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Cricket Web’s Ashes Predictions Revisited


Cricket Web’s Ashes Predictions Revisited

On the eve of the first test in Cardiff, eight of us here at Cricket Web gave our verdict on how the Ashes would go. The results are in, and it’s time to see how we fared. It’s a bit of a mixed bag…


England – Series Ratings


So, with the smoke cleared and the dust settled etc. on another Ashes series, England have the urn. But how did they do it? How did the individuals that make up the team perform? Here are Cricket Web’s ratings of England’s performers in this series. Australia follows tomorrow.

Andrew Strauss
Strauss captained England to a series victory, topped the runscoring charts, and won the Miller-Compton medal. You might call that a decent series. With a top six faltering all around him, Strauss held the order together and led from the front, like any respectable captain should do. His captaincy came into some criticism for being too negative but he got the results he needed to with his methods, and his man-management seems to be working. The best example is probably the performance of Stuart Broad; he struggled early on so Strauss bowled him out at Edgbaston when the game was gone, allowing him to find his line and length. The result? Eleven wickets in the next two innings.
Grade: A

Alastair Cook
Disappointing. Cook has previously had issues with converting fifties into hundreds, in this series he struggled to get to fifty. Cook is blighted by technical issues and for the first time since he came into the side he finds his place being questioned; he should be relieved that there are no openers making huge waves in the championship. On the plus side of things he did bring the series to a close with his catch of Hussey, so it’s not all doom and gloom!
Grade: D

Ravi Bopara
Bopara had a series that was reminiscent of Ian Bell’s troubled time back in 2005. He will have been devastated to have been dropped for the decider but there was no way he could be retained. The phrase ‘rabbit in the headlights’ has never been more apt. Bopara won’t look back too fondly on this series but hopefully will come out of it stronger.
Grade: E-

Kevin Pietersen
It was pleasing to see Pietersen at The Oval to be with the team yesterday. His fans will say it shows he is a team man after all, his detractors might argue that he just wanted a slice of the glory. Whichever way you look at it, he’ll be devastated not to have been out there for the last three Tests, and he’ll have been disappointed with what he did contribute early on. He looked good at Cardiff before getting out with the oddest shot of the summer, and from there on looked shot to pieces. He hadn’t missed a Test for four years so it was bound to happen sometime, nonetheless Pietersen will be hungry to get back in the runs this winter.
Grade: C

Ian Bell
Bell’s recall was not greeted with delight by England fans, and neither was his retention in the wake of the Headingley fiasco. He rode his luck at Edgbaston where the umpires gave him a couple of lives en route to a 50, and then failed at Headingley – but so did everybody else. He was retained and repaid the faith with the top score of England’s first innings, though he’ll have been mortified not to have scored a century, because it means the same old doubts will hang around. His second innings at The Oval won’t have helped to shut up his detractors either, as when he got out he left England in a spot of bother. He should have done enough to secure a free flight to South Africa, from there, we’ll see.
Grade: C

Paul Collingwood
Collingwood was good at the start of the series, scoring three consecutive fifties. His typically gritty 74 at Cardiff was crucial in the context of the whole series, even if he couldn’t quite see it out. However since Lord’s he has barely scored a run, and serious questions are being asked about his place in the side, although he was still England’s second highest scoring specialist batsman (Matt Prior and Graeme Swann both scored more runs than him, however). To make things a little worse, his fielding seems to have lost a bit of its aura, he dropped a couple in the slips on the final day that you’d normally back him to swallow. Collingwood is a team man and played his part early in the series, but it certainly wasn’t one of his best.
Grade: C-

Jonathan Trott
There are dream debuts, and then there is Jonathan Trott’s debut. You would think that debuting in an Ashes-winning Test would be enough for most people, but Trott anchored England’s second innings with a beautiful and controlled century, this following an impressive 41 in the first innings where he was got out by a magical piece of fielding by Simon Katich. He also took a blinding catch to dismiss Michael Clarke in the first innings. He will learn sooner or later that Test cricket isn’t always this easy, but for now Trott should enjoy being the golden boy.
Grade: A*

Matt Prior
The doubts about Prior before the series were over his glovework, so it is very pleasing to note that there were no clangers from Prior. He kept well, most notably dismissing Marcus North with a fine catch at Edgbaston and stumping the very same batsman on the final day of the series from Graeme Swann’s bowling. He will probably be a little disappointed with his batting performances, batting at six you need to make centuries, especially when supported with a lower order as strong as England’s. He didn’t disgrace himself but will need to score more runs if he is to remain in the top six – of course, he might well move to seven anyway, given Flintoff’s departure. He can be very satisfied with his contribution to the series and should find himself awarded a central contract next month.
Grade: B

Andrew Flintoff
As an England fan it has been emotional to wave farewell to Andrew Flintoff from our Test side, but it is perhaps slightly comforting to do so in the knowledge that he wasn’t going to be able to do the magic anymore. Flintoff provided a world-class bowling performance in both innings at Lord’s (the second will always be remembered but the partnership with James Anderson in the first innings was probably more important in the context of the result) but it took its toll and his body clearly wouldn’t allow him to do so again. With the bat, he played with more freedom than he had done recently and the result was that he looked a lot better than in previous years. He played an enthralling innings at Edgbaston to set up a remote chance of victory for England but will have been disappointed to get out when a farewell century was there for the taking. Flintoff had a quiet career finale at The Oval but his run out of Ricky Ponting eased growing doubts in the England fans and was a fitting way to finish off.
Grade: C

Stuart Broad
Broad had a shocker early in the series, most notably at Cardiff. He improved at Lord’s but still appeared to be the weak link in the attack, and only when, as mentioned above, Strauss bowled him out at Edgbaston did he seem to find his groove. He was England’s best bowler by a country mile in the Headingley horror show, and clinched the series for England at The Oval with the finest spell of his career to date, winding up England’s top wicket-taker in the process. He contributed with the bat as well and will now cope with the tag of being the new Freddie Flintoff, but Broad won’t mind that. If people didn’t think that the progress made against West Indies didn’t really count for anything, they should take notice now.
Grade:: B

Graeme Swann
It was a strange series for Swann; he took a respectable 14 wickets overall, yet went wicketless in two matches, and took eight in one. He stepped up on the final day of the series, bowling unchanged most of the day except for when England took the new ball, and even then he was back on after eight overs. He also played an understated role in the second innings at Lord’s, taking four wickets but being overshadowed by the Freddie Flintoff show. When he was good he was good, but when he was bad he really was pretty bad. That being said, his contributions with the bat were massive, only two of England’s top six scored more runs than him and his runs were never more significant then when he rammed home England’s advantage at The Oval. Swann is a great character to have in the team, the best spinner England have and a fine lower-order batsman; he will have better series than this one with the ball but he seemed to enjoy himself and will certainly not be disappointed with himself.
Grade: C+

James Anderson
A strange series for Anderson. Disappointing at Cardiff, sublime in the first innings at Lord’s but subdued in the second. Immense in the first innings at Birmingham, but disappointing in the second. Poor at Headingley, and inoccuous at The Oval, going wicketless in both of the final two Tests. Anderson was so good when he was good that there won’t be too many questions about him yet, but he will know that he should and could have done better. Handy in the lower order with the bat, never more so than when he was an absolute star at Cardiff. He did lose his duckless streak though, sadly.
Grade: C-

Monty Panesar
Shocking with the ball but utterly heroic with the bat. It is tempting to give Panesar an A*. He probably shouldn’t have been anywhere near the squad, but nobody expected him to stick out eleven overs yet he did.
Grade: N/A

Graham Onions
Onions was hugely unfortunate to miss out on the series decider, he acquitted himself very well in the three Tests he played, most notably at Edgbaston where, in tandem with Anderson, he helped to skittle Australia out, with seven wickets lost in one session. It seemed that a fall guy was needed from the attack following Headingley so as the junior member of the attack it was Onions, but he will be back in the side soon enough. A decent contribution.
Grade: B-

Steve Harmison
Another player whose place in the side was questionable at best, Harmison might well have played his last Test. He bowled a very good spell at Headingley, but unfortunately went to pieces from there. He worked that way in reverse at The Oval, where he wasn’t used all that much but cleaned up the Australian tail to get his own slice of glory; it is hard to begrudge someone who, for all his faults as a cricketer, is such a genuine and honest person. He never had a horrow show, nor did he bowl particularly well; probably what you would expect.
Grade: C-

So, there you have it. No doubt plenty of you will disagree with the way we have rated the players; why not come and discuss it in the Ashes Forum?

Tomorrow, we look at Australia.


The Final Test


On July 8th, Mitchell Johnson bowled the opening ball of the 2009 Ashes, an inconsequential length delivery outside off stump.

Six weeks and four tumultuous tests later, we’re no closer to knowing where the Ashes are going than we were that morning in Cardiff. From Monty Panesar saving England at the Swalec stadium, to Flintoff’s triumphant re-emergance at Lord’s, all the way to Clarke and North’s stubborn last-day defiance at Edgbaston and Stuart Clark’s incredible comeback in Yorkshire, it’s been a wildly unpredictable series (if not always a high-quality one).

None of what has gone before is of any relevance though, because the Ashes will be decided over the next five days at the Oval. England will desperately try to shore up a shaky middle order, hoping that the pitch and weather don’t hinder their chances of winning back the Ashes. Australia meanwhile are looking to somehow maintain the quality of play seen at Headingley two weeks ago and scramble over the finish line one way or another.

For players on both sides, the final test of a level Ashes series is the most high-pressure scenario imaginable. A match-winning performance in this match will make up for an entire career of underachievement, while a dropped catch or poor shot will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The biggest five days of cricket for years starts tomorrow.


One-off doesn’t mean random


OK, so we’ve come down to a nice’n’simple equation: there’s one Test remaining; if England win it, they win The Ashes; if they don’t win it, they lose them. So now’s the time to pick the best team, and hang the future.


Flintoff shows off his Koala box busting skills!


Freddy Flintoff shows off his skills in an amusing video for Puma’s new small, extra small and extra extra small koala box.

Flintoff explains the Australian Koala box is tough, tiny, and made of titanium to protect the Australians from “people like me”.

You can watch the video below.


Selection Questions


It feels like no time at all since Monday afternoon, though that in itself was a long afternoon, as an Englishman! Back-to-back Tests really do come around quickly, especially when the first Test has gone the distance. In just a few days, though, there has been a lot of discussion and there are a lot of question marks over how the sides are going to line up.

For England, the main doubt, as it has been all series, is the one cast over Andrew Flintoff’s fitness. Andrew Strauss seems set to take a hard line, and will be making absolutely sure that the all-rounder is completely fit to go the distance, but you just know that Flintoff will want more than ever to be on the field for this game. Whilst the prospect of ensuring he is fit for a sentimental finale at The Oval may seem appealing initially, Flintoff will not, under any circumstances, want to miss out on the game where England regain the Ashes, which of course is what will happen should England emerge victorious at Headingley.

Replacing Flintoff is no mean feat but it seems that the selectors will do so if necessary by picking Warwickshire’s Jonathan Trott, who would potentially slot in at six, thus bumping Matt Prior down to seven. England’s bowling cannot afford to carry any passengers if they pick just four bowlers, though, which means that Stuart Broad will probably miss out if Flintoff does. Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison wait in the wings. If the ball swings like it often does at Headingley, Sidebottom would be the best man for the job, and him and James Anderson could cause huge damage to Australia given the right conditions. If it doesn’t swing, though, then Harmison’s pace, bounce and aggression would be much preferred tools. The selectors will be ruing the fact that they don’t know what the ball will do until the game starts, alas I would therefore expect them to not take the risk, Harmison will probably come in for Stuart Broad, with Graeme Swann and James Anderson moving up a spot each in the batting order.

Regardless of Flintoff’s fitness, questions are being asked about Stuart Broad anyway. With Flintoff seeming to be in good nick with the bat after a fine innings at Edgbaston, Broad’s batting may be seen to be needed less than it once was, especially with Graeme Swann sitting at nine anyway. Therefore, if Flintoff plays, don’t be surprised if Sidebottom comes in for Broad, although he does seem to have the backing of the coach. Ravi Bopara is another player who has had the axe wildly thrust in his direction by could-be selectors across England, but Andy Flower has confirmed that Bopara will play.

As for Australia, they have a couple of fitness worries. Michael Clarke sat out training yesterday with an abdominal strain but should be fine to take his place in the side tomorrow. The other main doubt is Brad Haddin, who of course missed the previous Test with a broken finger. He has been able to bat and keep in training today, but will still need to do more to prove his fitness to his captain. Don’t expect a decision on that one until tomorrow morning.

Another man whose fitness is under scrutiny is express pace bowler Brett Lee. He has been bowling at full pace in the nets though it remains to be seen whether that will be enough. The big question is who does he replace? Peter Siddle seems to be the man most unlucky to miss out, and it does seem unfortunate. The paceman has impressed with his aggression in the series but failed to take too many wickets and if Lee is recalled, expect him to miss out. Mitchell Johnson should have done enough at Edgbaston to keep his place, England will certainly be hoping that he returns to his Lord’s form if they are to regain the Ashes in Leeds!

A man who has missed out so far and may well find himself in the mix is Stuart Clark. He is the man that many Australia supporters want in the team, but for whatever reason the selectors don’t seem to share their desire. Still, don’t rule out the prospect of him coming in for Siddle, or even Nathan Hauritz if Australia decide that spin isn’t required.

There are many permutations and possibilities for tomorrow’s line-ups. For what it’s worth, and I’m gambling on certain players being fit for this (perhaps a little too optimistically in a certain case!), here are my predicted line-ups:



Finally, let’s hope for a bit of better weather this weekend! It promises to be the most exciting stage yet, in this enthralling series.


Looking Beyond the Ashes


An unfortunate aspect of England’s success is that the world seems to become an exceedingly grim place. Australian fans, not used to losing, grow hugely critical of their team, while English fans barely manage to escape their bubble of self-protective cynicism and focus on whatever bad can be found in their victories. You’d be forgiven for thinking that both teams were losing the Ashes.

On the contary, England’s success further ushers in an impending era of competitive cricket worldwide. For all their success, the current crop of players don’t appear to have the consistency nor the talent to dominate the game having lost their previous three series. Australia meanwhile might just about retain their status as the world’s number one team but will struggle to convince anyone they’re really the best side around.

Looking on from the sidelines is the world number two side, South Africa. Graeme Smith’s side has a winning mentality missing from the country’s previous sides, but struggle to dominate at home and missed a clear shot at stealing the world number one ranking from Australia earlier this year. Meanwhile, India are looking particularly strong on paper but still have something to prove- particularly away from home. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, find themselves dominating at home with a young, promising team but still struggle to take on the other sides everywhere else.

Should Australia come back and win this series, it will undoubtedly rival 2005 as the greatest Ashes series of the modern era. If England hold on for victory the cricketing world looks even more intriguingly poised than before with five teams all capable of beating one another on a regular basis.

It’s hard for fans of the two sides to look beyond the most important event in the cricketing calendar, but everyone else should be tingling in anticipation. For all I complain about flat pitches, umpiring errors and increasing commercialism, it’s great to be watching one of the most competitive eras of cricket ever. The conclusion of the Ashes is only the beginning.


For Whom The Bell Tolls


Ian Bell averages 25.10 against Australia. He comes into the England team in place of a man who averages 50.72 against the same side. Ian Bell is not best known for his ability to cope with pressure. The man he replaces thrives against the best opposition and plateaus when confronted with medicore opposition.

Yes, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen are not, perhaps, all that alike. So you would think that Bell goes into Thursday’s third Test feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he might not, you know. Because, all things considered, there has never been a better time to be stepping in for Pietersen. And as far as Bell is concerned, there has never been a better time to come up against the Aussies.

Pietersen, of course, looked a shadow of himself at Lord’s, and it was no great shock when he was ruled out for the rest of the series. This works in Bell’s favour. Can you imagine if Pietersen had hit two centuries in the first two Tests, and then injured his achilles and got ruled out? Now that would be pressure that you’d imagine Bell would struggle with. Instead he comes in with England one up and with no real weight of expectation on him. And on top of that, Pietersen didn’t look in form, he didn’t look set to plunder the Australian bowlers to all parts of England. If Bell does his usual, get in-look good-get out routine, it won’t really result in much difference in terms of output from what Pietersen has done in the series so far.

The previous occasion that we saw Bell return from being dropped was back in 2006, when he replaced Andrew Flintoff, so he’s not exactly unaccustomed to stepping into the big guy’s boots in the England team. That summer, he scored three centuries in three matches, albeit against distinctly average bowling. What’s that you say? No, I dare not suggest such a thing!

Thursday will be Ian Bell’s eleventh Ashes Test match, yet you would expect he feels more relaxed than he ever did in the previous ten. Aside from the aforementioned factors, there is no Shane Warne tormenting him with the ball, and with verbals. Though I did hear a cheeky mention of the nickname ‘Sherminator’ during the last Test! Expectation has never been lower for Bell, it seems most England fans are resigned to him doing very little, and Australians are somewhat optimstic about his apparently inevitable failure. This is a great opportunity for him, he would do well to take it.


Plenty Riding on a Tour Match for Australia


The Aussies enter the tour match today with some serious issues on their hands. They’re 1-0 down in a series, a position they struggled in even with a team filled with all-time greats, and desperately need a comeback from somewhere. The tour game against Northants starting today is absolutely crucial if they are to make a comeback of sorts in the series.

The first, most obvious problem for the Aussies is their star bowler, Mitchell Johnson, emphatically failing to fire. With the rest of the bowlers often struggling to find a threatening line to left-handers, England’s all-southpaw opening partnership has caused all kinds of problems- as has their all-southpaw “closing partnership” at Cardiff. The tour match is absolutely essential in finding some form for Midge.

If he plays, a lot of attention will go to Stuart Clark- the man who took an incredible 26 wickets @ 17 in the last Ashes but hasn’t even played this time round. He seemed to have lost a bit of nip against England Lions, understandable after a long injury lay-off. He’s now had months to recuperate, and if he’s back to his effective best England’s opening partnership- who Clark dismissed four times each in 2006/07- could be conquered. On the other hand, if he’s still looking a bit stale, Australia will be concerned that the 33-year-old may never be the same again. It’s only a three-day warm-up, but for Clark’s career, it’s a massive game.

In order to accommodate either Clark or Andrew McDonald, Australia look set to play a five-man attack with Brad Haddin, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke all staying in London. This could spark a change in tactics for Edgbaston- I suspect Marcus North, if he fails to score here, could be the man to miss out. On the other hand, if the lower order capitulates in either innings, a u-turn could be on the cards with any bowler who fails to perform likely to miss out. It’s quite possible that Australia could send out a completely unchanged lineup for the third test, but if certain players aren’t performing, the side could also undergo a massive overhaul.

There’s a lot more riding on this match than seemed the case three weeks ago. The events of a three-day game with little press coverage, and in particular the performance of Mitchell Johnson, could determine the course of the rest of the series.