A mess

Whichever way Ian Bell in one of his “tour diaries” this was frankly a disastrous test match for England. And instead of “building as a team” or “gelling” which is most commonly referred to in those diaries England need to realise that they were a mess.

Monty Panesar will get a lot of blame for the loss; and to be honest he deserves it. He is a class spinner, with a lot of talent and ability and he should have taken a couple of wickets at least in the final innings on an Indian wicket.

He hasn’t been at his best at all recently. Fair enough he’s bowling to the world best batting line-up but Monty has proved he can perform on the big stage before so really there isn’t any reason why he can’t now. The obvious point is he needs more variation is his pace, flight etc.

But Monty might have taken more wickets if the Indian batsman had to attack more in their second innings. And its Kevein Pietesens fault that after all hell broke lose at the start with Sehwag the rest of the Indian batsman were allowed to stroll past the finish line. Sachin Tendulkar is a truly world class batsman but he shouldn’t have been allowed to have scored his runs with such ease had Pietersen declared earlier.

If India were put under pressure to go for either a draw or win then England might have taken a few more wickets with the Indian batsman indecisiveness and gaps could have been opened and England could have pushed on for the win.

England might take “positives”, in the words of an Ian Bell tour diary, but Pietersen needs to realise he made a mistake and face up to the fact that he’s playing the worlds best side, in their own back yard and he can’t make mistakes else England will be punished like they were today. I still don’t think Pietesen is a good captain, or will make a good captain to be honest. After all the hype at the end of the summer when England beat a tired and under-cooked South African side in a ODI series Pietersen should have realised he cant live on that early success and has to lead England from the front.

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Swann song wont last long

Whenever England tour India the selectors first rule is always pack as many spinners in as we can. With the new modern aged dynamics of the game with wicket-keeping batsman and all-rounders up steps Nottinghamshires Graham Swann. Fresh from wanting to buy a pink Ferrari in the Stanford Series he’s now making his test debut.

Two wickets in his first over is something only one man has done before him. Richard Johnson. Exactly; can you remember him? He played a bit in 2003 when Hussain resigned as captain and Graham Smith scored over 500 runs in the first two tests. Time will only tell if Graham Swann will go on to be a world class spinner. To be honest; I very much doubt it.

He can certainly spin it; but when playing against the best (and an in-form Dravid; which is an impossible thing to find at the moment) Swann will be found out. Do his batting capabilities last much more then quick 20′s and 30′s in ODI matches. If England’s first innings is anything to go by then most certainly NOT. His reverse-sweep attempt wasn’t the right shot to play when a gritty, determined knock is needed.

The real test is in the second innings; England could be in a winning position and on a dusty, turning Indian wicket can Graham Swann rip through the worlds best batting line up?

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Strauss hundred fails to overshadow weak middle order

Just to get things started – let’s talk about the positives of England’s performance on the opening day of the first test against India in Chennai. The tourists finished on 229-5 after an entertaining day’s cricket, but it could have been so much better.

After a bold move from Kevin Pietersen to bat first after winning the toss, the pressure was on Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss to get England off to a good start. This is exactly what they did as the pair put on 118 for the first wicket. The cricket odds were backing a big score at this stage.

This effort in the first session of the test match was even more remarkable considering the bizarre circumstances in which the game was being played. Spectators were heavily outnumbered by army commandos and policeman as security was heightened around the ground.

Nevertheless, Strauss and Cook looked in decent form after lunch as the boundaries were being hit with more regularity. However, the latter fell shortly after reaching his 50 when he ballooned a ball from Harbajhan Singh into the hands of Zaheer Khan.

Strauss continued to impress though and made his way into the 90’s when tea came with England on 164-1. It was a solid start for Pietersen’s men and it was crucial that they built on it in the final session.

However, only two balls after the interval, Ian Bell was caught LBW by Zaheer to start a session that was to belong to the hosts. Strauss wasn’t fazed though and reached his century shortly afterwards. It was a remarkable effort for someone who had enjoyed such little preparation before the game.

Two more wickets were to give India the momentum as Kevin Pietersen – who looked extremely out of sorts – and Paul Collingwood fell in quick succession. The Durham man was very unlucky though as the ball was no where near his bat before Gambhir took the catch.

Strauss then fell to Mishra late on as Andrew Flintoff and night-watchman James Anderson led England off with the score on 229-5. A very disappointing evening session had completely undone what was an encouraging start to the series.

The thing I wanted to touch on briefly though was the frailty of England’s middle-order. Paul Collingwood is lucky to be included after a poor run of form, Andrew Flintoff by his own admission prefers to bat at seven and Matt Prior is yet to convince as a test match batsman. Overall, it seems rather frail.

India will know that two early wickets could land England in trouble. With Anderson, Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar in the side – the tail is rather long as well.

Ever since the team was selected I have asked myself – why no Owais Shah? The man is pure class. During the recent ODI series against India, he was England’s best player and looked to cope against India admirably. How is Collingwood preferred to him?

Of course I hope that England’s batsman prove me wrong and reach at least 400 in their first innings, but I really do feel that Shah has been unfortunate to miss out. The way the team collapsed on the first day exaggerated this.

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

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Mike Atherton: Legend

The word legend is very overused. Especially in sport; and cricket in general. Countless people declare that “so and so is a legend” when really there aren’t. In cricket there are a few players who I’d say are true legends.

Sir Isaac Alexandar Vivian Richards is one, Sir Donald Bradman another. Modern day players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne probably also deserve it. But England’s former captain Mike Atherton is never really associated with legendary amongst cricketing circles.

But perhaps he should be… he captained England when they were really, really poor during the 90′s, he was a brilliant commentator for Channel 4 and now is with Sky. He writes a brilliant column for The Times and his book Opening Up is just pure class.

As you can see I’m a fan of the man but is he really a legend. Well he had to sit through endless England middle-order batting collapses, and then see a tail of Tuffers and co. He captained England during humiliating Ashes thrashings; World Cup failures and just general humiliation.

Aters wasn’t the greatest batsman in the world, not one of the true greats but what he did for English cricket, how he kept them going on a life support machine with resolute batting and strong willingness deserves him the honour of being a LEGEND in my opinion.. do you agree??

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Pietersen praises players, but test matches remain uncertain

England captain Kevin Pietersen has heaped praise on his England colleagues for deciding to fly to Abu Dhabi ahead of the test match series in India. Following terror attacks in Mumbai last week, the team flew back home, but are now preparing for the continuation of the tour.

Pietersen says that it is ‘fantastic’ that his players are willing to play in India during this time of need and that it is a ‘huge stance’ for the team to be getting on a plane and returning to India.

Speaking about whether any players needed persuading to get on the plane, Pietersen insisted that he ‘didn’t persuade anybody’ and that this includes Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff. Both players were rumoured to have had doubts about returning to the country.

It is worth noting though that the test matches are in no way certain as of yet. For now, the players have flown to Abu Dhabi where they will receive information on the security measures in place for them in India. Should they be satisified with what they have been told – the tour will go ahead.

With reference to this, Pietersen admitted that the squad were ‘buying some time’ by flying to Abu Dhabi. However, he remained confident that the test matches would go ahead as planned as long as no ‘alarm bells start ringing’ prior to flying back to India.

Something that could create such alarm is that some Indian airports – including the venue of the first test match – were put on high alert earlier today with the threat of airborne attacks being discussed. This is obviously something the players need to be briefed on before making their final decision.

Personally, I wouldn’t blame the players should they eventually decide to come home. If they consider it unsafe and the ECB advisors consider it unsafe, then they should make a collective decision and return to England.

Yes, we are all itching to watch some test match cricket, but at the end of the day, the players and their families must come first. There is also the media team and England fans to think about as well. It’s not as if the 23-man England squad are the only set of Englishman making the journey is it?

The ideal situation would be for the players to be satisfied with the security precautions and get on the plane to India. Cricket can be the winner and like Pietersen said, it really would be a very significant stance from the England team.

The first test is due to start next Thursday in Chennai and hopefully by then, my column will be filled with the usual information on cricket odds etc as we all start to focus on the cricket.

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

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Former England keeper calls for team to head home

Leicestershire captain Paul Nixon has pleaded with the England cricket team to return home following Wednesday’s terror attacks in Mumbai. The former England keeper has said that it ‘isn’t worth staying over a game of cricket’.

Nixon – who is currently playing in the Indian Cricket League – believes that the whole situation is much bigger than cricket and considering the exceptional circumstances – the players have ‘got to consider’ going home at this stage.

The former England keeper was due to fly to Mumbai himself as part of a Rest of the World XI, but he admitted that he and his team-mates will now reconsider their plans. Other people to have their say on the situation are Simon Jones and James Foster.

Jones was part of the 2004 England squad that remained in Zimbabwe despite President Robert Mugabe’s decision to ban journalists from entering the country. The Welshman says that it will have to be a group decision and that ‘lengthy talks’ between the players and the relevant officials will have to take place. Much like they did in Zimbabwe four years ago.

As for Essex wicket-keeper Foster, well he is of the opinion that it will be ‘a little tricky’ for the England team to continue their tour of the country. He is confident that the ECB will make the right decision though.

As things stand, the two remaining One Day International’s have been postponed, but the test matches will still go ahead according to Indian cricket officials. The location of the second test – scheduled for Mumbai – will more than likely be changed.

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

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How long until England get their team selection correct?

England have lost their third One Day International in a row against India to go 3-0 down in the seven match series. Kevin Pietersen’s men lost by 16 runs after the Duckworth/Lewis method intervened with the light slowly deteriorating in Kanpur.

The main talking point as far as I am concerned after this match is England’s inept team selection. It was great news that Graham Swann came into the team, but he replaced a front-line seam bowler to leave England with the likes of Paul Collingwood, Samit Patel and Pietersen himself to bowl the overs of the ‘fifth bowler’.

This is something that you can ill-afford to do against such a destructive India side, especially when the ‘batting power-play’ is brought into the equation. Fair enough, the bad light prevented India making the most of their choice of power play, but there is no doubt that the cricket odds would have backed them to win the game anyway.

MS Dhoni was being remarkably patient in his innings as India looked to chase down 241 to win and there were three reasons for this. 1) He knew the light was going to come into play, 2) He knew he had a power play to use and 3) He knew that England would need to bowl their best bowlers in this power play, therefore leaving their part time bowlers to finish off the innings.

This is a situation that England brought on themselves in my opinion. Patel has done well in his international career to date, but his performance with the ball in this series have proven that he is, quite simply, a batsman who bowls a bit. Therefore, the fact he was used as England’s number one spinner for two 50-over games in India of all places, was ludicrous.

Graham Swann played a huge part in England’s limited overs victories in Sri Lanka last year and there is no doubt whatsoever that he is out best spinner in this form of the game. His figures of 1-47 off his ten overs probably didn’t do him justice in today’s game – he was forced to bowl in the batting power-play, after all.

So, England got it right by bringing in Swann for this game. However, to bring him in for Steve Harmison was ridiculous. The Durham man may have taken a little tap, but he had taken three wickets so far and the same can’t be said for James Anderson who has taken precisely none.

It isn’t Anderson I would have dropped either though. With India in the current batting form they are in, England must go into the game with five bowlers. If this means that Swann replaces Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood or Patel – so be it. We shouldn’t need eight batsman. The top six need to take more responsibility and perhaps a reduction in the amount of batting will help this along.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the case in the next game on Sunday. However, three matches into the series and 3-0 down, it would have come far to late for England’s chances in this series.

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

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