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Graeme Swann for SPOTY

14 Dec 10 16:48
There has been a steady stream of cash for Graeme Swann to be crowned the BBC Sports Personality of the Year next weekend. And if voters took the term ‘personality’ literally then you’d have to say that Swann is in with a good chance of winning.

After being England’s leading wicket taker in the successful World Twenty20 campaign, getting his first 10-wicket haul in a Test match, against Bangladesh, being named the ECB Cricketer of the Year and most recently taking a five-for in Adelaide, his place in the top 10 of the BBC list is certainly warranted.

At the top of the betting is Tony McCoy who doesn’t exactly ooze charisma but there is a huge campaign within horseracing circles that could go a long way to seeing him take the accolade. Graeme McDowell also has strong credentials after all that he has achieved this year.

But if the voting public are looking for a true personality of sport to take this award then it should be Swann. By many accounts he is the spirit of the England dressing room at present and out on the field of play he certainly leads the way by example.

Andrew Flintoff has stated that if Swann were to win the award he would be unbearable to be around, yet that is part of his charm. He appreciates the fact that he is doing something that he loves for a living and he relishes every moment that he is out in the middle.

If horseracing fans can start a campaign for McCoy to get the award then I hereby start the campaign for Swann. The Nottinghamshire off-spinner has helped put English cricket back on the map in recent years and now it’s time we showed our appreciation.
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There is no doubt that the Adelaide Test showed a real gulf in class between the current England and Australia sides, perhaps the greatest mismatch in recent memory, but is that because England are so good or because Australia are so bad.

Should England retain the Ashes then Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss will, rightfully so, take all the plaudits. There is no doubting that the squad of players have prepared superbly well for this series and to a man they look in fine nick. But perhaps they have also hit it lucky and stumbled across one of the worst Australian teams in living memory.

Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin aside the batting line-up has crumbled under the slightest hint of pressure. The bowling attack has been so toothless that there are even calls for a 41-year-old Shane Warne to make a return to the side; even in his pomp it is difficult to say whether he could carry a team as poor as the current Australian one.

Marcus North and Xavier Doherty look certain to be replaced for the third Test and presuming the calls for Warne’s return are only press speculation that should mean Nathan Hauritz goes into the team.

Stuart Broad’s injury is a bitter blow to England but at the same time gives the selectors an opportunity to showcase the strength and depth of English cricket. I am sure that we won’t be hearing calls for Darren Gough or Dominic Cork to return to the side.

So, although England should be applauded for their long and meticulous preparations for this winter’s Ashes series, I think that it is more a case of Australia being so poor that sees the tourists set to win the Ashes down under for the first time since 1987.
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The whole idea of the review system was, I thought, to eliminate the element of human error in the decision making part of the game. Why then should each side only be allowed two incorrect reviews per game? It completely defeats the purpose of the review system.

I understand that the whole idea of limiting the number of reviews per team per innings is to help maintain a certain level of fluidity in the game. But surely, especially in Test match cricket, the emphasis should be on achieving the correct decision. In Twenty20 cricket or even 50-over cricket there is an argument to say that the pace at which the game is played should be of paramount importance but that argument cannot be applied to the five-day game.

On the third morning of the first Test Mike Hussey should have been given out for LBW. It looked plum to the naked eye and the review system quickly showed that it was. Except it wasn’t given by the umpire and England had used all two of their reviews for the innings, so Hussey was allowed to go on and make that brilliant 195.

My point is that just because England had previously made two incorrect reviews, why should they be punished for an incorrect umpire’s decision? It didn’t take long, less than a minute, for it to become clear to all those watching on TV that the incorrect decision had been made. Why then could the third umpire not signal to his on-field colleagues that Hussey should be sent back to the dressing room?

My suggestion is that we take the review system out of the hands of the players/captains. Allow the third umpire to overturn incorrect decisions when he sees fit and we can then get back to the whole point of the review system; eliminating the possibility of human error in the umpires decision making.
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Bell or Morgan?

23 Nov 10 16:03
Andy Flower looks to have just one selection dilemma ahead of the first Ashes Test match in Brisbane.

As Frank Gregan pointed out in his post on betting.betfair entitled ‘Ashes 2010/11 Betting: Getting selection right is crucial for England’ all but one of England’s starting XI for the first Test look to be nailed on. Bowlers Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann are near certainties to start, Matt Prior will keep wicket, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook will open and Paul Collingwood, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, for the first Test at least, are all highly likely to play.

So, the final place is a tossup between Eoin Morgan and Ian Bell. All logic suggests that it must be Bell. He has looked in fine nick in recent weeks, especially that 192 last time out against Australia A, and can call upon experience gained from previous, albeit unsuccessful, Ashes series in Australia.

However, Flower must be tempted to throw a curveball to the Australians. Get them thinking on their feet so to speak. If they are expecting and preparing to bowl to Bell then perhaps the selection of Morgan will knock them out of their stride a little. It should certainly be considered.

Whilst I respect that Bell is the form player my vote goes for Morgan for the above reason and also for the change in mentality that he can bring to the team, and more importantly the game. His ability to turn a negative situation into a positive one should not be underestimated. His innovation, although admittedly more effective and apparent on the limited overs stage, can turn a game completely on its head.

Too often England get stuck in a rut with the mentality in which they are approaching games. With Morgan in the side there is a readymade option to change all that and as we all know, momentum can be a huge factor in any sport.
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Chris Gayle’s magnificent triple-century in Galle put him up their as one of the greatest all-rounders of all time. Not an all-rounder in the traditional sense of the word you understand, but a modern-day all-rounder who transcends the three formats of the game.

Stripped of the captaincy earlier this year Gayle commented that it did not matter to him whether he was captain or not, he would still play the game in the same way. However, few, himself included, could argue that with the restraints of captaincy resting on his shoulders that he would have been able to play such a brilliant innings. The first hundred was typical Gayle and included six 6s, the second slightly more reserved and the third a combination of reserved and understandably fatigued cricket.

Few other players have been able to transcend Test cricket, 50-over cricket and Twenty20 cricket with the same success and consistency that Gayle has.

When talking about international batsmen Sachin Tendulkar is always a player that should be considered. Whilst ‘The Little Master’ has no equals in the Test and ODI arena his minimal experience on the international Twenty20 stage means that in this respect he cannot quite be considered equal to Gayle.

Ricky Ponting is another who cannot go unmentioned here, but again it is his sketchy Twenty20 record which trips him up.

Thus there are only a select two who can be considered in the same category as Gayle when it comes to all formats of the game. They are Jacques Kallis and Virender Sehwag. Kallis can be considered the ultimate all-rounder all-rounder, if you like, showing class with both the ball and bat in all formats of the game.

Sehwag, with 22 Test and 13 ODI centuries, then is the only other player who can be considered in the same category as Gayle in this respect.
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I think it would be fair to say that ever since Andrew Strauss hoisted the little urn above his head at The Oval he and Andy Flower have been preparing for this winter Ashes tour. Squad rotation and team bonding camps being the most obvious to us outsiders although you can also be sure that many more intricate details have been pored over behind the scenes.

From the notable physical enhancement of Steven Finn to the introduction of Eoin Morgan in an attempt to adjust the mindset of the team no stone has remained unturned. Is this the best prepared England side to ever travel to Australia for an Ashes tour? Or have Flower and Strauss become to anal in their preparation and are in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture?

Perhaps the most obvious hazard is that the players arrive at the first at The Gabba at their peak, and are unable to maintain that level over the course of the six weeks which the Ashes will be played.  On the contrary, should they win in Brisbane adrenaline and confidence should provide a suitable boost to maintain levels of performance.

The big tests will come when England are forced to spend inevitably long periods in the field. The sight of Steve Harmison sweating buckets is one we are not likely to see among this group of well conditioned players. However, hours spent out in the heat of an Australian summer will take their toll on any player and coping with that could prove crucial.

On a different but equally important note the mental freshness of the players could be a huge factor. The mental problems which Marcus Trescothick famously battled are clearly far too intricate to go into detail about in this blog, but it appears that England’s selectors are finally realising the seriousness of his condition and the causes.

Thankfully the likes of Beefy, Gower and Nasser, with their ‘get on with it’ attitudes, aren’t involved in making these types of assessments. But the decision to rest Strauss, James Anderson and others at various times throughout the last 18 months could prove to be a masterstroke come the end of this series.

Only time will tell whether Strauss and Flower have got things right in terms of preparation and results will have the final say on how they have gone about it. But, in my opinion, this is by far the best prepared England side to travel to Australia for an Ashes series, ever.
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Whilst Andrew Strauss has been keen to not get too deeply involved in a war of words with the Australians Kevin Pietersen has been more than happy to let them know his thoughts. And who can blame him?

After all, he is only sticking up for himself. If someone calls you “a major problem” then you have every right to retaliate and call that person “a nobody” if that is what you believe. But you better be ready to back that up when you get out onto the field of play.

It is quite ironic that despite the fact that Pietersen has now gone 27 Test innings without a century, despite the fact that he is being labelled a major problem to the England side and despite attempts to belittle the player’s form and even ability, he will still be the prized scalp for the Australians. At least in the first couple of Test matches.

Should he continue to fail with the bat Strauss and Andy Flower will be forced to consider dropping him. They’re certainly not scared to do so as was shown in the limited overs series against Pakistan earlier this year.

There are even those who believe that he shouldn’t be starting the first Test at The Gabba. I, however, am not one of those people. Great sportsmen often show their greatness in times of adversity, and I believe that over the years KP has earned the right to be given the chance to prove that he is a great sportsman.

However, he has to take that chance early on. Strauss has warned that England “can’t afford any passengers” and Pietersen would do well to note that. England won the Ashes on home soil without their supposed talisman, and if they manage to retain it down under again without him then it might just be time to leave Pietersen to his own devices.

At odds of 5.6 in the Top England Series Batsman market KP is one of those prices that could look either ridiculously short are absurdly large in a couple of months time. On talent you’d have to say it’s the former but on recent form it is certainly the latter.

I personally hope that he answers his critics with some big scores for both his and, more importantly, England’s sake. But if he doesn’t then I believe England could be ready to admit that his best is behind him and that they are ready to move on. It’s time to stand up and be counted Kevin, are you up to the challenge?


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