Tag Archives: Kagiso Rabada

England’s Root ahead starts here

Some people would say that the toughest job in sport is the captain of the England cricket team. And they are probably right. Since Mike Brearley retired in 1981 fourteen men have been appointed England captain* and on Thursday Joe Root will become number fifteen. In 36 years! For comparison there have been fourteen different UK Prime Ministers since the war! The nadir was reached in 1988 when England had four captains in six Tests that summer. No doubt about it this job does not have long term security. Even in recent years the captain tends to have a shelf life of four or five years before the pressure of the job gets to them and they end up as broken men as anyone that saw former captain Alistair Cook on last year’s tour of India will testify.

So how will Joe Root fare? The fixture list has not helped him. In a normal summer the weakest of the two touring teams (this year West Indies) would have toured first in May/June and the stronger team (this year South Africa) would have toured in July/August. But because England hosted the Champions Trophy in June this year the fixture list has been reversed with South Africa touring first – still in July/August – while West Indies have been moved to August/September. So instead of the luxury of a debut against a poor West Indies team he has been plunged into a tough debut series against South Africa. 

South Africa are so tough that the last three times they have been here the England captaincy has either changed hands mid series (2003 and 2008) or immediately after the series (2012). At least we know this won’t happen this time – Root has only just been appointed so he won’t be removed after four Tests regardless of what happens – but only an Ashes series or a tour of India could have offered a tougher debut. 

The remarkable thing about South Africa is they will be without argubaly their best batsman – AB de Villiers – and their best fast bowler – Dale Steyn. Had one been told a year ago that South Africa would be without these players one would have anticipated an easy win for England. But it won’t be. This past winter South Africa won 2-1 in Australia, 1-0 in New Zealand and whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 at home to climb to number 2 in the World Test rankings. De Villiers did not play in one of those nine Tests and Steyn only one – and he broke down after two days in that match. The fact is South Africa have moved on from the Steyn/de Villiers era. 

Their strength is still the pace bowling. Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were key parts of the team who won in 2012 to which can be added the best young fast bowler in the world today Kagiso Rabada and another youngster in Duanne Olivier. They also have the best counter attacking wicket keeper batsman in the world in Quinton de Kock – who is as dangerous coming in at 80 for 5 as 300 for 5 –  a promising spinner in Keshav Maharaj who was their leading wicket taker in the New Zealand series and who could make England pay if they fall into the trap of underestimating him – easy to do as he will seem like light relief after the fast bowlers. And another strength is Faf du Plessis’ captaincy which is so impressive that South African fans wanted him to stay captain even if previous captain de Villiers was fit and available. 

But there are weaknesses too and I think South Africa’s batting could be vulnerable. Only Hashim Amla of South Africa’s top seven batsmen has played Test cricket in England before – even captain du Plessis hasn’t. Plus they have never really replaced former captain Graeme Smith in the opening position. Dean Elgar is a solid opener but they have struggled to find a partner for him. Stephen Cook has been dropped and Elgar’s new partner will either be a debutant (Heino Kuhn or Andre Markham) or a player with only one unsuccessful Test (Theunis De Bruyn). Add to that Duminy and Temba Bavuma could be vulnerable at no 4 and 5 respectively and there is plenty of hope for the England bowlers. 

But England have their problems too. One good thing to come out of a dreadful tour of India was that England had appeared to solve their opening batting problems with the emergence of Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings. Unfortunately Haseeb has had such a nightmare season so far that he has not scored a first class fifty for Lancashire never mind a hundred. Unsurprisingly he has not been picked but I’m surprised that the selectors have recalled Gary Ballance who has been picked and dropped twice in three years and is in danger of being this era’s answer to Grahame Hick or Mark Ramprakash. Yes he is averaging 100 for Yorkshire but has he sorted out his technical flaws? We’ll only find out when he steps back into the Test arena…

But the main worry for England is their pace bowlers – or rather their fitness (or lack thereof). James Anderson and Stuart Broad have missed parts of the season, Chris Woakes and Jake Ball are out, Mark Wood is fit at the moment but cannot be relied upon to last a full series and all rounder Ben Stokes is struggling with a knee injury which only affects him when he is bowling apparently.  Because of these injuries England are likely to go in with four pace bowlers plus Stokes which is really too many but the selectors are probably thinking that if we play five pace bowlers at least three of them should last the game! As for spin Liam Dawson is a depressing safety first selection when they should have kept faith with Adil Rashid or more bravely picked Hampshire youngster Mason Crane who got AB de Villiers out in the recent T20 series between the countries. 

Both teams are not going into this match in great form. England had a nightmare tour of India and have only won three of their last twelve Tests while South Africa might be undercooked having had only one (rain affected) first class warn up match plus captain du Plessis might not make it back to the UK on time to play in the first Test because of the difficult birth of his first child back in South Africa. 

This series could go either way. But in English conditions I would say England’s batting line up might be marginally less incompetent than South Africa’s. England have already beaten South Africa 2-1 in both 50 over and 20 over series this summer. It would not surprise me if England completed a hat trick of 2-1 wins in a hard fought series that would mean England’s new “Root” in Test cricket gets off to a good start…

*I have not counted Allan Lamb or Andrew Flintoff in the number of England captains as although both did the job they were never officially appointed as England captain. Both only captained when the appointed captain (Graham Gooch for Lamb, Michael Vaughan for Flintoff) were injured. 

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Australia are now like 1990s EnglandĀ 

On July 26th the Australian cricket team started a Test series in Sri Lanka as the number one Test team in the world – at least according to the ICC rankings. Since then they have been whitewashed 3-0 in Sri Lanka, whitewashed 5-0 in an ODI series in South Africa and have lost the first two Tests at home to a South Africa team whose best batsman AB de Villiers is out injured and whose best bowler Dale Steyn disappeared from the series on its second day. The defeat in Hobart was pathetic – Australia were bowled out for 85 and 161 and they lost in two and a bit days playing time. Only David Warner, captain Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood looked Test quality. 

Watching this current Australian team reminded me of the dumpster fire that was England in the 1990s when failure was expected by England cricket fans and the team supplied it. Here are the ways in my opinion that the Australian cricket team resembles England in the 1990s.

Batting collapses. England in the 1990s were notorious for batting collapses. The nadir was probably 1994 when they were bowled out for less than 100 three times – for 46 by West Indies in Port-of-Spain, 99 by South Africa at Lords, and 92 by Australia at Melbourne. The current Australia team have been bowled out for 88 against Pakistan at Headingley in 2010, 98 by England in Melbourne also in 2010, 47 (after being 21 for nine) by South Africa at Cape Town in 2011, 60 by England at Trent Bridge in last year’s Ashes, and 85 by South Africa in their most recent Test. In fact in their last three Tests they have lost all ten wickets for less than 100 runs in an innings. 

Injured bowlers. England in the 1990s had good fast bowlers – Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser, Darren Gough, Dominic Cork and Andrew Caddick for instance – but they were never all fit at the same time. The current Australia team has Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood. Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle but again they are never all fit – in fact Cummins has only played one Test five years ago because he is always injured. 

Picking all rounders who are not good enough. Between the Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff eras England kept picking players who both batted and bowled but we’re not Test class in either discipline – Mark Ealham, Ronnie Irani and Adam Hollioake being the best examples. Today’s Australia team has picked players like Mitchell Marsh, Moises Henriques and Glenn Maxwell who can bat and bowl but can do neither to Test standard. If Australia recall Maxwell for the next Test they are making a dreadful mistake. If you don’t have an all rounder of Test class don’t pick one. South Africa have learnt this in the post Jacques Kallis era so should Australia. 

Not making their minds up about players. England in the 1990s kept dropping and recalling the same players the two best examples being Mark Ramprakash and current Australia batting coach Graeme Hick. Again Australia keep dropping and recalling players like Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja. They should make up their minds. If they are good enough persevere with them. If not drop them for good. 

An over reliance on old players. England in the 1990s kept recalling veteran players even when they were past their best – Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and John Emburey being the best examples. One amazing statistic will show how much Australia has relied on old players. Of the Australian XI who whitewashed England in the 2013-14 Ashes only four have played a part in the current South Africa series. Six of that XI have retired from Test cricket and that is a series that finished less than three years ago! In contrast of the England XI that played in the fifth Test of that series six are on the current tour of India yet England were the team that lost that series 5-0. You would think more Australians than Englishmen would be still playing but its the other way around. Australia have kept going for short term options like Adam Voges -who averages 162.28 against West Indies and New Zealand and only 20.52 against good teams like England, Sri Lanka and South Africa. 

It’s as if the countries have swapped roles. In the 1990s Australia picked young players like Ricky Ponting, Michael Slater and Damian Martyn while England picked veterans. Former Australia captain Ian Chappell was able to reply to an MCC member who asked him “How come you Australians always produce good young batsmen?” by saying “We play them.” But now it is England who pick their young batting talent as the participation of Hassem Hameed and Ben Duckett on the current India tour shows while it is Australia who pick old players like Voges and 31 year old debutant Callum Ferguson. 

I think it is clear that Australia are now England in the 1990s. For that to change Australia need to go back to basics. Australia historically have always given youth a chance. They need to go back to that. There is hope for Australia. Cricket can change suddenly. They need only look at their current opponents for an example of this. As recently as January this year South Africa were bowled out for 83 by England in Johannesburg lost the series and were totally humiliated. South African cricket was in crisis. Now they have won a series in Australia with a Test to spare. And two of the main contributors to this success have been Quinton de Kock (age 23) and Kagiso Rabada (age 21). Both proving that good things can happen if you give youth its head. And this is something Australia have to do. The “make do and mend” policy of picking old players has failed and must go. It cannot get any worse than Hobart. And take it from me you do NOT want to be like England in the 1990s….