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Cricket News & Views

England hopes now built on risk

SO England have decided to go with Ian Bell at No 3, drop Ravi Bopara and give Jonathan Trott perhaps the toughest debut imaginable at the Brit Oval this week. A nation's hopes will be pinned on risk.

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The whole series depends on the fifth Test, but do not be surprised if Trott fails in the first innings and if Australia retain the Ashes with a drawn match. The Kennington pitch, with an increasing tendency to blandness these days, might be the ultimate decider.

As for winning, Trott is an admirable player with skill and character, but this match could be an ordeal because he is a more vulnerable starter than average. One can only wish him well.

England's gesture of drafting Monty Panesar into the squad to join Graeme Swann will fool no one. It would be extraordinary if two spinners were to be selected -- madness in fact. One suspects that the selectors will hope that Steve Harmison can do the business as he has done in county cricket at the Oval. I would be tempted to drop James Anderson, my favourite bowler when in form, and try Ryan Sidebottom to keep at least one end tight.

Harmison was worse than mediocre at Headingley in the fourth Test, but Anderson was dreadful. It was quite a shock to see him struggle, apparently slightly injured. Nevertheless, defeat was down to the batting.

The national selector Geoff Miller admitted that "difficult selection decisions" had been made after a prolonged meeting at Trent Bridge. "Ravi Bopara has been going through a tough time with the bat in this series and we have decided to leave him out of the squad for this game," he said. "He will be extremely disappointed, but remains very much part of our plans for the future, and I am sure that he has the talent and temperament to regain his place in the side.

"Raviís omission means Jonathan Trott will make his Test debut at The Brit Oval. Having been part of the squad at Headingley, he was the next batsman in line in our view, and this rewards him for the excellent form he has shown in county cricket both this summer and with England Lions over the winter.

"Ian Bell will bat at three next week which is a position he has occupied for England before, and we were delighted to see both him and Jonathan make centuries for Warwickshire this week. Andrew Flintoff and James Andersonís injuries are much improved with rest and treatment, and we anticipate that both players will be fit and available for selection next Thursday."

Ladbrokes have listed Trott at 11/2 to score a century in the Test. With four batsman in the top five failing to reach double figures in the first innings at Headingley, the bookmakers are offering 4/1 against Strauss and Cook failing again, 7/2 Bell and Collingwood and 3/1 Trott.

Andrew Flintoff is 12/1 to take five or more wickets in an innings in his final Test and England are 2/1 to score 500 or more in their first innings.

Ladbrokes spokesman Robin Hutchison said: "Despite a poor performance at Headingley England are currently being well-supported ahead of the Oval. We've taken twice as much money on them as we have on the Aussies - but that may be because they're twice the price."

England are 7/2 to win the match and regain the Ashes, with Australia 6/4 and the draw priced at 6/5.

England squad (v Australia at the Brit Oval, Aug 20-24)

Andrew Strauss (capt)      Middlesex

Alastair Cook                   Essex

Ian Bell                          Warwickshire

Jonathan Trott                Warwickshire

Paul Collingwood              Durham

Andrew Flintoff                Lancashire

Matt Prior                       Sussex

Stuart Broad                   Nottinghamshire

Graeme Swann                Nottinghamshire

James Anderson               Lancashire

Stephen Harmison             Durham

Graham Onions                 Durham

Monty Panesar                 Northamptonshire

Ryan Sidebottom              Nottinghamshire

Posted by Charlie Randall
16/08/2009 13:57:33

Trott is given belated turn

AUSTRALIA face a strong-looking England Lions side in a two-day match at Canterbury starting on Saturday, with Jonathan Trott belatedly being wheeled out to face them.

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Though the Lions, captained by the Glamorgan and England all-rounder Jamie Dalrymple, have been selected from counties not involved in clashing fixtures, there are several players with a good opportunity to catch the eye for a winter tour.

Trott, a non-playing Test squad member at Headingley, will probably bat at No 3, and it is a fair bet that Steve Moore's form will be scrutinised carefully, even though intensity is usually missing in two-day tour matches. Another player likely to progress to international cricket is Chris Woakes, the Warwickshire all-rounder. The question is how soon.

England Lions XI (v Australia at Canterbury, Aug 15-16)

Jamie Dalrymple Ė Captain (Glamorgan)

Michael Carberry (Hampshire)

Stephen Moore (Worcestershire)

Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire)

Andrew Gale (Yorkshire)

Stephen Davies (Worcestershire)

Liam Plunkett (Durham)

Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

James Harris (Glamorgan)

Steve Kirby (Gloucestershire)

Gary Keedy (Lancashire)

Posted by Charlie Randall
10/08/2009 17:19:54

England deep in selection pit

ENGLAND were miserably poor at Headingley and Ladbrokes have them at 7/2 against winning the final Test, but it would be wrong to write off their chances completely of regaining the Ashes at the Brit Oval, starting on Aug 20.

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As readers of this website will be aware long before the Leeds fiasco, the selectors dug themselves into a pit by going back to Ian Bell and they were very fortunate to escape media wrath. Now changes are needed for the fifth Test at the worst possible time, because any newcomer to the side will struggle for an impact at such a late stage.

In fact, having wasted a golden opportunity to blood Jonathan Trott at Headingley, England can really only go with the players who won at Lord's as much as possible, including a half-crocked Andrew Flintoff. As a group of them know their careers are on the line, they might maintain their concentration for longer. Even this might not be enough, but it is the best chance. Lord's for the memories or Lourdes for a 'miracle' cure?

Flintoff will return to replace Bell, and the leg-spin all-rounder Adil Rashid will probably have to be drafted in to replace Steve Harmison, the fast bowler who failed so disappointingly at Headingley. Perhaps a new untried speciallist batsman will be needed, but if the Oval strip proves to be a featherbed, a decent series will end in anti-climax anyway.

Several million cricket followers will realise from the excellent Channel Five highlights programme that Bell and Paul Collingwood are not good enough at four and five. And Ravi Bopara should not be batting as high as No 3. On-screen analysis by Geoff Boycott and presenter Mark Nicholas added further damning evidence.

Bell, usually looking to press forward on the front foot, can be easy prey for lifters, and he pushes across the line when facing left-arm fast bowlers such as Mitchell Johnson and, last year, Zaheer Khan. Everyone knows this about Bell -- even Geoff Miller, the national selector, and coach Andy Flower.

Collingwood has not even been a heavy scorer at county level with Durham. He somehow found his way into the England side as a fighter and top fielder in one-day cricket, creeping up the order to five in this Ashes series when Kevin Pietersen dropped out through injury. Matt Prior is a far better bat than 'Colly' anyway.

Little can be gained by recalling Mark Ramprakash on his home strip a few weeks before his 40th birthday. His heavy scoring for Surrey has been gratifying, but he did not deliver many dominant Test innings when he was in his prime.

The reason why the selectors refused to make obvious changes for Headingley was probably caution, the sort of funk that is bred into cricketers during their life on the circuit. These people like certainty, even if this means mediocrity. Change means disruption, risk and extra management. Change can mean admitting a mistake -- all so reminiscent of Duncan Fletcher's final year in charge.

No one would advocate going back to the days of wholesale pack-shuffling that used to destroy a team's morale, and it is true that the selectors could not be blamed for James Anderson's awful bowling. He lacked zest and accuracy at Headingley, perhaps because he had ricked something while batting. Harmison should have been managed on the field, forced to pitch less short. Ryan Sidebottom should have been picked, but that is easy to say in hindsight.

The problem was the batting. When Andrew Flintoff was ruled out, the selectors' thought process seemed to freeze. They thought that bowling would need the attention. They seemed to forget England's upper order remained paper thin, waiting to be taken. They ducked out of giving Trott a debut at No 3 and promoting Prior up the order.

Bopara, inked in at No 3, could only do his best. As he implied in The Mail On Sunday , it was hardly his fault he failed twice. "While many have questioned whether I have the specific skills you need to go in at No3, where you start every innings one ball away from opening," he said, "the fact is that that is where England want me to bat, and it is up to me to find a way to do it.

"I do believe that, working with our coach Andy Flower, there are certain technical issues I need to address. I did so during the series against West Indies, when it was pointed out to me that I was starting to let my back foot skip away towards fine leg and I managed to correct it straight away.

"Just as important for me now is my thinking and my approach. When you are searching for a bit of form, the main danger for a player like me, who likes to go for his shots, is that I might start slipping into survival mode. Iíve been guilty of doing that in the past, both in county cricket and when I had that terrible time on my first England tour in Sri Lanka, and it just doesnít work.

"Iím always aware of the need to play according to the state of the innings and the match, but the worst thing a player like me can do is to shut down some shots in order to reduce the risk of getting out.

If you concentrate only on staying in, you are more or less bound to get out because you just allow the opposing bowlers to crank up the pressure."

At least Flintoff seems a certainty to start at the Oval, because his agent claimed the all-rounder declared himself fit last week. Andrew Chandler, said Flintoff was devastated not to be playing at Headingley. "I've never seen anybody as low as Flintoff was on Thursday night when he was told he would not be selected," he said in The Times.

The fourth Test lasted barely two and half days. The region's economy had been expected to benefit by some £10 million, according to the Yorkshire Post newspaper, with almost all the hotels in Leeds virtually full.

The Yorkshire Tourist Board said before the game that the atmosphere in the city was "buzzing", and restaurants and tourist attractions were enjoying an upturn. Tourist Board staff were apparently inundated with inquiries -- "mainly Australians keen to find out more about the city," a spokesman said.

Mark Lowther, manager of The Boundary Hotel in Cardigan Road, Headingley, said: "We're completely booked up and have been since Christmas. For the entire five days we are completely full. It is fantastic."

One would imagine that Leeds became pretty dead on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday amid a welter of cancelled bookings.

Posted by Charlie Randall
10/08/2009 13:44:30

England can excel 'without him'

NOT much mention was made of Kevin Pietersen during the drawn third Test against Australia at Edgbaston. England did rather well without him -- which was not supposed to happen if various public utterances were to be accepted.

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Naturally the England management and selectors regretted his absence with a sore achilles tendon, as we all did, emphasising he would be back as soon as possible. No hurry, surely. Media comment generally expressed concern. The Australians felt the team would be significantly weakened. They would say that, and they were wrong.

But with or without Pietersen, England's top order batting has not been convincing. Take away the start against poor bowling at Lord's -- when Mitchell Johnson was pitifully inaccurate -- and this lack of backbone becomes clearer. The strength of the middle and lower order has been the key.

At Cardiff the fourth wicket fell at 228 and 46, at Lord's 302 and 174, and at Edgbaston 159. Even these modest achievements would have been far worse without Andrew Strauss's sterling contributions. And perhaps this is probably the weakest Australian attack since the mid 1970s, when Kerry Packer signed up the front rank for his one-day series.

Alastair Cook, from my old school, Bedford, looks very vulnerable indeed. He must know he is 'reaching' for the ball too often, but it seems the adjustments have not been made. Ravi Bopara does not have the adhesiveness to go with his attacking flair -- a poor man's Pietersen -- and Paul Collingwood, to me, remains a jumped-up one-day batsman with character and guts and... not enough else.

One feels that if the Australians were to master England's seam attack -- and Graeme Swann's off-spin -- the Ashes might remain Down Under. The fourth Test at Headingley will be cut and thrust -- even s*** or bust -- and the result looks wide open.

It is a source of great pleasure to see Swann as an integral part of the Test team. This is the man that Duncan Fletcher would not select at any price during his tenure as coach. He preferred Ashley Giles on one leg, before he reluctantly turned to Monty Panesar. The world has seen on television, if only on Channel 5 highlights, Swann's ability to spin the ball and his run-making ability.

Not that Fletcher ever made a mistake in his career, a phenomenon not explained in his autobiography Behind The Shades by his ghost-writer and main apologist Steve James. Perhaps if England win the Ashes with a half-fit Andrew Flintoff, without Pietersen for the last three Tests and with a mis-firing top order, the Fletcher myth will be laid to rest. Central contracts, a squad of fresh players and the emergence of Simon Jones had more to do with 2005. But please don't shout that around.

James, a very good journalist with interesting views, took ECB chaimran Giles Clarke, chief executive David Collier and "their self-interested county accomplices" to task in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend for their intention to extend 20-overs cricket to the detriment of the longer one-day county formats -- supposedly weakening England's 2011 World Cup chances -- while retaining a 16-match county championship.

"It is a commercial decision pure and simple," raged James. "Yet another ECB decision without a scrap of cricketing merit, yet another huge rasberry blown at the England team who shed blood sweat and tears for nigh on 12 months a year to provide money that ultimately keeps the counties afloat."

His argument does not seem to hang together. Does Steve not want counties to be self-sufficient? It is hard to see how the counties can develop international players and survive without the annual £1.2 million ECB subsidy unless public interest is heightened by the sort of fixture structure proposed. It is a sad fact that, finals apart, county 50-overs cricket has never filled a major venue to capacity from the start in 1963, whereas Twenty20 has done so many times already, drawing in new spectators.

When counties can pay their way, there will be no financial excuse for Clarke to sign away the television rights to satellite broadcasters.

The England players, by the way, are very well paid for their blood, sweat and tears. And while Test cricket remains on satellite, not many people will see them.

Posted by Charlie Randall
04/08/2009 11:36:44

Don't take the plunge for Bell

LADBROKES have Ian Bell at 5/1 against scoring a first-innings century against Australia in the third Test at Edgbaston to mark his return to the England side. Though such a feat is unlikely, this is his home ground and the pitch is predicted to be bland.

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Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said: "Bell has a lot to prove, especially against the Australians who have managed to get under his skin before." England are 3/1 to take a 2-0 series lead and 10/11 to regain the Ashes.

In the absence of Kevin Pietersen, England have a better chance of regaining the Ashes, in my view. The distractions and 'allowances' that had to made for this gifted batsmen simply outweighed his value to the team this year. He should not have toured the West Indies after the Peter Moores bust-up, but that is in the past.

England's biggest problem is a shortage of upper order steel. Ravi Bopara, better as a one-day batsman, took his chance against a weak West Indies attack, but the Essex batsman has since been exposed at No 3. All the Australians had to do was to pitch the ball up to him knowing that his wicket was worth a few cheap boundaries. The selectors have returned to Bell when they should have been looking further afield.

England might never find out whether Robert Key is the right man, but from years of watching him in county cricket playing for Kent I believe he should have been chosen ahead of Bell and possibly even the naive Bopara early this year. Key would have been comfortable at No 3 with his controlled aggression.

Bopara has taken his chance and deserves to stay, but England are reluctant to test the next-up batsmen. If they ignored Key, they could have tried Joe Denly, Jonathan Trott or Steve Moore. Instead they have gone back to Bell.

Lord's was a fine Test match, certainly from England's point of view. It was played on a proper pitch with pace and carry, not to mention some turn on the last two days. What a contrast that was to Cardiff's awful slow strip, which produced too much dull cricket.


Third Test

England 3/1

Australia 7/4

Draw 11/10

Man of the Match

A Flintoff 10/1

R Ponting 10/1

A Strauss 12/1

M Johnson 14/1

P Hughes 16/1

S Katich 16/1

M Hussey 16/1

M Clarke 16/1

J Anderson 16/1

A Cook 16/1

B Hilfenhaus 20/1

P Siddle 20/1

S Watson 20/1

N Hauritz 20/1

M North 20/1

S Clark 20/1

S Harmison 20/1

R Bopara 20/1

G Swann 20/1

S C L Broad 20/1

P Collingwood 20/1

I Bell 20/1

M Prior 20/1

A McDonald 25/1

G Onions 25/1

M Panesar 25/1

B Haddin 25/1

G Manou 33/1

I Bell to score 100 first innings

Yes 5/1 No 1/9


England 10/11

Australia 5/2

Draw 5/2

Posted by Charlie Randall
29/07/2009 20:24:24

Umpires let Cardiff clock tick

ENGLAND'S time-wasting during the last hour of the drawn Test at Cardiff proved to be a talking point rather than a genuine controversy. As the Laws stood, the umpires were powerless to intervene -- and that was the bottom line.

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The Law 42 on unfair play covered time-wasting by batsmen in section 10, but umpires Aleem Dar and Billy Doctrove could only make matters worse. They would have eaten up more time to the fury of the Australians if they had followed the laid-down procedure. Firstly an umpire has to give a single, final warning to the batsman and then inform his umpiring colleague, inform the other batsman and inform the fielding captain.

If time-wasting happens again, the umpire has to go through the same series of consultations and signal to the scorers five penalty runs, eating up a further minute or two. And the batting captain must be informed when practicable, so Andrew Strauss would have been justified in approaching the field of play to inquire what was happening. More time lost, especially if the captain pretends not to fully understand the situation. Ponting would have been jumping up and down with annoyance.

The sanction that umpires do not have is the power to stop the clock. So nothing could effectively prevent England messing about -- the team physiotherapist and 12th man twice ran on to tend the batsmen. In one case they needed to convey a message that time, and not overs, was the essence of the game.

Though Ricky Ponting and his Australia side were frustrated, they knew they did not dominate the moral high ground. At the last pair they bowled almost 12 overs in 37 minutes, despite the apparent time-wasting. This was a much much higher rate than normal simply because it suited them. Usually the rate is less 'honest' and more sluggardly to ensure that the bowlers send down no more than the day's proscribed minimum of 90 overs.

I mentioned these points in the BBC Television 24 Hours news studio on Monday after the excitement at Cardiff had died down, recalling a lovely example of time-wasting at Trent Bridge in 1976. The West Indies were racing towards a declaration to get England back to the crease in the evening, but at one end the batsman was frequently distracted by a flock of gulls from the nearby river feeding on the outfield in his sight line.

The time taken repeatedly shooing these birds away took many minutes off playing time, which was fine for England. It was only afterwards that it emerged that fast bowler John Snow had taken some cake crumbs in his pocket after tea and scattered them surreptitiously near his bowling mark. All very subtle and imaginative.

Posted by Charlie Randall
14/07/2009 10:21:18

Pitch took gloss off Cardiff debut

SELDOM could a crowd have inspired a cricket team to such heights when the Cardiff throng willed England's tail to stay in 'the bubble' to save the first Test against Australia. The word 'heights' must be taken as strictly relative in view of the depths that had been explored earlier.

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Ladbrokes lengthened England's odds to 5/2 against winning the second Test at Lord's after this mediocre showing, but at least the series remained level. Australia did not actually bowl well enough to clinch the Sophia Gardens contest, especially Mitchell Johnson.

It is nice to mention Sophia Gardens rather than the SWALEC Stadium, a name temporarily banned to allow the series sponsors and rival electricity company Npower their days in the sunlight. Sophia Rawdon-Hastings, the second wife of the second Marquess of Bute, and Thomas Lord are the only two people to give names to Test grounds in this country. Australia do not have any, though on the subcontinent there are many such personalised venues.

The Cardiff organisers answered most of the criticism against hosting such an important match, but the pitch was poor. It was too slow and low for good cricket. In fact the ICC will now be classing featherbed pitches as substandard as they would with minefields, green tops or dust bowls. The Cardiff strip might not quite have been featherbed -- the ICC would not dare to call it sub-standard -- but it was close to that. Extravagant turn proved almost useless without pace or bounce to help edges carry to catchers. The tempo of the match after the first day was pedestrian because the ball did not 'come on'.

Pre-series suspicions that England's top order batting was weak were confirmed quite quickly when everyone failed to build on good starts on the first day. Alastair Cook was way out of form -- two miserable dismissals -- and Kevin Pietersen probably needed another senior player to share expectations. He declined to admit that his first innings dismissal was a very poor shot with no percentage -- a dink sweep from too far outside the off-stump -- but then his England team-mates will have to live with his infuriating 'take it or leave it' attitude.

Ravi Bopara occupied the No 3 slot as a one-day player on trial in the Test format. He did very well on the flat West Indies pitches earlier this year, but his responsibility would be a quite a burden. Batting at five would suit him better. Paul Collingwood, the current No 5, is really a one-day player drafted into Test cricket as a fighter almost by default, but he has done well enough. His 64 and 74 at Cardiff raised his Test average to 44.84. Though hardly a free scorer, perhaps he could be tried at No 3.

Robert Key is unfortunate to be overlooked so consistently by England. The Kent captain is a tough cookie, agressive in style and familiar with Test cricket -- though he does need to open. It might be time to give Cook a short break, because the spark seems to have gone and his confidence has been bruised. He has been reaching for the ball.

England are not without hope at Lord's, especially if James Anderson finds form with his swing-bowling. At his best, he could skittle the Aussies. It is surprising to know he batted the same length of time, one hour and nine minutes, in both his innings at Cardiff. His second visit seemed to last for forever amid the tension.

Monte Panesar was cheered every ball he faced as England salvaged their draw. But it is doubtful whether he will remain in the side for Lord's.

Posted by Charlie Randall
13/07/2009 12:57:35

Claws out for Mitchell Johnson

NO Ashes series would be complete without a heart-warming human story -- this time about the bitchiness of Mitchell Johnson's mum in the Herald Sun newspaper in Australia.

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Vikki Harber reckoned her son has been stolen from her by his karate champion fiancee Jessica Bratich, and on the eve of the Ashes series she castigated Cricket Australia for ignoring parents, claiming they favoured flying over "bitchy" girlfriends more interested in self-promotion than supporting their partners.

Ms Harber, 45, told the newspaper her once close relationship with her son had deteriorated since he started going out with Ms Bratich. "I get a text on Mother's Day and a text on my birthday," she said. "The last time I actually spoke to him was when the beach cricket was here and Dennis Lillee told him he had to ring his mother. So Mitchell rang me that day. It has been like this since Jess came on the scene."

She added that they had been very close, but he had not spent a night under her roof in Coolangatta since he met Jessica. Johnson moved to Perth last year on the far side of Australia to be with his fiancee.

Ms Harber and Johnson's father Kevin Johnson separated when the cricketer was nine and he spent time growing up with both parents in Queensland. Miss Bratich has become one of the most popular WAGs in Australian sport, featuring on the cover of Ralph magazine.

Ms Harber said Cricket Australia had never offered her the opportunity to see her son play outside Brisbane, apparently not realising that the players, not the authorities, make these choices. "For the wives and the children I think it is great that they support them and send the over there, but who are these girlfriends? They are just girlfriends."

She added: "Mitch met Jess and since then she has flown off to South Africa, to England and the Bahamas. She gets all these trips, she gets flown there, accommodation, food and all of that."

Kevin Johnson backed his son, commenting: "Like Jess said, they're away for six months of the year, so it's a bit hard for them to be away from each other that whole time," he said.

Among the website comments were: "Dear god, she complains that he has not spent a night under her roof for how long? Wake up woman, he lives on the other side of the country and is often on tour for months at a time. Face the facts, little Mitchell has grown up and is living his own life....Perhaps you should grow up and keep your petty grievences in house rather than airing them publicly on the eve of probably his most important tour for Australia. Pathetic."

Another posting: "Well said, mum. If more people listened to their parents marital advice, there wouldn't be so many divorces."

A woman commented: "Message to all mothers of sons - be nice to your son's partners regardless of how you feel about them because if you ever make him choose between you, you will miss out. You represent his past and she his future - just human nature."

Posted by Charlie Randall
08/07/2009 17:30:20

Limited options are helping Bell

ENGLAND have brought Ian Bell back into their squad of 13 for the first Test against Australia in Cardiff, starting on Wednesday, July 8. His recall is no surprise as it probably underlines how thin the batting resources have become.

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Steve Harmison has not done enough to earn a recall ahead of the existing attack, including Durham colleagues Graham Onions, though if England ever need a Philip Hughes specialist, they need look no further. Hughes smashed county attacks to all corners during his time with Middlesex while exposing all three stumps to the bowler, but Harmison showed the quirky left-hander to be vulnerable against quick bowling, rather in the way Michael Bevan was in the 1990s. The world's best one-day batsman averaged only 29.07 in his 18 Tests before being ditched by the selectors.

Though a pack of England-qualified batsman have scored heavily for their counties this year, Bell has done enough for Warwickshire and Lions to keep himself in the frame, hitting 536 runs at an average of 53.60, though his strike rate of 53.86 runs per 100 is disappointing.

An aspiring Test batsman must show he can leave his comfort zone and dominate county attacks in the way that Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe used to for Surrey. So strike rate on sound pitches should be considered as much as run aggregate and average. A strike rate of 50 -- three runs an over -- does not suggest a batsman will flourish for England. A rate of 60 should be the very minimum, which means most of this summer's county run-makers are not quite up to scratch.

For example, Mark Ramprakash has scored 630 runs for Surrey this year at a mighty average of 90, but his strike rate of 46 is not good enough. Perhaps that offers an explanation for his surprisingly meagre and slow-paced returns in Test cricket during his career. Marcus Trescothick has hit 815 runs for Somerset at a speed of 61.04, having ruled himself out of the England frame.

Joe Sayers, the Yorkshire blocker, has piled up 644 runs in 14 innings at an average of 49.53. This is fine until his strike rate of 37 is noted. It is so slow it laughs his England case out of court. The most fluent of the big-scoring players this summer is James Hildreth, of Somerset. He has hit 573 runs, averaging 52.09, at a brisk rate of 67.65. The statistics are all very impressive for this gifted player, but... one massive innings of 303 distorts the picture.

Steve Moore, not so hot in run volume for Worcestershire this year, has rattled along at 64-plus on rate, and Chris Nash has played very well, averaging 53.87 at a rate of 60.53 for Sussex, but generally there are not enough batsmen making a strong case when strike rate is considered.

The England national selector Geoff Miller said: "We were delighted with the way in which the team performed in the warm-up match at Edgbaston, and it was very encouraging to see Andrew Flintoff bowl so well on his return to the side.

"We were keen to show consistency in selection and retain the nucleus of the side that performed so well against West Indies in the npower Test series earlier this summer. Graham Onions has made an excellent start to his Test career and gives us a different option when we consider the make-up of our bowling attack and the type of conditions we will encounter.

"Ian Bell has performed well in county cricket this summer and he will act as cover batsman for this Test match should any of our established batsmen be unavailable through injury.

"There is healthy competition for places in our starting line-up at present, and the strong performance by the England Lions against Australia at Worcester demonstrated that we are starting to develop a larger squad of players who can compete effectively with international class players."

There remains a strong case for Steve Moore in the England squad, though if he had been in better form he might well have been favoured anyway. He impressed me as a fighter and a fine back-foot batsman during the England Lions tour of New Zealand, two qualities essential for Test cricket. Not sure that Ian Bell has either.

England squad (first Test v Australia in Cardiff July 8-12)

Andrew Strauss (capt)     Middlesex

Alastair Cook                  Essex

Ravi Bopara                    Essex

Kevin Pietersen               Hampshire

Ian Bell                         Warwickshire

Paul Collingwood             Durham

Matt Prior (wkt)              Sussex

Andrew Flintoff               Lancashire

Stuart Broad                  Nottinghamshire

Graeme Swann               Nottinghamshire

James Anderson              Lancashire

Graham Onions                Durham

Monty Panesar               Northamptonshire

Posted by Charlie Randall
05/07/2009 13:59:03

Arthur: Flintoff should attack

By Mark Harrison

MICKEY ARTHUR, the man who coached South Africa to a Test series win in Australia earlier this year, says that England should use Andrew Flintoff as a more attacking bowler against Australia this summer.

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Analysing the series in an exclusive feature for the August issue of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, Arthur reckoned Flintoff bowled too negatively against South Africa last year. "Iíd like to see him used as a more attacking option because he has the ability to do that," he said.

"I would like to see Flintoff given the licence to attack along with James Anderson, whom we rated very highly when we faced him last year, while Stuart Broad is used as more of a control bowler, who will make the batsmen play and probe away around off stump."

Arthur plumps for Graeme Swann as Englandís first choice spinner, saying: "Iíve been very impressed with Graeme Swann, who has convinced me there can be a future for the orthodox offspinner in Test cricket, contrary to popular belief, and mine. He likes to bowl an attacking line which means he might go for more runs, but he will take wickets, especially against the left-handers in Australiaís top order. At the moment he is a better option than Monty Panesar, who had no variation against us in 2008."

His choice as fourth seamer is Ryan Sidebottom, pace and fitness permitting, and he applauds the decision to back Ravi Popara at number three. "England have been bold and made some proper decisions with selection: bringing in Ravi Bopara at No.3 and deciding on a five-man bowling attack with Matt Prior batting at six. There has been total clarity and no room for confusion. Players cannot say they donít

know where they stand. My concern, though, is that in their quest to take 20 wickets they have put a huge amount of pressure on their five main batters."

Arthur highlights Englandís batting as a potentially series-defining area of performance. "For me the key to the series is how well Englandís top five do as a unit. Itís a really tough series to call. England are heading in the right direction, and I was impressed with what I saw of Bopara against West Indies, but heís still relatively untried and there is a huge amount of pressure on Kevin Pietersen. If Australia use the new ball well, then they could put the England top order under a lot of pressure.

"The bowling attacks look pretty even, with England having the edge in the spin department, but I fancy Australiaís top six batsmen over Englandís and the Aussiesí line-up that I expect them to pick gives them great batting depth."

Arthur adds: "Iím loth to make a prediction because I think it will be really tight but, on the basis of where England are in their development, I would just go for Australia."

The August issue of The Wisden Cricketer includes a free, 68-page Ashes guide and is on sale at leading outlets from Thursday July 2.

CHARLIE SAYS: There is a fragile look about England's batting -- that is certainly a worry -- but one wonders whether Flintoff and Sidebottom will last the series injury-wise. Without these two in the attack I don't think we can win the Ashes.

Posted by Charlie Randall
30/06/2009 09:18:07
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