25 February 2009

Rohit, where art thou?

Yet another failure for the talented Rohit Sharma. Yet another disappointing game. How much longer?

24 February 2009

Should Flintoff risk his Ashes fitness to play in the IPL?

If England are to regain the Ashes this summer, everyone knows that they need to have Andrew Flintoff firing on all cylinders. He is England’s talisman and was the difference between the two sides back in 2005 when England secured a 2-1 series victory.

At this moment in time Flintoff is recovering from a hip injury that is set to rule him out of the fourth test against the West Indies. Once he has returned to the fold, the only significant gap in the international calendar occurs in April when Flintoff is scheduled to play in the Indian Premier League.

This means that leading up to the most important series of them all; Flintoff is going to undergo a process of recovering from injury and then constant cricket. Surely a rest wouldn’t do him any harm?

Speaking about the situation, Flintoff has declared that he expects to be fit to play for the Chennai Super Kings – who have paid £1million for his services – and that he doesn’t even expect it to be ‘touch and go’.

The all-rounder then went on to say that he is ‘intending to go’ despite speculation that the ECB may prevent him doing so to ensure his fitness for the English summer.

Flintoff’s fitness ambitions aren’t as long-term as the IPL at this moment in time though as he says that the competition isn’t at the ‘forefront’ of his thinking right now.

Instead, he is determined to be fit for the final test in the Caribbean and the One Day Internationals that follow it. The cricket odds would certainly expect more England success if this was the case.

However, there has to be concerns about the amount of cricket Flintoff is set to take on following this latest injury. What if he was to suffer from exhaustion or pick up a new injury during the IPL?

You can’t put a price on playing for England against Australia, after all.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about cricket betting

20 February 2009

Test Cricket the winner as the Windies force a draw

Considering the events that preceded the third match between England and the West Indies, it is quite remarkable that the two teams contested in five days of such fabulous test cricket.

The second test match – which was abandoned after less than two overs – left a sour taste in the mouth of West Indies cricket, but this match will have definitely made up for it.

Given the lack of preparation, the fact that the pitch lasted the entire match is quite something in itself. It acted as a reminder to everyone that Antigua is more than capable of hosting test cricket and that it is, first and foremost, a cricket ground.

Anyway, onto the match itself. It really was incredible wasn’t it? It was test cricket at its finest in my opinion and even though England threw away a comfortable winning position, there is no doubt that every ball of every over was enjoyed by the majority.

Huge credit must go the West Indies batsman for their effort on the final day. The rain delay at the start helped, but the cricket odds still backed England to force victory.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan set the tone with their partnership and it really got the West Indies team believing they could save the game.

Then, the mammoth effort from the tail-enders – in particular from Daren Powell – was fantastic. They dug in and achieved what must have felt like a victory for their team.

As for England, well they contributed to their own downfall really. Why bat on so long in the second innings? Why send in James Anderson as a night-watchman when it was obvious he would struggle to score quickly the following morning?

Fair enough, the injury to Andrew Flintoff couldn’t be legislated for. Had he been firing on all cylinders, England would probably have one the game. As it was, they are left feeling like they have lost it.

The match as a whole will go down in history though and it exaggerated the enjoyment test cricket can bring. In what other sport can five days of intense action come down to the final 30 minutes? Incredible stuff.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about cricket betting for Betfair – check them out for the latest Cheltenham festival betting

17 February 2009

Seaming (ly) Awry?

A mumbling Srinath has terrorized me for a few months now, espeically given that there is so little sensible mumble coming out of someone who has played so much international cricket. Like the proverbial flash in the pan however, Srinath's comments on the third Indian seamer finally add some serious value to what should be a more hotly debated issue.

To paraphrase what he said - Indian selectors must stop playing musical chairs with the position of the third seamer. This role has been fulfilled by Munaf, Praveen, Ganguly, Sreesanth and Ajit over the past few years in the Indian version of the rotation policy. If we accept that batsmen require a longish noose from which to hang themselves, why does the same logic not apply to bowlers, life for whom has anyway been made tougher by pitches that are getting slower and slower? Has Praveen done badly in the recent past to merit an exclusion? Didnt Sreesanth do enough in the little domestic cricket that he played?

I fail to understand how the allegedly best swing bowlers in the country are not on this tour (Zak excluded). Sreesanth and Praveen have been picked to play in India, Australia and South Africa (as the case may be), for their ability to swing the new ball and reverse swing the old one. Yet, when we go to a country which demands swing bowling expertise, we prefer the Soooparrstarr (Balaji, who hasnt played in a long long time and bowls only slightly faster than John) over these two? While I am all for one of them missing out for Ranji's highest wicket taker (preference for youth and all that), selections like Balajis' make one wonder whether the selectors are not suffering from some permanent brain damage received during their playing days.

As an aside, my prediction on the test series is a 2-1 victory to India, weather permitting. What say?

13 February 2009

Balaji - Return of the Ultimate Sooparstaar

Has Balaji's performance since he regained fitness and got back to the game with reduced pace and a remodelled action really justified a Test match recall? Over Sreesanth and Arpy Singh?

Here are three Bala-watchers who have written about his comeback in the recent past.

N Balajhi of TCWJ:

"LAKSHMIPATHY BALAJI has made comeback into the Indian team after a stellar performance in Ranji trophy where he tallied 36 wickets @ 17.50 in 7 matches. The no. of times he hit the stumps, in his come back Ranji season, was the impressive aspect about his come back. His main weapon, straightening on off-stump is still intact. His inswingers are news to me. He swung the ball both ways. ...
Despite his ability to move the ball bothways he is vulnerable in international cricket for his lack of pace. He was never quick but now slowed down to early 120's. At this pace he got to bowl a very disciplined line in international cricket, especially in ODIs and back that up with good length. At this pace Balaji should try to emulate that Kiwi Larsen, in terms of line and length."

Siddharth Monga on Cricinfo:

"His comeback started during the IPL, but then again so did Ashish Nehra's. Both of them impressed, bowling four overs a day, but the real test would be to bowl 20 to 30 overs a day on unresponsive tracks. Nehra broke down again, but Balaji has gone on through the league stages and the quarter-final of the Ranji Trophy. When it comes to unhelpful tracks, none come worse than the Chinnaswamy pitch, where Tamil Nadu played Bengal.
... Balaji did that and more on a pitch where taking wickets in quick succession was next to impossible. He took five of them for seven runs, whereupon Tamil Nadu went on to make an incredible comeback and make their way through to the semi-final. It wasn't easy: he looked innocuous at times, bowling in the mid-120s and not getting any help from the pitch. But he persevered. In the first innings, he bowled what looked like a slower legcutter to Manoj Tiwary, which jagged in and bowled him. Tiwary was closing in on 150, but nobody expects googlies from pace bowlers. "

On the same quarterfinal match,
Soulberry of The Ranji Trophy Chronicles

"My good friend and fellow Ranji Chronicler, N Balajhi advised caution to my enthusiasm on seeing L Balaji swing it both ways. He was correct of course...the speed was off and all that stuff which makes you less effective on the international stage...but he was lethal today. It was as if he had a magic wand to the ball as he sliced through the Bengal order to end up with six dangerous wickets. dangerous because they tempt you to call him up for national attention. I am tempted to ignore my friend's good advice and call for more of Balaji! Anyway, the gist of the story is the ball moved out, the ball moved in, the batsmen didn't have a clue. Not since Irfan Pathan lost it have we seen consistent swing like Balaji showed us."

11 February 2009

A 'class' act disappears?

Rohit Sharma, the supposedly talented right hand batsman, captured the imagination of millions with his performances in the World T20 and the CB Series in Australia. Some people on this blog sang his praises and heralded the coming of the next great right handed Indian batsmen, who had rightfully claimed his place in the pantheon of Indian batting gods.

Today, despite the confidence that Dhoni continues to show in him, Rohit does not command his place in either the one day or T20 teams, leave aside the test arena. Like Dravid, who the test team continues to carry through his slump, Rohit continues to be carried by the might of the Indian batting order, with even Ravinder Jadeja and Yusuf outdoing him consistently. While his fans will continue to argue that it is nothing more than a loss of form (and his class will eventually prevail etc.), in keeping with what I have said earlier on this blog, after yet another dismal performance last night, I am forced to reiterate that he does not belong in the international arena. He lacks the full range of stroke making that is essential at this level, as also the power that someone like Yuvraj or Yusuf weild with nonchalence. Add to this his inability to dominate spin or even rotate strike and you have the pull package of all that a one day team does not need. His fielding, while continuin to remain steady, has shown no flashes of brilliance - some may argue that even the intensity of his fielding has dropped.

While I am all for investing in talent and leeting it find its feet in international cricket, lets remember that the cost is a career for Venugopal, Badrinath, Pujara and other talented youngsters that continue to line up behind him. How long does India carry him? John??

10 February 2009

English media play the blame game after humiliating defeat

As far as embarrassing defeats go, England’s loss in Jamaica to the West Indies last week was right up there. Andrew Strauss’ men were blown away in their second innings for just 51 and this has led to many members of the English media bringing up the dreaded ‘crisis’ word.

The defeat followed a month of great controversy surrounding the England team, with Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores stepping down from their respective roles as captain and coach. With this in mind, it wasn’t the best time to be getting hammered by a team below you in the world rankings.

Where has the blame been placed though? Who is responsible for England’s recent demise? Well, many cricket pundits and former players have been having their say….

One time England spinner Robert Croft believes that the players were ‘too matey’ with their West Indian opponents. He says that there was a lot of ‘smiling and chatting’ between the two teams and that this doesn’t help the teams cause.

Former England captain Graham Gooch has also been critical of the team, by saying that they have ‘no direction’ and that they are ‘standing still’ without progressing forward in the slightest. In terms of blame, Gooch feels that the distraction of the Indian Premier League has played its part.

Elsewhere, BBC Sport’s Robbo Robson says that there is a ‘chummy clique where you have to know the password to get in’ and believes that far too much faith has been shown to the likes of Ian Bell and Monty Panesar, both of whom should be dropped.

Finally, one of the most significant voices in English cricket - Jonathan Agnew - says that that Bell ‘must be dropped’ to show that the batsmen’s places are not fireproof.

In terms of these opinions, the one that I agree with the most is Graham Gooch. Where is the direction? Where is this team going? Where are the youngsters? Are we going to sit and wait for the likes of Strauss, Collingwood, Pietersen and Harmison to retire at the same time and then change the whole team?

Before the test match, I was relatively positive about the team’s chances against the West Indies and so were the cricket odds. However, there was always a chance that they could self destruct - much like they have done. If the performance in Jamacia isn’t enough to suggest it is time for change, I don’t know what is.

Given the fact that Owais Shah is the only batting cover though, not too much can be changed in the rest of this tour. However, let’s freshen it up a bit. This is the team I would choose to face West Indies in the second test on Friday:

Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Owais Shah, Andrew Flintoff, Matt Prior, Adil Rashid, Graham Swann, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom.

This means that there is no place for Bell, Harmison or Panesar. It also means that Pietersen will be batting at three. It is worth a go though, because there is no way it can get any worse. Hopefully.

By Thomas Rooney - a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting for Betfair - check them out for the latest cheltenham odds

08 February 2009

Cool, ei maaan?

"Of course, Suleiman Jamaal Benn is not the most threatening of spinners"

Yes I did say that in March last year when the Lankans were touring. 

Now I say, of course. Height, flight and accuracy - all the makings of a world class spinner. He is not too bad at gully either. All the awkwardn limb movement of Ishant Sharma married to the athleticism of Anil Kumble, but there is a bit of Roger Harper seed in the bwoy. 

He is Cool, ei maan, that Suleimaan. 

Congrats West Indies. Hats off, Jerome for the ruthless expose of the England smugness. This year's Ashes will be a the test of who is less worse off. 

05 February 2009

That’s two centuries KP has thrown away, but can he be criticised for scoring 97?

As far as cricket debates go, this is one of the more difficult ones to decide which camp to go in. After Kevin Pietersen hauled out to Sulieman Benn for 97 during England’s first innings in Jamaica, there were groans all around the ground.

“Why has he gone and done that? He could have nudged his way to 100 and then started to build a huge score for his team. Instead he has gone for the glory shot and thrown it all away. That’s why he should never have been captain.”

The above view is similar to that of many England cricket fans. They lay into Pietersen for failing to go on and make a big score. Then, they point to the fact that he did exactly the same thing against New Zealand last summer when he was nearing a century.

Some people disagree with the criticism Pietersen has received though.

“How can people criticise someone who is clearly the best batsmen in the team? If it wasn’t for Pietersen’s innings, England would be in a lot more trouble than 236-5 at the end of day one. Would people have been happier if he was out cheaply like Strauss or Cook so that he wouldn’t have thrown anything away?”

Which view am I closer to I hear you ask! Well, to be honest the second one. Yes, it is frustrating when a player gets out just before making their century and yes, KP played a silly shot at the wrong time. However, I find it very hard to criticise someone who has dug his team out of a hole with a gritty 97.

Pietersen must be thinking that he can do nothing right. Strauss, Cook, Bell and Collingwood didn’t make 97 runs between them and yet the one who did make a significant score is the one being singled out for criticism. I guess it is just a testament to how good a player KP is and how much is expected of him.

The only thing that I would be critical towards Pietersen about is his comments after the day's play. The ‘that’s they way I play’ line annoys me because for the majority of his innings, he was watchful and sensible. Then, he tried to shrug off the fact that he didn’t reach 100. I’m sorry KP, but your face said it all when you got out – you were livid with yourself.

Like I have mentioned though, I can’s criticise him too much. He is England’s best player by a long, long way and the team would be a lot worse off without him. In fact, I dread to think of life without KP at the moment.

In terms of the test match as a whole, well I would say that the cricket odds still expect an England win. As long as they can move beyond 300 in their first innings, they would have done OK. Then, on what is a surprisingly wearing pitch, the West Indies have to bat last and that has to be encouraging for the tourists. Monty Panesar in particular.

More from me next week.

By Thomas Rooney – a sports writer for Betfair – check them out for a grand national free bet

The Royal Conundrum?

In the IPL’s first year, the unheralded Rajasthan Royals, a coalition of hardened professionals and fearless youngsters, demonstrated the value of team work over individual brilliance and experience. In a format that often rewards individual brilliance with a win, the Royals marched to victory on bits and pieces contributions from the mighty Australians, the temperament Pakistanis, the Goans and the powerful Pathans.

The lack of expectation would have gone a long way in the Royals being able to play their brand of cricket. As would have the leadership qualities that Warne demonstrated - the heart of a gambler helps- he was the adhesive that held together and strengthened the coalition.

But, would the Royals would have won without the performances of Pakistan’s best fast bowler or the world’s best all-rounder in Shane Watson – definitely not. Yet, as the IPL juggernaut completes an entire circle, the Royals start this season as defending champions, a title that will force each and every member of that outfit to carry a tremendous burden. Champions that would otherwise have carried this pressure for the Royals have been forced out by injury (Watson) and ridiculous political posturing (Tanvir) by Pakistan, leaving only the experience of Warne, the guts of Salunke and the power of Pathan to battle the might of other cash rich franchises.

The Royals need atleast one of the world’s most explosive batsmen and one of the world’s canniest bowlers if they are to launch a viable defense. Peterson’s flair and relationship with Warne would undoubtedly allow the Royals to mount an Arsenal like challenge, but like the addition of Arshavin to Arsenal, it is not going to be enough to hold the fort. In any event, he is too popular and too expensive for the Royals. Freddie perhaps- a man who is second best only to Watson and would without doubt, form permitting, elevate the Royals to the status of title contenders? Or Duminy, Stuart Clark or Samit Patel?

It does make for an interesting auction tomorrow and I for one can’t wait to see who Warne wants. Whoever it is, Warne will be in his element, for he will be betting close to a couple of million dollars over performances on which he will eventually have little control!

As an aside, since there is a two million cap on each franchisee, what happens if more than one franchisee bids two million for the same player?