Friday, September 24, 2010

Ashes 2010/11- England's squad

The suspense is over as the touring party for the Ashes series in Australia has been announced. The squad so selected is more or less on expected lines, though there would always be a debate over the selection or non selection of  a few fringe players.

The squad

 Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Steve Davies, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar.

I would like to share my views over a few fringe players  like Tremlett, Panesar, Bresnan, Rashid and Shahzad

Tremlett- The tall and gangly seamer was earmarked for success even during his under 19 days in 2001 as he has the ability to bowl at reasonable pace and get disconcerting bounce. As the years went by, Tremlett seemed to have lost the plot as few other tall bowlers like Broad and Finn were picked ahead of him. The reasons behind Tremlett's non selection was him being injury prone and there have been question marks regarding his temperament. Anyway, it is good to see that he has made a comeback by doing well for Surrey and selectors have rewarded him for the hard-work by selecting him in the Ashes squad.

Tremlett made his test debut against India in 07 and  had reasonable success against an very experienced batting line-up. In that series, England's coaches seemed to have instructed Tremlett to bang it into the pitch and bowl short. Tremlett succeeded in the first two tests by banging it into the pitch, but batsmen like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and co. aren't dumb as they saw that he was rarely making the batsmen play, so there was no need to play all those short deliveries that he kept bowling. In the final test at Oval, Tremlett got zero wickets as batsmen just didn't had to play at his deliveries.  I even remember when Tremlett bowled in a few onedayers in Australia during that ill fated tour in 06/07, commentators like Tony Greig said that when Tremlett bowls short, he bowls gun-barrel straight.

The above mentioned points indicates that Tremlett isn't good at bowling the heavy ball like Freddie and it would be better off, if he bowls a fuller length. He does get a nice shape into the right-hander when he bowls fuller and if a tall bowler consistently hits the good length spot,  he can create doubt in a batsman's mind as it isn't easy to decide in a split second to whether come forward or to go back against a tall bowler who can get bounce. Actually, one interesting point to note about the squad is, there are three tall quick bowlers in the squad. Yes, it is an advantage to have three tall bowlers, but they can fall into the trap of bowling short on Australian wickets. Nowadays, Australian wickets don't offer as much bounce as it used to do and Australian batsmen are always good at playing horizontal bat shots.

Question marks over Tremlett's temperament and fitness

In the past, people have raised doubts over his temperament and fitness. In-fact, even England's former captain Vaughan has questioned about his temperament. I have seen Tremlett losing the plot like when Oram smashed him to smithereens at Perth in a one-day match during the ill fated tour of Australia in 06/07. By taking wickets on a flat pitch like at Oval for Surrey and the fact that he was able to play most of the matches without getting injured seems to have assuaged the fears of the selectors regarding his temperament and fitness for the time being. 

Panesar- In 2009, after a string of poor performances Panesar lost his place to Swann. This season though, Monty was in good form for Sussex albeit in division two and coupled with the fact that in the past, he has enjoyed success on tracks that have bounce seems to have convinced the selectors to pick him as the second spinner.

Experts have said that Monty is an one dimensional bowler and should look at adding subtle variations to his armoury. To be frank, I don't think it would help Monty, if he develops an arm ball or looks at bowling with subtle changes of pace as his strength has always been good control and the ability to get bounce. In-fact, as soon as he tried to bowl differently, he lost his way and couldn't take wickets. It would be better for Monty,  if he sticks to his strengths and if he ever gets a chance in the Ashes, Monty  can prove to be a good pick as Australian tracks  would offer more bounce than the tracks seen in most other countries.

Rashid- Just like in the past, there were a lot of people asking for Rashid to be included in the squad. He had a great season with Yorkshire as he took more than 50 wickets and got over 800 runs. It is no mean feat to get 50 wickets and almost get 1000 runs in a season. If anyone thinks about his form in county cricket, there would be no question about not picking Rashid, but the other point of view would be, should Rashid make his debut on those hard wickets in Australia?

In my opinion, if Rashid had to be picked in the side, selectors could have picked him against Bangladesh. I would prefer a leg-spinner to get selected against weaker teams like Bangladesh, New Zealand, or the West Indies team. Young leg spinners should be handled carefully as they can lose their confidence very quickly because leg spinners can always go for  runs.  If Rashid plays weaker teams, he can get some confidence under his belt by taking wickets which would help him in the long-term. The simple fact is, everyone won't be like Warne, who made a comeback into the team after he got a mauling at the hands of Shastri, Tendulkar and co. in his first test at Sydney in 1992.

Let me also say that it isn't a child's play for a young leg spinner to bowl on hard wickets of Australia. Yes, Aussie wickets would always help leg spinners as it would offer more bounce, but it also demands more consistency from a leg spinner as the wickets are true and good for batting. Even spinners of the calibre of Kumble and Qadir had little success when they toured Australia for the first time.  Qadir when he first toured Australia in 83/84, took just 12 wickets at 61 and Kumble in 99/00 was worse as he took just 5 wickets at 90, but the same Kumble on his second trip to Australia in 03/04, took as many as 24 wickets at under 30. It just illustrates that even spinners like Qadir and Kumble, though had played many test matches before playing in Australia struggled on their first trip to Australia and people are thinking of introducing a 22 year old leg spinner in Australia! In that regard, it doesn't make any sense that Rashid hasn't even got picked for the performance squad. It was a perfect opportunity for Rashid to play a few games in Australia, so that he would get used to the conditions in Australia. In the future,  Rashid would no doubt play test cricket for England and the Ashes, or would he be wrapped  in cotton wool forever?

Bresnan- I have made it clear in the past, that I am not a huge fan of Bresnan getting picked to play test cricket. People who support him, would say that he is a good team man and can be used as a stock bowler. He maybe a team man, but perhaps lacks the skill to play test cricket.  If a bowler is going to do the job of tying up one end, so that others can take advantage of it by taking wickets at other end, then he has to show good control with a ball in hand. I have my doubts over Bresnan having the necessary control to do the job of a stock bowler as every-time I see him bowl, he has the habit of pushing it too much down the leg-side and gifting away easy runs. Bresnan is neither very good at using the old ball. Yes, in Bangladesh he showed a bit of promise as he got the old ball to reverse a bit and got Tamim Iqbal out, but leaving that series in Bangladesh, I can't remember him reversing the old ball.

His supporters would also point to the fact that he can bat a bit. Yes, he scored a vital half century albeit against Bangladesh, but even in that innings a few decisions went his way. It can also be said that there is a bit of difference between doing well against Bangladesh and Australia! Basically, it seems like selectors have picked him as he can be a utility cricketer, but my feeling is there isn't much use in picking a cricketer, who may get a few runs with the bat and get at most a wicket or two.

Shahzad- I for one, think that Shahzad was a touch unlucky to miss out. Experts have talked about his ability to get reverse swing with the old ball, but I don't think he is that good as he seems to only reverse  the old ball back into the batsmen. The one advantage England would have with Shahzad is, when it is reversing unlike Anderson, he bowls a fuller length. It is a known fact that fuller a bowler bowls, the better it is as the batsmen would have lesser time to counter late swing. In-fact, it is hard to fathom why Jimmy Anderson doesn't bowl a fuller length when it is reversing, though he can reverse it both ways. If he does it, he has a good chance of  forcing his critics to look for some other job.  As far as Shahzad is concerned, I surely think if Anderson would get injured, Shahzad would have been a better replacement than Bresnan.

Whenever any squad would be picked, there would be a debate over the selection of a few players, but I think the selectors have done a good job this time around. As far as the fringe players are concerned, they may not get a chance to play even one of the test matches, but if anyone of them ever gets a chance, he should grab it with both hands as it is a golden opportunity to play in a Ashes series and if he performs well, it would go a long way in helping him to become a permanent fixture in the side.

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