All eyes are on you Alastair
How appropriate that a cricketing summer which was a wash out for four months should end with a damp squib. I don’t know what England’s batsmen had for lunch yesterday, but it can’t have been particularly nourishing.
In the fourth ODI England produced one of the most half-arsed displays I’ve seen from an international side in some time. Cook, Morgan, Bairstow, Kieswetter and Anderson seemed determined to give the Cricketboks some catching practice.
Maybe the players didn’t really care once they’d defended their number one status at Lord’s. Not that anyone could blame them – this was the seventeenth ODI they’ve played this year. That’s more matches than Ravi Bopara has scored runs in recent matches (poor bloke).
So what did we make of the ODI series then? We thought it was quite entertaining really, although how either of these teams can legitimately claim to be the best one-day side in the world is beyond us. This series provided a case-study in how not to build an innings when batting first.
Thank heavens the likes of Steyn and Morkel were around to remind us that we were actually watching an international match. South Africa’s team contained so many journeymen with unremarkable records in county cricket – yes, we’re talking about you Ryan McLaren, Francois du Plessis and Lonwabo Tsotsobe – that English fans could be forgiven for thinking they were watching re-runs of Lancashire versus Kent.
Because of this we were pretty disappointed England didn’t win the series. Other than Smith, Amla, DeVilliers (and the aforementioned pacemen) South Africa’s team looked fairly weak on paper. It shows how much they rely on Kallis to be successful.
The media has been waxing lyrical about South Africa’s test team, but the truth is that the exceptional ability of their best players disguises an alarming lack of strength in depth. Cricketers like McLaren, Du Plessis and Tsotsobe simply aren’t top draw. They’d be nowhere near England selection. South Africa will be dreading the day that Kallis finally retires.
Having said that, England still have issues themselves. Although our form has improved in one-day cricket in recent times, there are still too many head-scratching selections. Cook, Bell and Trott look like a solid top three, but thereafter the problems start. Where should Eoin Morgan bat? Is Pietersen going to play again? Who on earth thinks Craig Kieswetter is the best keeper-batsman in the country?
Kieswetter’s continued presence in the ODI team has become a bit of an issue. Although he took his stumpings well at Lord’s, he still doesn’t look like a natural gloveman to us. With the likes of Matt Prior, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow on the sidelines – and Kieswetter dropping catches and missing run outs on a regular basis – one can only assume that the selectors believe he’s one of the best six batsmen in the country.
If the selectors want someone at six who can make a quick-fire twenties and thirties then Kieswetter is the man; there’s nobody better at blasting a few boundaries and then getting out stupidly. However, if they want a proper batsman with a proper technique – someone who can play strokes on the legside as well as the offside, caress singles as well as hit boundaries, vary the tempo of their innings and not get give their wicket away at an inopportune moment – then we suggest they look elsewhere. Bairstow can keep just as well as Kieswetter, so why the latter is keeping out a batsman of infinitely greater potential is a mystery.
Then there’s the Ravi problem. We’ve had this debate so many times before – he’s talented but flakey, stylish but mentally frail etc – but this time the issue has been complicated further: Bopara was one of our best bowlers in this series. Should he play as a bowling allrounder from now on? Probably not. Medium pacers tend to do better in England than overseas. But is it fair to drop him after taking so many wickets? Again the answer is probably not.
You get the feeling that the Bopara story has a few twists and turns yet to come. In which case Ravi, if you’re going to hang around a while longer, could you do one thing for us? When you start an innings, please stop looking like you’ve just got out of bed. You look about as switched on and ready for action as an American rapper who has just smoked his own body weight in weed.
So what were the big positives to take out of this ODI series? Rather than focusing on the performances of specific individuals – Morgan, Trott, Bell, Finn, Tredwell and Anderson all had their moments – we’d like to concentrate on something broader: the captaincy of Alastair Cook.
I could be getting ahead of myself here – and Cook might ultimately prove to be a similarly conservative captain to Strauss in the test arena – but I thought the new skipper’s performances were really promising overall.
Strauss was a good England captain, but he was never the most pro-active and positive. From what I’ve seen so far, Cook could prove to be far more imaginative and attacking: he leaves slips in place for longer, some of his field placings can be quirky, and he obviously values variation in his bowling attack. Those of us who are hoping for a change in England’s strategic approach will be heartened by what we’ve seen.