England Snatch Victory At Old Trafford

27 05 2008

Andrew Strauss is congratulated on his centuryMr President knows that many of you guys don’t understand cricket. Mr President, couldn’t care less. He wants to write about cricket today so you’re going to have to put up with it.

He wrote a few days ago about how England needed to win, and win convincingly. Whilst they couldn’t manage that, and he still has concerns over the South Africa series, they did manage to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They can take some momentum from that, he hopes, to win more convincingly at Trent Bridge.

With such a huge lead on first innings it looked practically impossible for New Zealand to lose the game, and yet, somehow they conspired to do just that. Truth be told, despite the praise being heaped on England players, the Kiwis lost the game more than England won it.

Ian Smith had doubts over whether Monty Panesar should have been man of the match but Mr President doesn’t. Strauss’ contribution was huge but England wouldn’t have even had a sniff of victory if New Zealand had managed to rack up a lead of 350 or more, which they should have. There was an element of them choking, granted, but there was huge pressure on Monty to bowl them out cheaply and he delivered.

Strauss, by contrast, is actually a man very much in form, and consequently there doesn’t appear to be too much pressure on him at all. What a difference a few months makes, looking back at Napier where he batted with his career on the line. Although Mr President does occasionally lay into players for poor performances, he’s still a big believer in any cricketer being just one good match away from being back in form.

Look, for example, at his comments about Michael Vaughan back when Strauss did score that hundred in Napier. He stands by them, and believes they were entirely accurate at the time. Vaughan hadn’t been delivering with the bat, nor with his captaincy, and although (as, to be fair, Mr President predicted he would) he found greater success batting at number 3, his captaincy really only shone during the Black Caps second innings. It was back to the aggressive attitude that won the Ashes.

The form of England’s top three will give them great confidence, and they may have found the right combination there. Pietersen at four needs to be given license to be positive, not expected to anchor the innings. If he’s freed to do that, as he was at Old Trafford, he’s at his best, and he’s still capable of a big innings. In fact he’s probably more likely to score a hundred batting aggressively than trying to block his way to it.

Below that there are some issues. Ian Bell isn’t a scrapper, and Paul Collingwood is out of form. After a bright start with the bat Ambrose has fallen away a bit (but England must stick with him; we’ve changed wicketkeepers far too often), which makes Flintoff rediscovering his batting capabilities even more essential. Some have written him off as a number six but that was where he batted so well during the 2005 Ashes. The issue Down Under had nothing to do with his batting, but the added pressure of captaincy.

England missed express pace bowling too, something that makes not only the recovery of Flintoff, but that of Simon Jones too, very important. For all its qualities, this current bowling unit really lacks any pace, and is too reliant on swing. The issue, however, is how to find the right balance. Sidebottom and Panesar pick themselves, obviously, and Broad gets the Presidential seal of approval. Anderson, then, will have to make way.

Still, it’s better to have this choices than not. We’ve missed Jones and Freddie.


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