Sunday, August 03, 2008

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No, it's the Betfair Blimp hovering over the skies of Calthorpe Park thanks to the Third Test between England and South Africa at the bullring of English cricket in Birmingham. Despite the fact that Edgbaston has the best win rate for England out of all six traditional Test grounds, England succumbed to a five wicket defeat as the Proteas did what the Aussies failed to do three years ago and chased down a record total for a fourth innings at Edgbaston of 281. As a result Michael Vaughan, one of the most successful England captains of all time, retired from the position today with Strauss, Pietersen and Flintoff being named as favourites to replace him and Paul Collingwood as One-Day Captain.

Where did it all go wrong for England? After winning the Ashes in 2005 and going unbeaten in Test Cricket the year before it all seems to have gone pear-shaped, with a 5-0 drubbing in the Aussie Ashes and series defeats to India and South Africa on home soil. The biggest problem for me has been the bowling, with the successful five-pronged attack of the 2005 Ashes being abandoned to accommodate a sixth batsman. The fact that England's two best bowlers, Jones and Flintoff have spent much of the time injured has not helped. Harmison was right to be dropped as in my opinion he has done very little apart from the tour of the West Indies where he made his name. Hoggard is brilliant on English soil, but is weak abroad and appears to be unlikely to take his place back from Sidebottom. Panesar has been an improvement on Giles in the bowling stakes, but not in the areas of fielding and batting. Anderson is finally beginning to show his potential and Broad is great with the bat as well as the ball. Perhaps the future will see Broad taking Colly's place but at the moment I suspect the selectors think Broad is too young to be given responsibility with the bat despite the fact he has excelled with it so far.

The captaincy is an interesting one. Freddie flopped in the role in the latest Ashes series and needs to concentrate on his batting and bowling so for me is a non-starter. Strauss is the natural replacement but I guess there is a question over whether he can inspire the team when things are going wrong. Pietersen would be a real gamble, but would the responsibility of captain help or hinder his batting? Ironically, after giving his wicket away for 94 and arguably costing England this Test, the result may mean he gets the captaincy so that he starts to exhibit the traits normally seen in fellow South African Graeme Smith. Alistair Cook deserves a mention as he has been tipped as a future England captain already, but it may be too early for him at this stage of his career.

Whoever gets the captains job, with the Ashes only nine Tests and less than a year away, including a tricky tour to India, England's hope of winning back the Ashes looks slim at this point. As a captain, Vaughan was a tactical genius and will be very difficult to replace. As a batsman on recent form, less so, but perhaps his departure will signal the return to a five-man bowling attack; after all, even poor old Pattinson got a higher average than Vaughan in this series and two wickets to boot.

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