England Did Not Win The Ashes, Australia Lost It

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I do not want to take anything away from England but quite frankly they were the slightly better side of two poor sides.

We have just seen one of the least competitive series of cricket played for a long time. Despite the 3-2 scoreline it can be argued that this Ashes was less competitive than some of the 5-0 white washes that England have seen in the past. There was no one session that was close. No match went into the 5th day and most struggled to get a 4th day, 18 days play out of a possible 25, this included rain delays in two of the tests.

There was a bit of drama but nothing really that will be high on my memory in years to come. The fact of the matter is that Australia could not bat in grounds that had a bit of sideways movement while England could not bowl on flat pitches. Cardiff did not suit the Aussie quick bowlers, the English bowlers did not have genuine pace to trouble Australia at Lords or the Oval. Edgebaston and Headingly were the two games where Australia proved once again that they lacked any basic skill or patience when it came to playing a swinging ball. If Australia had knuckled down a bit in that one crazy session at Edgbaston it would have been a totally different story. They showed no fight at all, England put the balls in the right areas and Australia helped them out.

Chris Rodgers was the only player to show anything in this regards. Despite all this negativity there are positives for both sides. Australia have shown enough on the Lords and Oval pitch that they will comprehensively beat England in their own country next time round unless England find a genuine fast bowler. For England the positives have to be the way that Broad bowled on pitches that aid him, Cook’s captaincy has to be praised and also the form of Joe Root is a major positive.

On the negative side for England the problems of an opening partner for Cook have been masked over by the win. Lyth had a shocking series and as a result is under pressure. There is talk about Ali coming into to open against Pakistan. This would be a good move to play two spinners but him opening is a short term move as he would struggle in the next series
on pacy South African pitches. Maybe he could take the place of the out of form Ian Bell and move into the top order? There is definitely a tough winter coming up for England.

As for Australia they have a new era beckoning. Smith takes over from the retired Clarke, whilst they have also lost Haddin, Watson and Rodgers most likely. They need to identify the replacements and give these guys a good run in the side. They like England have a tough time coming up.

The Ashes Key Battles

There is plenty of excitement surrounding English cricket here in the UK at the moment. This is largely due to the great attacking cricket which was played by both England and New Zealand in the first summer series. It was in some ways the perfect build up to the upcoming Ashes series. As with all series there will be key battles that will have a large say in who wins this summers Ashes series. The one that I am looking forward to most is Steve Smith v Joe Root.

Joe Root  v Steve Smith 

These two players have much so much in common, they are both the vice captain of their countries, both are the form batsman in their sides and both are the back up option if the front line spinner fails. Both Root and Smith were involved in the last Ashes series but were not really established fully in the test sides at the time. Root even was dropped for the last match of the series somewhat surprisingly. This is just the start of this rivalry, surely the next time these two sides meet in England these will be the captains. I feel that home conditions will mean that Root will win this battle this time, although Smith can change games with his fielding and his bowling is slightly more reliable if needed.

Alistair Cook v Michael Clarke

The two captains are the highest run scorers in both sides. Clarke is the key wicket for the English bowlers, knocking off his wicket quickly will be a huge psychological blow for Australia. On batting ability there is not much separating these two players, although I much prefer watching Clarke bat over Cook. In terms of captaincy they are polar opposites too, Cook is over cautious while Clarke is very attacking. He is very similar to McCullum in the fact that his sides will play hard and aggressive. If Alistair Cook wants to regain the Ashes he will have to change his ways slightly.

James Anderson/Stuart Broad v Mitchell Jonhson/Starc 

Another good battle a few of the worlds best bowlers. Although Anderson is not the player he was about 2/3 years back he still can turn it on, especially on home soil. Traditionally English pitches have helped bowlers that swing the bowl more (hence why Anderson has always done better in English conditions) which swings the balance a little bit back to Anderson. Broad is still a handy bowler to have too. His batting has now dropped below that of Starc and Johnson though (lower order runs will be vital). On the other side to that the two Mitchell’s are tall and quick. Its a hard one to call, it may actually come down to which of the other bowlers perform. This could be a Stokes v Watson or Wood v Siddle battle also.

In my opinion those are the key battles which will decide which ways the Ashes will go. I predict Australia to slightly edge this series, although England will most defiantly step up their game from the New Zealand test series.

The Ashes Player ratings

So the much anticipated Ashes series down under has now finished, with Australia winning every battle. England went into the series having a very settled team but their experience players all let them down. Australia on the other hand only used 11 players. Here are my player ratings for each player:

Australia:

David Warner: Demoralised the English players on and off the pitch. His comments about Jonathan Trott after the first test may have been a little unsportsman like but he backed up his words on the pitch. His aggressive batting was the last thing the English needed after being battered around by the Aussie bowlers. He seems to have re-captured some of the form he showed 3/4 years ago. 7.5

Chris Rogers: A player who came to international cricket late in his career that is making the most of his chance. He is a real battler who probably benefited from Graham Swann’s poor form and subsequent retirement. His two centuries in the last two games showed how important he has become for Australia. He is the opener that Australia had been searching for since Langer retired. Given his age I am not sure how many more series he has got in his legs, so if he were not to play again he can retire proudly. 7.5

Shane Watson: As always Watson showed his value with the ball plugging away with his accurate bowling. Holding up an end for the others to rip through England. His batting was good smashing a fast century at Perth and two half centuries, but batting up number three he has the chance to convert more of these half centuries into big scores. The Perth innings was probably the tipping point for the English bowlers, where lost all confidence in their abilities. 7

Michael Clarke: His batting was good but he scores higher because of his excellent captaincy. He did score two centuries in the series and I feel he has turned the public’s perception of him. It was obvious that if Australia had lost the series he would again be made the scapegoat, another factor increasing his rating. This was pressure he strived on, his creative field positions and aggressiveness signalled  a change in the Australian mind set. 8.5

Steve Smith: Batting at number five for Australia is a tough job, it seems that they have finally found their long term man in Smith. He was good in the Ashes series in England but got even better in this one. Smith went passed 50 on only two occasions but converted these both into centuries. His partnerships with Haddin saved Australia on a few occasions. The only down side to Smith is that he does not bowl at all any more, surely he could be used sparingly sometimes? 7.5

George Bailey: The only Australian who may fear for his place in the side. He was disappointing with the bat but will go down in history for equalling the record for the most runs scored in an over. This was smashing the so called best bowler in the world (Anderson – Says Botham) for 28 runs. He brings leadership and good fielding skills to the side which may give him first opportunity against South Africa. 6

Brad Haddin: Definitely the best batsman in the whole series. Batted well under pressure with the tail enders guiding Australia to huge scores when they were in sometimes struggling positions. His wicketkeeping showed why I consider him to be up there with DeVilliars as the best in the world. A close second for man of the series. Having suffered many Ashes loses it was clear Haddin didn’t want another loss to his name. 9.5

Mitchell Johnson: Man of the Series. He was absolutely immense with the bat and ball. He played a vital role on day one of the first test  rescuing Australia with Haddin’s help. His bowling was unplayable, so much so that all the England players looked scared every time they stepped up. 10

Ryan Harris: If Johnson was not playing he probably would have finished with more wickets to his name. Still he bowled quick and cleverly to cause England major problems. He has shown the world what he could have been if he stayed injury free. A fit Ryan Harris is as good as any other bowler in world cricket, unfortunately for England he did not break down. 9

Peter Siddle: Probably the most under valued player in the Australian side, his good economy rate may have been a reason why the other bowlers got bags of wickets. He has been the only constant in the Australian bowling over the worst period of the last few years. His value is now shinning through. 8

Nathan Lyon: Proved many doubters wrong, bowled with good control. He was rightly praised by his skipper after the series. Lyon will now look to push on and establish himself up there with the top spinners in world cricket. 8

England:

Alistair Cook: A series that will make the England captain sick every time someone mentions it. Pressure of captaincy got to him and affected his batting. He was called out by Shane Warne prior to the series as being a captain who doesnt know how to set attacking aggressive fields, this proved to be correct. In the first test Prior was moving fielders without the consent of Cook. This shows real issues of leadership. It did not help Cook that all his senior players all deserted him. Basic mistakes by Cook have caused speculation that his captaincy could be cut short. 4

Michael Carberry: This probably will be his last series as England’s test opener. He started off well but seemed to give his wicket away every innings. He does have the talent to succeed but age is not on his side, especially because England will want to rebuild with youngsters. 5

Jonathan Trott: We all wish him a speedy recovery in his battle against his mental demons. The cricket he did play was very off character. 2

Joe Root: Dropped surprisingly for the last test, his reputation for being England’s best young player has been slightly tainted. In my opinion he has to be put back to the top of the order and given the chances offered to others. Root did no worse than any other batsman. He will come back better for this tour. 5

Kevin Pietersen: It was evident that he tried hard to change his game for the situations. For a player of his experience he should have performed far better. Johnson and co must have really annoyed him. This disappointment will have to be put right. 5.5

Ian Bell: Did a similar to job to what Haddin did in the English series, but failed to do anything noteworthy in this series. Not the worst batsman in the England side but not the best either. Could be in line to take over the captaincy if Cook is axed. 5

Gary Balance: Showed that he can be someone for the future for England. His cameo in the last game showed promise that he will look to develop over the next few years. Cant blame him for anything as he is only young and played only one match. 5.5

Ben Stokes: England best player through the series. They seemed to have unearthed a real gem. He reminds me of a potential Flintoff type figure in the way he bats and bowls all out. He is England’s future, so they will need to wrap him cotton wool and nurture him well. Already taken a five wicket haul and a century in his first series. 8

Matt Prior: It seems the pressure of captaincy also affected Prior. He was the official vice captain at the start of the series, but no one told him he was not the captain. His usual batting and wicket-keeping was poor. He was later dropped in the series .I feel we have seen the last of Prior for England as they will stick with the younger Bairstow. 4

Johnny Bairstow: He started the series as a contender to play as a pure batsman and ended the series playing as a wicketkeeper. Having been overtaken in the batting line up by both Balance and Stokes. Its unfair to criticise him for little mistakes keeping in his first few matches, improved his keeping as the series went on. Needs to work on his batting again. 5.5

Stuart Broad: He was up there as England’s best bowler and also made a few handy runs while batting. Broad got booed everywhere he went, the press also hammered him. He showed a bit of fight which the other bowlers did not show. 6

Scott Borthwick: One match is too early to judge Borthwick, he seems to have the ability and personality to replace Swann. He wasn’t great in the match that he played but showed enough to suggest that England can work with him. Maybe he has been drafted in a few series too early but he will learn at the deep end. 5.5

Tim Bresnan: There was a time when England didn’t lose when he played. That all changed after one loss, he was injured to start off the series and didn’t do much when he came in. He was no worse than any other bowler. 5

Graham Swann: Was this a case of Swann retiring before he was pushed out? His display in the games he did play suggested he was to be dropped. Not a great way to go out. I did not like the fact that he left a sinking ship half way through. 3

James Anderson: Went into the series touted as one of the worlds best. His legacy in the world game will almost certainly be that he is only good in favourable conditions. Not helped out by the batsman, always bowling under pressure. When the times were tough he did not perform to his high standards. He was not terrible but England expected more. 5

Monty Panasar: As always Monty did nothing wrong. He bowled well but not to the standards of Lyon. He was overlooked by Cook for Root, this signals the end for Monty. If only he fielded and batted better then he would have been a mainstay in England’s squad. Borthwick is the long term option, Monty is a backup now. 5.5

Chris Tremlett: Bowled no where to the standards of the last Australian tour. Unfortunately he clearly was not up to the job. 5

Boyd Rankin: How did he even get in the squad? Preferred to Onions in the squad and preferred to Finn in the last test. I guess we will never know if he got cramp or strained a hamstring. Whatever it was he will be remembered more for going to hospital and coming back to bowl and going off again. 5

 

Who is the best wicket keeper batsman in the world?

Since Adam Gilchrist the role of a wicketkeeper has changed. The trend in international cricket is that the wicketkeeper should be an extra batsman. This almost compensates sides who do not have a genuine bowling/batting allrounder.

There are plenty of examples in cricket where a wicketkeeper has been picked over another on batting abilities, pre Gilchrist as well as after. One such example could be picking Alec Stewart over Jack Russell or even the fact that James Foster (by far the best English wicketkeeper) does not get a look in.

The next generation of international wicket keepers looks interesting, seeing as they are the first real generation to have grown up with Gilchrist/Boucher. Many of these players are showing potential to play in a very similar style. England have Bairstow and Butler in the wings, South Africa have a very exciting prospect in Quinton De Kock (who is a carbon copy of Gilchrist) and India have Sanju Sampson.

Currently in international cricket it seems that every team has gone for a batsman who can also keep wicket. Some of these names include Dhoni, Sangakara, Haddin, McCullum, Prior and De Villiers. Many of these players seem to have developed their keeping skills once in the role. A good example of this is Dhoni and De Villiers. Both were not the greatest wicketkeepers when they started but have developed good skills as they have gone along.

Over the last three years Matt Prior has developed into one of England’s most important players with the bat, he has saved England almost every time they were in trouble over this period. His aggressive batting always puts bowlers under pressure. If you watch Sky Sports coverage of England matches they constantly call him out as to being the best. I personally do not agree that he is the best but think he is up there. A reason I believe he has done so well is that England’s lower order is a good batting unit. His actual wicket keeping is sound, but he has recently shown a drop in this form also. He is more a player who knows his roles and abilities inside out.

M.S Dhoni, Brendon McCullum and Kumar Sangakara are all probably considered as better batsman than keepers, for differing reasons. Sangakara probably was the best all round wicketkeeper after Gilchrist had retired. But in recent years he has slowly given up his role behind the stumps, it seems age and injuries have caught up with him, meaning he cant be the top of the list anymore.

McCullum is up there for best wicketkeeper batsman in T20 cricket, but is far behind the others in all other formats of the game. Like Sangakara he is slowly giving up his keeping duties and should rightly concentrate on his batting. I would rank Kamran Akmal with similar attributes as McCullum. His wicket keeping lacks real quality to be considered in any list of top keepers but his batting is good in T20 and ODI cricket.

Dhoni currently is the best batman keeper, he is suited to batting in al forms of the game and has shown he is apt at batting in any of the main batting positions. He is still good and has improved his keeping so much but still falls slightly short of Haddin in terms of wicketkeeping. He is the perfect keeper for India, especially in ODI chases. Making him my choice for ODI wicketkeeper.

The South African captain AB Devilliers had a big job on his hands replacing Mark Boucher, after his eye injury forced him to retire. The transition does not seem to have affected Devilliers that much. He has shown his ability to stand up to the stumps against the quickest of bowlers as well as great agility. He has international experience solely as a batsman, and bats in the top three in limited overs cricket. He is near the top of the batting tables also. I would choose De Villiers as my T20 wicketkeeper.

I would consider Brad Haddin the best keeper in the list, although if De Villiars keeps improving then he could take this mantle one day. The Aussie keeper is also very agile in the field and is currently on great form. He has shown he is capable of bating at the top of the order in T20 cricket and ODI cricket. His batting and keeping is slightly better than Prior, the most similar of wicketkeepers currently. In test cricket Haddin has shown his capability to turn a poor score into a good one. Very similar to prior in the fact that he has a long tail to bat with. The only difference is that Haddin can build innings aswell as play the aggressive role. My choice for the test role.

My Choice:

T20 = De Villiers

ODI = Dhoni

Test = Haddin