At last, a Test win for England!!!

So at last England have won a game of Test match cricket, but this doesn’t mean all is well in the garden for Test captain Joe Root, as there are still numerous issues to be addressed in his Test match team.

England showed a lot of spirit and determination in beating Pakistan by an innings and 55 runs at Leeds on Sunday, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of where this England team is currently at.

The Struggling Opening Partnership

So Keaton Jennings made an okay return to Test match cricket, but that was all it was, an okay return. The fact he was returning tells its own story, and in all honesty, replacing Mark Stoneman with Keaton Jennings is a bit like the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

England are just replacing one opener with deficiencies, with another one with deficiencies. Stoneman looks more technically organised than Jennings, with the latter seemingly looking a tougher more robust character, maybe a valuable attribute to an opener.

It remains to be seen if Jennings will be a decent long term opener, but he looks the sort of player that the Aussie and South Africa pace bowlers will like the look of.

Fellow opening partner Alastair Cook, also hasn’t been pulling up any trees over the past 2 to 3 years, and with no opening batsmen banging the door down in county cricket, it remains a problem position for England.

England’s Fragile Middle Order

Along with the struggling openers, the English middle order isn’t too clever either. Add the two together and it’s not hard to see why England have been dismissed for totals of just 184, 58, 180, 195, and 133 over the past 12 months.

James Vince has been tried and discarded again, Dawid Malan got a century in Australia, but has struggled since, although Malan looks a well organised player. Jonny Bairstow looks good getting a quick 40, but then keeps getting out. It’s a similar story for Joe Root, who tends to get to 70 or 80, before he does the same thing.

No one seems capable of building a proper innings in this English Test team, it’s always a case of a player looking good, and then doing something silly and getting himself out. We keep hearing about what good cricketers these guys are, so why don’t they win more Test matches? Maybe they simply aren’t as good as we are told!!

England’s Toothless Attack Overseas

Yes, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Chris Woakes are exceptional in English conditions, but lets be honest about it, when they go overseas they are fairly toothless.

I know there is a queue of people waiting to say that’s rubbish and that Anderson and Broad have over 900 Test wickets between them, but look at their performances in Australia and New Zealand over the winter, with the exception of an innings here or there, they weren’t too clever.

Chris Woakes has struggled abroad as well. In his 24 Test matches to date, he averages a wicket every 34.45 runs, with a strike rate of a wicket every 66.43 balls. Break that down though, and it might highlight England’s problems overseas.

In England he taken 46 wickets in 12 Test matches, that’s a wicket for 23.76 runs he concedes off his bowling, which is exceptional, and that’s a wicket every 45.30 balls he has bowled. While away from England, he has played 12 Test matches with an average of 61.77 runs per wicket, and an equally poor strike rate of a wicket every 120.44 balls bowled. That is some difference.

Until England find some good quality pace bowlers, they are always going to struggle abroad, and they seem incapable of addressing this issue.

Positives For England

It’s not all doom and gloom for England though. A couple of Ed Smith players have come off in this series. Starting with Jos Buttler, and despite all the criticism that he hasn’t played enough red ball cricket, he looked England’s best batsman in this series. It just goes to show that a class player in form, is a class player in form, no matter what the format or ball colour.

Dom Bess also did himself no harm either. Okay, so he didn’t rip Pakistan apart with his off breaks, but he showed there is something there to work with. Add to that he looked the part in the field, and most importantly these days if you want to bowl spin and hold down a place in this England team, he showed he could bat. His 3 appearances with the bat yielded 121 runs, quite enough to see him nail down the number 8 or 9 spot in an England team that likes it’s bowlers to be able to bat well.

England Odds On to beat Pakistan and level the Test Series

England go into todays’s 2nd Test against Pakistan at Headingley, with Mark Stoneman out, and Keaton Jennings in. That is one definite change, with Chris Woakes possibly in line for a recall, and Ben Stokes is also struggling with an injury.

England’s main problem would seem to be a lack of form, and the subsequent confidence crisis that ultimately will follow such a dismal run in form.

Such is England’s form of late, it seems to be a massive leap of faith for any punters wishing to back England at odds of 4/7 with Betfair. The draw is 4/1, with Pakistan at 16/5.

England can still win this series, and a win for Joe Root’s side wouldn’t be a massive shock, after all they do have a fairly decent home record over the past few years. It’s just, can you trust them at such a short price?

The possible recall of Woakes in English condition – where he has an outstanding record – will no doubt strengthen England and increase their chances of finishing the two match series on level terms, but will it help England build a side capable of winning outside of England (an area where Woakes has a poor record)? Probably not.

Similar to the inclusion of Keaton Jennings, they look like short term fixes, rather than long term ones. But with Joe Root’s honeymoon period as captain well and truly over, and possible pressure building on Trevor Bayliss’ position as head coach of the Test team, surely England will play safe and bring Woakes back for Wood, rather than Stuart Broad or James Anderson, as suggested by Michael Vaughan.

I can totally see where former England captain Vaughan is coming from (he has suggested that too many players are comfortable in this England team), but in England’s current plight, it would be a brave call for Root to drop a guy with over 400 Test match wickets in Broad, or England’s all time record wicket taker in Anderson.

Five Massive Issues Facing Cricket Today

In some ways, the game of cricket is in rude health on a global level. Events like the IPL and BBL have ensured that cricket reaches new audiences and the game thrives under new marketing opportunities. But, at least parts of the traditional game of cricket, are changing, perhaps irreversibly. Obviously, progress and change can be a good thing. However, some changes might extinguish the factors that made us fall in love with the game in the first place.

Here are five issues facing the game today:

White Ball Vs Red Ball Cricket

The Ashes gets massive coverage when it comes around every couple of years, but can the same be said for the rest of Test and First Class cricket? Alex Hales recently signed a ‘white-ball contract’ with Nottinghamshire, who are, incidentally, 5/2 favourites to win the County Championship this season. This means the right-hander, who is not yet 30-years-old, will only concentrate on limited overs cricket. The question is will this type of move away from red ball become a trend? There is even talk of a schism within the sport. It’s a precarious time for the traditional game.

The Weather

Not everyone believes in manmade climate change, but the fact that the weather has changed in recent years in places like the UK is undeniable: The facts are there. In a compelling piece, the team behind cricket betting from Betway have produced a study on how inclement weather is impacting cricket in England. The most eye-catching stat is that “The rate of rain-affected matches has more than doubled since 2011.” You might think a bit of rain won’t ruin the game’s future, but matches being constantly called off make fans reconsider buying tickets the next time around. It’s a thought provoking piece by Betway Insider and well worth a read.

Betway Cricket

Integrity

Steven Smith and David Warner

Enough column inches have been spent talking about Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith and David Warner in the last few months, but cheating scandals do not put the game in a good light, especially for those wanting to bet on cricket. Despite the bans, what real punishment will the trio receive? They will be back in ample time for the ICC Cricket World Cup next year. Australia still remain more or less the same price (9/2, Betway) to win the World Cup as before the scandal. Plus ça change and all that.

Participation

Statista reports that the number of people participating in cricket fell from 419,500 in 2008 to 278,600 in 2016. That’s a 33% drop in less than a decade. Again, like the problems with the weather, a lack of quality new players coming through leads to a decline in interest from the fans. On the bright side though, places like Australia are reporting a big rise in participation levels and the strides the women’s game has taken in recent years is also something to cheer.

Its Epicentres

Cricket Right Handed Batsman Playing Shot

The cricket world has always centred around India, Australia and England. There are, of course, plenty of other places where cricket is popular, but this trio hold the balance of power in the game. To thrive, it needs to move away from the idea of a sport for former Commonwealth countries and make itself a global sport. Check out the story of how Ireland, where cricket was historically abhorred, became a Test playing nation in recent years. If the game can plant seeds and grow on an island always reluctant to embrace ‘British’ sports, why not in the USA? South America? The rest of Europe?

Australian Cricket at its Lowest

The cricket world is in turmoil as never before. A national coach resigned, its captain is in tears. This is the culmination of a scandal, which occurred in play at an international match in South Africa. Fair play is a central principle in every sport, and especially in cricket, where offences of this nature are considered sacrilege.

Namely, the ball was manipulated with sandpaper, which deeply hurt the Australian image of sportsmanship. So far, the Australians were always cheering for their successful team. Now, they are ashamed. The game was available for betting at netbet.co.uk.

Steve Smith, the captain of the Australian national team, landed in Sydney after a long journey back from South Africa. “I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life,” Smith said in a shaky voice as he sat sobbing in front of cameras and microphones and talking about the shame he had brought on his family.

Australian Cricket Team

When Smith left for South Africa for an international match, he was one of the best players in the world. He has returned as a deluded fraudster. He takes full responsibility, he said. It is the culmination of a scandal, which has caused the biggest turmoil in cricket in recent times.

Smith and vice-captain David Warner had instigated their fellow player Cameron Bancroft to sandpaper the leather ball during Saturday’s game against South Africa. The so-called ball tampering deteriorates the flying ability of the ball, which means a massive disadvantage for the opponent batsman.

A camera was filming Cameron, the action flew open, and the outcry was huge. The Australian Cricketers’ Association barred Smith and Warner for twelve, Bancroft for nine months from all international and national games. They also have to do 100 hours of volunteer work. In addition, coach Darren Lehmann resigned, who had previously stated that he knew nothing of manipulation.

In order to understand the whole vortex, which was caused with a little sandpaper grinding, one must gain basic understanding of the nature of every sport. Fair play is not a mere phrase in cricket, but a central principle. The Australians have violated the spirit of cricket, especially in Australia and other Commonwealth countries where cricket is a national sport.

So far, the national team was an integral part of the Australian national pride. The Australians won four of the last five Cricket World Cups. This fraud is very sensitive to the Australians. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that it had been unimaginable so far that the Australian cricket team could be involved in a fraud.

However, in the past, the Australians had accumulated incidents that did not necessarily match the noble spirit of the sport. They are regarded as rather unpopular with the competitors, which is not only because they often win. Instead, the Australians like to use other unclean methods – and behave not necessarily exemplary.

Do you remember David Warner colliding in the stairwell with the opposing player Quinton de Kock? This aggressive nature of the team says so much about them according to recently retired international Ed Cowan. In order to regain the trust of the public, the team needs a major overhaul. Looks like it has just started.

Sunrisers Hyderabad impress after first round of IPL matches

We’ve now had a chance to look at everyone, and it’s fair to say that Kane Williamson’s Sunrisers Hyderabad look very impressive, and that given the balance of their bowling line up, they look set to be a major force in the 2018 IPL.

The 2016 winners have a bowling line up that consists of the pace and bounce of Billy Stanlake, along with the dual spin of the experienced Shakib Al Hasan, and Afghanistan’s inexperienced but top class Rashid Khan, who already looks like a seasoned performer at the top level.

With Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson at the top of the order as well, Sunrisers have a solid core to their side, and if Williamson can utilise his spin bowlers well (which I’m sure he will), they have to be serious contenders.

Shakib and Rashid will be a nightmare combination to face in the middle Overs of a match, and will stifle the life out of many a batting line up in this IPL, just like they did to Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler yesterday, in the Sunrisers’ hammering of the Rajasthan Royals.

At the start of the IPL, Royal Challengers Bangalore were the favourites, and although that remains the case, they have drifted from 7/2 to 4/1 with William Hill. Sunrisers are the big movers in the IPL Outright Winner Betting though, having seen their odds cut from 6/1 to 9/2, coming into second favourites.

IPL Outright Winner Betting Odds

Royal Challengers Bangalore – 4/1
Sunrisers Hyderabad – 9/2
Chennai Super Kings – 9/2
Kolkata Knight Riders – 5/1
Mumbai Indians – 5/1
Kings XI Punjab – 6/1
Delhi Daredevils – 10/1
Rajasthan Royals – 12/1

All prices with correct with William Hill William Hill ahead of match 5.

Match 5 sees Chennai Super Kings hosting the Kolkata Knight Riders. Both teams won their opening matches, so someone’s 100% record will go today.

English interest in today’s match for Chennai is Sam Billings, David Willey and Mark Wood. While Tom Curren is in the ranks of Kolkata. Both sides are 10/11 to win with William Hill.

Royal Challengers Bangalore start 2018 IPL as favourites

The 2018 Indian Premier League gets under way on 7th April, and the usual suspects, Royal Challenger Bangalore, start the competition as favourites.

Royal Challengers Bangalore Logo

RCB (as they are also known) boast a line up that includes the top batsman in 50 Overs world cricket, Virat Kohli, in their ranks, alongside overseas stars such as AB de Villiers, Quinton De Kock, Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee, and Chris Woakes, to name a few.

Such as star studded line up has seen RCB start the competition as favourites before, like last year when they had players like Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, de Villiers and Kohli in their ranks, but finished bottom of the table with just 3 wins from their 14 matches.

This season they will be expecting different, and RCB start off as 7/2 favourites with William Hill to lift the trophy in Mumbai on 27th May (yes, that’s right, the 2th May).

IPL Outright Winner Betting Odds

Royal Challengers Bangalore – 7/2
Mumbai Indians – 4/1
Sunrisers Hyderabad – 6/1
Chennai Super Kings – 6/1
Kolkata Knight Riders – 6/1
Delhi Daredevils – 7/1
Kings XI Punjab – 8/1
Rajasthan Royals – 8/1

Pre competition prices with William Hill.

58 All Out!!

I was quick to mock Australia for 47 all out against South Africa, and 60 all out in the first innings against England at Trent Bridge back in 2015, so it’s only right to take the proverbial out of England as well.

What a dismal showing. Joe Root talked of the importance of winning test matches overseas ahead of Day 1, and then played his part in his team getting bowled out for 58.

With New Zealand winning the toss and bowling on a green top, you expect movement and maybe to lose a couple of early wickets, but to be 27/9 – as England were at one stage – is a absolute joke.

Moving conditions early on, on a green top aren’t just second nature to English batsmen, they are first nature. I expect the likes of India and Australia to maybe struggle, but England should be used to this.

Also, Joe Root claimed he would have batted first on this pitch, and this after dropping a batsman. Not sure which is the worst here? It all looks pretty calamitous from where I’m standing.

Finally, it;s always said you can’t win a Test match on the first day, but you can lose one. England have well surpassed that achievement here. They have managed to ensure they can’t win a whole Test series inside the first hour, never mind the first day!

James Vince impresses in Big Bash stint

There was another impressive looking knock from the much maligned – in England anyway – James Vince, as he set his Big Bash team, Sydney Thunder, up for another win, with 40 runs from 29 balls.

Vince – who joined up with Sydney Thunder after the Ashes – opened the innings with Aussie Usman Khawaja, and the two of them all but finished the match as a contest, by putting on 85 for the 1st wicket, from just 8.2 Overs. Vince batted on into the 11th Over, and when he eventually went for an excellent 40, his team were 102/2, needing just 46 from just over 9 Overs.

Sydney Thunder are 12/1 to win the Big Bash with Paddy Power – latest Big Bash Odds From Paddy Power Here

Vince has 74 runs at a strike rate of 137.03 from his two matches for the Sydney Thunder so far, not world beating, granted. But given all the criticism he received during the recent Ashes, that isn’t a bad start for an opener, and it also gives England another white ball option.

James Vince Picture

James Vince

Also, it’s the manner in which Vince has played his 2 matches so far that has also been impressive. Like in Test cricket, he has made it look effortless, and like in Test cricket, he has got out in the 30’s, and for 40.

The difference being though, that 34 and 40 in T20, is a decent score, especially at a strike rate of over 137.

There is still a long way to go for Vince, but his Big Bash experience can’t do anything but help his development, and also – hopefully – build his confidence. These small steps could well be crucial ones if they are to have the desired effect of helping him develop into the top class cricketer his talent suggests he should be.

England on the Ropes with WACA Knockout Imminent

If the 2017/2018 Ashes were a boxing match, England would be reeling under the constant barrage of punches thrown by Australia. It is a fight that has been witnessed before and often leads to a knockout blow when the sides arrive in Perth for the third test. Historically, when England get off to a bad start Down Under, the WACA is the venue where the guillotine falls and the Ashes are surrendered.

2 10 Joe Root

The prospect of trying to revive the series at the WACA will be a daunting one for England as their last victory at this ground was back in 1978. Much of the pre-Ashes game plan for England would have been to come out the traps flying so there was an insurance policy in place by the time the Perth test arrived, given their woeful history at the venue. The opposite has happened and Steve Smith’s men will feel they have England well positioned for a checkmate move.

As is so often the case during the playing of the Ashes Down Under, the pace of the Australian quicks proves to be the defining factor. So far, the Australian pace bowlers have accounted for 28 of the 40 English wickets to have fallen. Mitchell Starc leads the Ashes wicket-taking column with 14 and fellow fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have seven apiece. The surprise package has been Nathan Lyon with his off-spin, which has been highly effective especially against the English left-handers.

The rampant Lyon is only three wickets behind Starc and has 11 to his name. The way in which he has worked in tandem with the quicks has been the underlying key to Australia’s dominant position they find themselves in. If England want to throw a few counterpunches, Lyon will need to be tamed.

They will need to be aggressive towards him and not let him settle when he comes on to bowl at the WACA. This way Smith won’t have the luxury of rotating his fast bowlers at will. The more work the quicks have to do the less effective they will be and this will be highlighted at the WACA given the blistering outfield. The Three Lions will be able to use the threat of the Australian pace attack against if they adopt a positive approach with the willow in hand.

Mitchell Starc won’t be fearing an English onslaught and instead will be hoping for a traditional fast and bouncy wicket when he takes the new ball at the WACA. He has 14 scalps to his name so far this series and that will be a lot closer to 25 come the end of the Perth test. The tall left-armer from Sydney is relishing the responsibility that comes with being the Australian frontline seamer. It is no surprise to see him backed at odds of 4/6 to be the leading wicket-taker at the end of the five-match series and punters who feel Starc will carry on and finish on top of the pile can access up to £50 of free bets from Ladbrokes on Oddschecker. England need to deal with the Starc threat by being bold before he leaves scars that won’t heal with time.

Scoring quickly will transfer the pressure and will act as a minor power shift as England try to get themselves back into a place where they are the ones able to deal out the body blows. It is at times like this, with England under the pump, that one wonders how valuable Ben Stokes contribution would have been in a counter-attacking strategy that seems the Three Lions best chance of survival in the series.

GONE!  Got Him!  Middle stump goes flying

Everyone connected to the England cricket team will be wondering how a left-arm quick is dismantling their team again. When Mitchell Johnson retired, there was a sigh of relief after the demolition job he did in 2013 but now it appears Starc is picking up where his counterpart left off.

England’s record in Australia since 2013 doesn’t make for encouraging reading. They have lost their last seven tests in a row and in 14 innings only managed to pass 300 on three occasions. They will need to apply themselves and fight bravely if their Ashes ambitions aren’t to be lying on the canvas after the Perth test.

Harsh lessons for attack minded England captain Root

When England appointed Joe Root as the new Test captain back in February, there were few pundits and fans who argued with the decision. After all, who else was there? And Root was England’s talisman and best player. Root was the England management’s only real viable choice.

Fast forward a few months, and Root is finding out the hard way that the decisions you take as a captain can have consequences, and as former captains like Nasser Hussain can testify, the decisions you take can be used as a big stick to beat you with when things start going wrong, and the media turns on you.

Root has already – by his own admission – made a huge mistake in the 1st Test of the current Ashes series, when he took Jimmy Anderson off after bowling just 3 Overs with the second new ball in the 1st innings when he had the Aussies 7 wickets down, and still over 80 runs behind England’s 1st innings total.

Fair enough, Root held his hands up to that one and admitted his mistake. Moving onto the 2nd Test, and another dodgy looking decision from Root, who after winning the toss (again), this time rather surprisingly asked the Aussies to bat first – click here for bookmakers offering the latest odds on the Ashes.

I’d not heard one ex player or pundit who said pre match that it would be a good idea to bowl first on the pitch, quite the opposite in fact. The likes of Michael Vaughan were quick to point out that as it was a drop in wicket, it was a trip into the unknown. No one had any real idea of how the wicket would behave, and Vaughan commented that you wouldn’t want to be batting on it 4th – exactly what England will now have to do after deciding to bowl first.

Quite a risky strategy when the series was arguably in the balance. It is obvious if England lose in Adelaide, it will be near on impossible to come back from 2-0 down, especially with Perth to come next. So why take such a risk at such a critical juncture of the series?

Root has previous in his short tenure as captain for being a touch cavalier. The 2nd Test against West Indies at Headingley back in August was one such occasion. Root’s England side were 1-0 up in the best of 3 series, and had just wrestled back control of the Test match (and with it the series) thanks to a swashbuckling 84 from Moeen Ali, ably assisted by Chris Woakes, who ended on 61 not out.

Out of nowhere Root declared the England innings on 490/8 towards the end of Day 4. West Indies seen off the remaining 6 Overs on Day 4, and with a full day’s play on Day 5 still remaining, there was ample time for the Windies to get the runs. Root had underestimated (and arguably disrespected) the Windies batting by setting them a modest target of 322 from 96 Overs.

The Windies duly knocked them off for a comfortable 5 wicket victory, putting a series win in doubt for England, especially given the English weather last summer. Root put himself in the position of been a few days worth or rain away from drawing a home series 1-1 with West Indies. Which wouldn’t have looked too clever on his CV.

Root has shown that he is prepared to improvise as a captain, and not always follow the well trodden conventional methods. I’m sure he will be a successful England captain in the long run, and these experiences will only serve to help him improve in the future.