Tuesday, November 21, 2006

pre-Gabba cricket thoughts

The 2006-2007 Ashes series kicks off in Brisbane tomorrow. I'm very excited and nervous about the whole thing. I think the Australians are justifiably heavy favourites, but I'm quite sure England can win. In the absence of some key players from the successful 2005 Ashes campaign, however, it's absolutely crucial that the following players have a huge series:
  • Andrew Strauss: Strauss scored two vital hundreds in the 2005 series, one brisk one to set up a declaration in the second innings at Old Trafford, and one painstaking one to keep England in the hunt on the first day at The Oval. I reckon at least a couple more will be required here. He has looked in good form in the build-up games, though.
  • Kevin Pietersen: the Aussies seem to have decided he's vulnerable to the short ball, so expect him to be targeted by the quick boys, Lee, Tait, etc. Then again Lee tried that on the last day at The Oval and disappeared for seven sixes. His contest with his mate Shane Warne will be pivotal, again.
  • Andrew Flintoff: if he gets injured and can't bowl, England are history. He's looked good since making his comeback during the Champions Trophy, but he'll have to bowl a lot of overs, especially if Harmison continues to have problems.
  • Steve Harmison: for me, the key to the whole series. His bowling on day one at Lord's in 2005 set the tone for the whole series (even though it was a game England eventually lost). Within a short space of time he'd cracked one into Justin Langer's elbow, pinged one off Matthew Hayden's helmet (ouch) and bent Ricky Ponting's helmet grille into his face. That was his best spell of the series, but he was involved at vital moments thereafter: the legside snorter to have Michael Kasprowicz caught behind at the death at Edgbaston, and the slower ball to castle Michael Clarke the night before. Don't underestimate his lower-order hitting power, either. His problems seem to me to be more mental than anything else; maybe England need to wheel in a sports psychologist. But if he's up for it and gets the ball in the right spot, particularly in the traditionally helpful conditions at Brisbane and Perth, then it could be carnage.
Additionally, the less experienced batsmen - Bell, Cook and Collingwood - will probably need to produce at least one significant innings each, Hoggard will need to take more wickets than he did in 2002-2003, and Duncan Fletcher will need the courage to give Monty Panesar a chance to attack the Australian batsmen.

Non-Ashes cricket talk: there's a rich and rewarding conversation to be had about who the world's best batsman is: Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis are the names usually tossed into the hat on these occasions. For my money Ricky Ponting is the world's number 1 batsman, and the stats, world rankings, etc., bear this out; no-one can touch him for consistency of performance over the last 4 or 5 years.

If it's the capacity for displays of complete genius you're after, though, then displays like Brian Lara's today for West Indies against Pakistan at Multan render all discussions pointless. There isn't another batsman in the world who could stroll to the wicket with his team 1-0 down in the series, flay a century before lunch off 77 balls, slow down to a canter in the afternoon and still finish the day on 196 not out off 230 balls. It would not surprise me at all to see Lara become the first man in history to pass 300 in a test innings on three separate occasions some time tomorrow. We should cherish Lara while he's around, as it won't be for much longer, and it'll be a long time before we see his like again.

1 comment:

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