Friday, 9 May 2008

Finally, the English cricket season is upon us

Finally in London we are about to enter that beautiful window where no football is played. After the FA Cup final next week, football (soccer to us southerners) finally goes into its off-season - all two months of it...

And in this little summer opening, cricket takes it's worthy spot atop the English sporting tree.

The press here seem to take delight in pummeling the team when they do not do well, which has been quite often since the 2005 Ashes. But they're not such a bad team. If Flintoff comes back (and Justin Langer, who is still going around for Somerset, thinks he is the best bowler in the world) then they will look much stronger than they did last year.

The selectors made an interesting decision last year to persist with Strauss, and he rewarded them with his highest score of 177 in the final test versus New Zealand. However, he scored less than 100 runs in total in his other 5 innings that tour, so still has a big question-mark hanging over him. As does Vaughan, who has yet to shine in the early county games and averaged only 20 against New Zealand. People say he is worth his place through his captaincy alone, and as a Mark Taylor fan I can't argue that logic. Vaughan does have something not many recent English captains have, and that's an Ashes series win. But Collingwood would make a very able replacement, and England have longer term prospects in Pietersen and Cook, so Vaughan needs to impress.

The man that England really should have gone for, but for whom I fear the boat has left, is Mark Ramprakash. Although his test record was pretty poor before they dropped him (averaging 27), one day a couple of summers ago he awoke to be a completely different player, easily topping the county averages, averaging 101 in 2007 and 103 in 2006. At the moment in 2008, he is already averaging 99. I think they should have picked him to bolster their batting after the 2005 Ashes series when everyone got injured. Probably would have made a good captain for their Ashes campaign of 06/07 too.

Such numbers are difficult to ignore, but it has happened before. Ramps seems to have done a Michael Bevan or a Dean Jones. At some stage he must have done something to someone, and now he will never be picked again. Bevan only stumbled a couple of times at Test level and never got another go - even though he was the best batsman in the country, possible the world, especially in one-dayers. Who knows what Jones did, but he was discarded averaging 44 in the test team after only 50-odd tests.

But at least Ramprakash can console himself with the fact he won Strictly Come Dancing.

I am going to be living the dream on my birthday by going to Lords to see the 2nd day of the England / New Zealand test match (well, not quite the dream, that would be an Ashes test, but this is still pretty good!) England are expected to win, but with Brendan McCullum set to be the next Gilchrist, especially after his heroics in the IPL, and Daniel Vettori keen to impress as captain, the Kiwis should not be written off. As an Aussie, I can't really go for either team, so I'll adopt the concept of the IPL and support individual players. I expect McCullum and Vettori to do well for the Kiwis, and I think Sidebottom should continue his fine form for the Poms. I'd like to see Hoggard back, but think we might have seen the last of Harmison. Cook should accumulate the most runs on either side. The Kiwis will miss Shane Bond who has been inexplicably banned from playing for them as he chose the wrong Indian Twenty20 competition. I think they will struggle to bowl out the English, and Vettori will do a lot of bowling, if fit.

Now the sun has finally arrived, let the cricket season begin!


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