueless” or “You Bunch Of Fucking Wankers”. However, since I was heading out the door to play cricket myself, I didn’t get a chance to update the blog so, instead, I left this message on Twitter:

Nuts to this. I’m off to play cricket. ECB selectors I’m available if you’re looking for another hopeless batsman who can’t spin the ball

True enough, I bowled 5 overs without the ball deviating so much as a millimetre and I got out playing a soft shot for 7 so I made sure my mobile was on as I headed off to the bar to watch the last knockings in the Cardiff Test. I’d guessed we were nine down by the collective groans from the handful of die hards sitting in front of the TV.

The masochistic tendencies shown by England cricket fans would have the Marquis de Sade wincing. However this random collection of cricket enthusiasts and cricket less than enthusiasts (i.e. their wives) were full of optimism that Jimmy and Monty could save the game. Full of optimism or Kronenbourg. One of the two.

The final 45 minutes of this match proved why Test match cricket is the premium version of the game. To hear a capacity crowd cheering every dot ball. To see the Australian bowlers straining every sinew of their body to get that last wicket. To see monkey man Ponting throwing his toys out the pram when the England physio came on.

Kim Hughes - Almost As Useless As Ricky Ponting

And that brings me nicely on to my next point. This game finished a draw because Ricky Ponting is the worst Australian captain since Kim Hughes. He is a world class batsman but, as a captain, he is shocking. It was easy for him when he could turn to Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath and chuck them the ball. He had players like Hayden, Langer and Gilchrist to get him out of the shit with the bat. Take all of them away and he’s shown up for being what he really is. A crap captain. Just what in the name of Stuart Broads jockstrap was he thinking in bringing on Marcus North to bowl the last few overs?

England were woeful in this Test. Of the 15 sessions of play, you can probably give the convicts Australians all but two. At the time I thought 435 was a below par score but enough for us to make a match of it. However the next few days showed up an alarming lack of application by the England bowlers. Outside of Freddie Flintoff’s opening spell, I never really saw a wicket coming. Credit where it’s due, with the exception of Mister Cricket (who should surely be renamed Mister Ball) the Aussie batsman looked superb.

As I say, I don’t rate his captaincy but Ponting is one of the best Test match batsmen I have seen. Katich was a completely different player to the one we saw here in ’05 and, as predicted by Tony from After Grog Blog Haddins batting average in on the way up. As a batting line up the Aussies look pretty solid.

However, despite taking 19 wickets, I still don’t rate their bowling attack. Mitchell Johnson is a bit Harmisonesque – one minute he looks a world beater, the next he looks like a wife beater. Hilfenhaus is short of the couple of yards of pace that would not only make him a genuinely quick bowler but also make it nigh on impossible for any commentator to finish saying his name before the ball hit the stumps. Peter Siddle will never be taken seriously as a Test bowler whilst he has a whores muff stapled to his chin and after a long bowling spell Nathan Hauritz looks too much like Gareth Gates to be a world class spinner. (Note: I tried to find a picture to illustrate this but after a Google search for “hot and sweaty Gareth Gates” I gave up as I had some sick in my mouth)

England were outplayed in this Test, there’s no question of that, but the fact remains that the series remains level with four to play. It’s interesting to see that Australia’s answer to Mystic Meg – Glenn McGrath – has now changed his prediction to a 4-0 series win. Well done, Glenn. I’m glad to see that you’ve spent your retirement mastering the rudiments of mathematics. Not for the first time, though, I’m going to disagree with you. I still stand by my original prediction of a 2-1 series win.

Why?

  1. That losing draw in Cardiff will be the kick up the arse some of those England players needed. Too many of them were believing their own press and they listened to too much of the “this Australian team is the worst to come here for years” nonsense the press have been spouting off for the last few months. Sure, they’re not the Invincibles but you put an Australian dominoes team up against the English and they will fight you every single inch of the way so do not underestimate the old enemy.
  2. As a unit, our bowling attack will not perform as badly as that again. In 30 years of watching Test cricket I’ve not witnessed such an inept display as that shown by Messrs Anderson, Broad, Swann, Flintoff or Panesar so the chances of it happening twice in a couple of months is unlikely.
  3. Kevin Pietersen will have watched his dismissals in this Test match over and over on tape and realised that his lucrative sponsorship deals are at risk if he ever plays shots like that again. Let’s face it, if you were a marketing exec for sadida*would you want your brand associated with a clueless fuckwit?
  4. Likewise Alastair Cook. His eyeliner contract with lemmiR* will be in jeopardy if he fails at Lord’s.
  5. England will drop Monty Panesar. I’m sorry, Monty, I know I’ve championed you in the past but I’m of the same belief as Shane Warne. I don’t believe you’ve learnt enough in your 30+ Test matches to be considered a Test match player. Yes, I know you saved the game this time but, let’s face it, when New Zealand’s Chris Martin looks a better batter and Steven Hawking looks a more mobile fielder, you’ve got to be able to turn it on with the ball. Or just turn it.
  6. The England squad and the entire backroom staff – all 358 of them – would not dare to do anything other than win the series 2-1. They know I have a tenner riding on it and that I will be after them if they fail me. I have connections, you know, and I also know where every single one of them will be on August 24th so let that be a warning.

Despite an exceptionally disappointing performance by England, the series remains all square going into the Lord’s Test match. Mystic McGrath points out that we’ve not won an Ashes Test there since 1934 and, to be honest, I don’t see much changing this time around. However, given the weather forecast, my gut feeling is another draw (11/10 at both Paddy Power and Sportingbet) with England snatching back some pride by playing four seamers and giving the Aussie top order a working over.

*- name changed to prevent expensive lawsuits

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All Change For Lord’s?

First of all let me say how shocked I am that England managed to draw the first Ashes Test match. It was a remarkable effort from Andrew Strauss’ men, especially from Paul Collingwood, Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Monty Panesar.

They batted heroically and deserved their draw in the end. Fair enough, the session lost on Saturday evening helped England. However, at 70-5, even the most optimistic of England fans would have said that defeat was inevitable anyway.

For the first time in the series though, they showed some fight and some passion. They did something we didn’t expect them to. Despite being dominated for the majority of the Test match, they came out with a draw to leave Australia extremely frustrated.

There is no getting away from the fact that England were completely outplayed though and that they were very poor in many areas. The top order didn’t score enough runs, the seamers got their line and length wrong too often and the spin duo of Swann and Panesar only managed one wicket between them.

England have a clean slate to move forward with though and they can go into the second Test at Lord’s knowing that they are still level in the series. This is a huge bonus. What changes should be made though?

Well, one of the spinners has to go as Lord’s is normally rather seam friendly. This probably means that Panesar will have to miss out.

Swann wasn’t at his best in Cardiff, but he is England’s No.1 spinner right now and will stay in the side for consistency purposes.

As for who comes in for Panesar, well there are a number of options. Most would agree that it is between Durham’s Graeme Onions and Steve Harmison, but the likes of Tim Bresnan and Matthew Hoggard shouldn’t be completely ruled out. They have been in the wickets for Yorkshire recently anyway.

Personally, I would go for Harmison – I think. If he can get it right against Australia, they will fear him. After the first Test, they won’t be fearing many England bowlers so this has to be something to consider. The Durham man is fit and in form so has to play.

It doesn’t matter if he won’t be selected this winter in South Africa. We need him to perform this summer against Australia. That’s the most important thing. At home, he can be a very threatening bowler and whether he turns it on or not is probably worth the risk. Elsewhere, there probably won’t be any changes. Stuart Broad was poor with the ball, but he can come back fighting. The top order didn’t score enough runs, but who would you bring in to replace any of them? Ian Bell?!

For England, the Ashes starts this Thursday at Lord’s. Hopefully the momentum from this draw can be used to produce a much more positive performance so make sure you stay on top of the Lord’s Test odds.

Guest post by Thomas Rooney

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Monty: Magic or Mediocre?

After what was a relatively inconsistent summer for Monty Panesar, the news that he has moved towards the top ten of the ICC Test Match bowling ratings will be very pleasing for the Sikh of Tweak. The England spinner is ranked number eleven in the world and sits five places below Ryan Sidebottom and six places ahead of Andrew Flintoff.

This is, of course, a sign that Panesar is moving in the right direction as a bowler. He has often taken important wickets for England and has the potential to be a match winner for his country on a number of occasions before his career is over. The most significant factor as far as Panesar is concerned though is that there should still be a lot more to come from him.

Panesar hasn’t quite hit the heights that many people would have expected him to after making his international debut in March 2006. Yes, there have been some excellent performances – 6 for 126 in New Zealand during the winter for example. However, this was sandwiched in between a poor time against India and Sri Lanka and most recently against South Africa this summer.

Panesar had a frustrating time of it against Graeme Smith’s men as he took 13 wickets in the four match test series at an average of 31.69. With his overall test average being 31.91 – this series was rather typical of Panesar’s England career to date. It has been good at times, but these times haven’t been often enough. The latest climb in the rankings is a good sign, but it mustn’t be forgotten that he has been as high as 6th in the world at one stage. I suppose this highlights that he can be a lot, lot better than he has shown in recent months.

So, what is the problem with him? With the ability he possesses, why can’t he perform consistently enough to become a world-class spinner? Well, unsurprisingly, Shane Warne has had his say. The former Australian leg-spinner says that Panesar must ‘take more risks’ in order to take wickets. By this, Warne means that he should show more variety by ‘bowling higher and wider’.

Should Panesar take on Warne’s advice, there is every chance he will concede more runs, but I’d place a cricket bet on him taking more wickets. Panesar shouldn’t take on the Ashley ‘tie up an end’ Giles role. He is a born wicket-taker and should bowl in a style to reflect this. Everyone knows that the cricket odds are far more likely to favour England being a successful team if they have a dangerous spinner in their ranks. Panesar is that spinner and it is high time that he starts to have a more significant impact on proceedings.

My biggest concern with him is that I still don’t believe he feels at all comfortable as an England cricketer. Even after a couple of years as an England player I don’t think he feels that he deserves to be there. Perhaps this is because of his inability to bat or field. However, he should believe in his right to perform on cricket’s world stage. Should he not, there is a danger that he will be the ‘nearly man’ of English cricket and this would be a crying shame given his ability with a cricket ball.

Thomas Rooney - Freelance Sports Journalist

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Done a Poo – Monty Panesar

Blinking blimey! A Flintoffs Ashes series that has actually managed to make it to a second post! Whatever will they think of next, eh?

Well in the second instalment of the..ahem..ever popular Done a Poo series, we’re proud to present to you the Sikh of Tweak, Monty Panesar.

Previous Done a Poo posts: Andrew Flintoff

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