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Skipper Strauss seeks smoother blend

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Tom Fordyce | 13:14 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

"Dear Santa," you can imagine Andrew Strauss writing, "please bring me one Test opener, a number six, one all-rounder and - since I've been a very good skipper this year - a rapid pace bowler too."

England may have escaped from the first Test at Centurion with the series still level, but it is flaws more than draws which will occupy their captain's thoughts over the Christmas period.

While South Africa have been the best Test side in the world for the last two years, England remain a work in progress - capable of matching the best in some sessions and plumbing the dreadful depths in others. And the troubles begin at the very top of the order.

After a wonderful start to his international career - a hundred in his first match, the youngest Englishman to 2,000 Test runs - Alastair Cook is mired in the middle of a horrible slump.

Six centuries in his first 16 months with England have been followed by just two in the last two years; while his average over the past 12 months is a respectable 42, that figure is inflated by his runs against a weak West Indies side.

In the past two Test series, against Australia and South Africa, that average is down to 20.75. In his last eight innings, he has scored just 138 runs at an average of 17.

At Centurion Cook had the unfortunate look of a walking wicket. He has been tweaking his technique with his Essex mentor Graham Gooch, trying to stand taller at the crease and get his feet moving earlier, but the vulnerability to a right-arm bowler's delivery angled across him, first exposed by Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee during the 2006-07 Ashes, still remains after a half-century of Test caps.

It's a similar story for Ian Bell at six - 50 Tests, the same problems as evident last week as they were 40 Tests ago. While his overall average is ok - 3151 runs at 39 - in his last five matches he has scored just 179 at an average of just under 20.

Bell's record against South Africa is better than that of some of his more celebrated team-mates: an average of 38, including that 199 at Lord's last year. At the same time, wherever there is an England collapse, Bell is an inevitable part of it, from Sabina Park to Centurion.

With recent records like that, both men would ordinarily expect to be under severe pressure for their slots. In this England set-up, they're not.

Andrew Strauss

There are no more specialist batsmen in the touring party. If Strauss and coach Andy Flower want to go into the next Test in Durban with six batsmen again, Cook and Bell will keep their places.

It's not entirely the fault of the selectors. There simply aren't that many young batsmen knocking on the door. The two specialists in England's performance squad in South Africa are both 29 years old - Stephen Moore, and Michael Carberry. Both average less than Bell and Cook in county cricket. The other man mentioned in dispatches, Kent's Joe Denly, averages only 36 for his county. They are not the most convincing of cases.

In English conditions, Strauss has a bowling attack that can take 20 wickets. Overseas, when the ball isn't swinging, it's a different story. It doesn't help that the Kookaburra ball used everywhere except England and India loses all shape and shine after 25 overs, but there is a lack of variety in the attack which is exposed when conditions are placid.

In South Africa's first innings at Centurion, with bowling conditions at their best, England struggled to capitalise.

James Anderson was accurate without threatening, Stuart Broad too short too often. Graham Onions bowled an excellent wicket-to-wicket line and Graeme Swann continued his wonderful year, but in comparison to the bowling options Graeme Smith will have at his disposal on Boxing Day (Dale Steyn for Makhaya Ntini if fit, impressive debutant Friedel de Wet, fit-again Jacques Kallis plus the bounce of Morne Morkel and strange hold of Paul Harris) Strauss looks relatively impoverished.

What of the option of switching to a five-man attack and dropping a batsman - probably Bell?

Under this scenario, Matt Prior would move up six; although his performance with the bat last week might suggest that's a place too high, his Test average there is more than 10 runs higher than his average lower down the order. Broad might seem exposed at seven but has the same Test batting average as Mark Boucher does in the same slot for the opposition, while Swann's average of 36 is more than adequate for a Test number eight.

The issue is whether any of the bowlers available to Strauss and Flower will make a significant difference.

If they think the ball will swing at Kingsmead like it did four years ago (exemplified by the in-dipper from Matthew Hoggard that left Smith sprawling and plumb lbw) then Ryan Sidebottom would be the man to come in, but recent Tests in Durban, have been notable for the absence of those conditions. And if Sidebottom isn't swinging it, his lack of pace can leave him horribly exposed.

Of the others, Liam Plunkett has barely played on tour. His Durham team-mate Mark Davies has been called up from the performance squad, but his 19 championship wickets last season were taken in seam-friendly conditions. James Tredwell is only in the Test squad as back-up for Swann.

All of which means that, in the absence of The Fred Who Must Not Be Named, Luke Wright - first-class batting average of 35, first-class bowling average of 42 - is suddenly being touted as the solution to England's woes. Stick him in at seven, goes the thinking, and utilise his busy bowling to fill the gaps left elsewhere.

At best, Wright's selection would represent a gamble. At worst, it would leave England neither strengthened in the batting department nor richer in bowling resources.

The result? Strauss and Flower, despite the clear problems with the current line-up, are likely to stick with it, for the next Test at least.

In their brief time working together, their partnership has been marked by consistency in selection and a refusal to make dramatic changes. On Wednesday, Flower made a show of giving his public backing to the under-fire Bell. "He's a high-quality player," he said. "I think he'll be fine."

It's worked before, most noticeably after the debacles last summer in Cardiff and Leeds. On both occasions England were thrashed, kept their faith in virtually the same line-up and were rewarded with wins in the next two Tests.

When a change was made, it was the logical, next-man-in-line decision to bring in Jonathan Trott, rather than the romantic and deluded options of Ramprakash and Trescothick - and look how well that worked out.

To emerge from the carnage of that last session at Centurion still level with South Africa will give England significant confidence, just as the last-gasp heroics in south Wales did at the start of the Ashes.

The difference this time is that they are away from home, far from the familiar surroundings that suit their style. More importantly still, the opposition are the finest in the world, a side mixing grizzled veterans with young dashers rather than a workmanlike collection of honest pros.

Expect frowns and furrowed brows to exceed fun and festivities in Camp England this Christmas.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry Tom... I think you're being a tad lazy in this article. Despite his poor form leading into the series I don't think Alistair Cook looked anything like a walking wicket in either innings up until the point where he was dismissed. Still, I guess its the English way... to hope for the worst and then revel in being correct.

    (Oh.. and I doubt Strauss urgently needs a number 6 AND an all-rounder unless they are the same man)

  • Comment number 2.

    I was waiting for something from a player/ former pro/ expert to inform this piece... but they never arrived

    Where's Aggers?

  • Comment number 3.

    Reasonable article Tom :)

    Pretty much says why England were wrong not to bring Key and Harmy.
    One can play and brings experience, the other a bit of pace if nothing else! Without him the attack has very little variety and as a 4 man attack will never take 20 wickets. And if the selectors can't see it, then we'll get what we deserve.

    Cook- has technical flaws, but lets hope he works his way through them like Strauss has.
    Bell- only performs when others have done so in the same innings.....and for those who keep mentioning the oval did you really see how edgy he was?? He has the talent but not the temperament.

  • Comment number 4.

    I really haven't ever been convinced by Bell. He can play well when not under pressure, but I don't think he's ever scored a test century in an innings when an another batsman hasn't already done so.

    I'm always inclined to stick with the younger players a bit longer, and think that we shouldn't yet be calling for the heads of Cook and Broad.

    I think that if we stick with Broad and he, as I think he will, continues to improve with both bat and ball, we could have a very good number 6 in the making.

  • Comment number 5.

    England need another bowler if they want to win tests, not just draw them. I'm surprised how many chances Bell has been given. What about at least given Rashid a chance? He can bat as well!

  • Comment number 6.

    I've thought Cook has looked like a walking wicket for maybe a year now. Maybe "walking wicket" is a tad harsh, but he has not looked good for a long time.

    As for Bell, he just keeps getting chances doesn't he? I don't think that anyone here would argue that he doesn't have the talent, but ever since the 2005 ashes (he looked like a rabbit in the headlights) he has not looked mentally fit for international cricket.

    I would say that Cook is the exact opposite of Bell - he appears to have the mentality but has technical problems. Perhaps this is the better way around, and he can improve given time?

    It's true that there isn't a great depth of alternatives out there. I'm in the Shah camp - basically because he has been given a tiny number of chances to impress in the test team compared to some others. But he's not in South Africa...

    I would like to see Luke Wright in the team, the balance would then look about right to me - i'm just not sure if they can get away with it with Prior batting so badly at the moment. In fact, Prior has been out of form for a while, hasn't he? It seems that around the time his wicket keeping started to convince, his batting went down the toilet!! He seems utterly unable to play any sort of innings than an attacking one, also - he was totally alien to the situation on Sunday where we just had to survive, and was pushing and prodding outside off stump when he had no right to!

    So... solution?

    I would say bring in Wright for Bell (and bat him number 6, with Prior at 7), unless it really looks like it's going to swing a lot in which case go for Sidebottom.

    I reckon we will really need 5 bowlers in the next match - we got away with it to a certain extent in the 1st test because Swann bowled so many overs in the 1st innings, but surely that's unlikely to be the case again? We bat fairly deep with Broad/Swann and Anderson is no mug these days, so they should be able to get runs on the board.

  • Comment number 7.

    And, I'd take a great deal of positives from the having shown we can easily match SA, we just need to work on consistency. It's not like we were slightly outperformed the whole time, which would be a great deal more worrying.

  • Comment number 8.

    Tom,

    The immediate depth of squad for touring conditions is a worry (not only for SA but even Bangladesh) England may become draw specialists without some penetrating bowlers.

    And why does the ECB 'Performance Squad' provide such limited support and in the case of Carberry & Moores include two untried 29 year olds?

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting article Tom, with good use of statistics to back up your thoughts. There is one key thing however, and that is the fact that international cricket is played on a different level to the domestic game, so you never know how someone is going to step up. First class averages are a guide but selectors look for potential as well. Look how India pick unproven teenagers from time to time.
    England need to look beyond the obvious candidates to find some inspiration. Cook needs time to go away and work on his game... he'll be back. Bell just doesn't have the temperament to play at the highest level.

  • Comment number 10.

    Eoin Morgan should be next in line. He's done more than enough in limited over matches to suggest he has the skill, decision making ability and temperament to deal with big occasion. I just hope he won't be typecast as a one day specialist. Paul Collingwood nearly fell in to that category, and England lost out on the considerable talents of Neil Fairbrother for the same reason. Being able to pinch hit, run quick, manipulate fields and hit the boundary regularly should not been seen as negatives when identifying successful test batsmen. Bell has to go.

  • Comment number 11.

    There is nothing wrong with 'untried 29 year olds'. Trott was an untried 28 year old and is doing fine so far. Either Carberry or Moores could have a long (6-10 year) and successful Test career ahead of him. In the future, Taylor may not be far from making a case. However, the selectors have backed the six players they have and I am happy with that. It is a pity we don't have more promising looking bowling options, but Harmison hasn't been what we want him to be overseas for a few years now. Sidebottom may yet offer something if he is fully fit. He isn't that slow. Otherwise, Rashid would seem to be a more attacking option than Wright, but perhaps I am underestimating Wright's bowling.

  • Comment number 12.

    What's wrong with Morgan?

    Surely a more than adequate replacement for Bell, and much more talented in my opinion.

  • Comment number 13.

    A lot of what you say is true Mr Fordyce but you have painted an unnecessarily gloomy picture. This team is coming off an Ashes win, and they've done well in all forms of the game in SA - as ridiculous as that final session in the first test was, England were cruising towards the draw and at other points (before Amla's century, or when Pietersen & Trott were in) the win looked possible. It is not like they were outclassed, and this on a ground where South Africa's record is formidable.

    England shouldn't need to field an unbalanced side and scratch around with defensive team selections because they have two all-rounders (Broad and Swann) and a wicket-keeper who is competent with the bat which naturally provides the team with balance. I'm not saying those 3 are Kallis, Gilchrist and Sobers but they are useful (as proven by Swann's 85).

    Add this long tail to the fact that Strauss has been one of, if not the best opener in world cricket this year, Pietersen is always capable of great things, Trott has began his test career very impressively and Collingwood has been excellent in all forms of the game on this tour and you have to conclude that England have reason to have faith in their batting line-up at the moment, so they should field an attacking bowling line-up to back that up.

    If it looks like the conditions will assist him, pick Sidebottom, if the conditions do not look suitable then England may have a problem, which you have correctly pointed out.

    The bottom line is that five-man attacks tend to win matches (4-man attacks only flourish when the bowlers are exceptional - Eg, McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, Lee) with greater regularity, and when the extra batsman being considered is Bell a fifth bowler is preferable every time.

    To sacrifice a bowler for the entire match for a batsman who scored 7 in two innings, the first of which featured an embarrassingly bad dismissal is nonsensical.

  • Comment number 14.

    Unfortunately for Bell, because he never fully established himself in the side when he arrived on the scene, you feel that in every game he has played since he has been playing for his place. If the side plays badly you know he will be the one to be dropped because of people's overwhelmingly unfavourable attitude towards him and to be fair to the lad that is pressure that no one else seems to be under.

    Take Cook. His recent record has been no better than Bell's. People repeatedly talk about his unflapable temperament and ability to play each ball on merit but from where i'm standing he looks a man very much consumed with doubt over his technical skills. For a supposed vice-captain, he doesn't appear to get involved in any of the decision making on the field which probably speaks volumes about Strauss' opinion of him also.

    I know i'm very likely to be shot down here given people's aforementioned dislike of Bell, but i feel if he was properly backed he would come up with the goods. It wasn't so long ago that South Africa toured England and openly stated that they rated him, with Bell subsequently scoring 199. Of course, we won't ever discover if this is the case as he is the Shermanator.

  • Comment number 15.

    Interesting article and certainly well put on many fronts as a duel national of both countries in this series I am loving the duels. I totally agree with you on Cook in that he has the same problem that Smith has had, play it across him and he doesn't have a clue where his off-stump is so will waft at it, easy wicket. The saying down here is similar to the old adage of the Proteas "you haven't got them until Bouchers back in the Pavilion" for England insert Collingwood as he has that steely determination to stay in.
    My big concern with England is Swans ego, he obviously has one, apart from the first innings batting and bowling where he was excellent I think that SA are finding the way to play him, and will focus this week on this, once they do and he starts being smacked around then how will the ego cope, if it doesn't he could become a weak link.
    Matthew Hoggard is commentating here in SA and was brilliant at it, he summed the match up as "England know that this is as good as they get with regards to team selection, SA know that they can only get better with Steyn coming in, Kallis bowling, and the fact that this is their first test in 9 months so are rusty and can only improve as a team, so its moral victory No1 to SA" I think he's right!

  • Comment number 16.

    The most obvious and needed change if for Bell to be replaced, he has proved time and again he doesnt have the mental toughness or consistency to be a test class batsman, and unfortunately will likely have the ignominious honour of joining others on the list of test failures along with Ramprakash and Hick.

  • Comment number 17.

    SportsSportsSportsBS

    Good points well made, but surely Strauss cannot be the best opener in the world at present. Are not Sehwag, Smith and Gambir comfortably ahead of him?

  • Comment number 18.

    Bell has to go. Fact. Morgan and Denly are probably next in line but both need to assert themselves in the longer format of the game before Test selection. Same could be said of Wright but he's a rapidly improving player who should be given his chance now. He offers more than Bell with the bat at the mo and his bowling can take the strain off the seamers and allow them more meaningful spells.

    Cook's going to be ok, he's a good player. He just needs one big innings and he'll be away.

    Anyone clamouring for Rashid should reconsider. From what I've seen he's currently a long, long way short of international standard and needs a lot of work. His batting isn't strong enough to make him an all rounder either.

  • Comment number 19.

    "bell gets too many chances" - his last chance is off the back of embarrassing everyone else in county cricket. He was asked to go get runs, he got them.

    Sadly, he can't handle the pressure

  • Comment number 20.

    No one denies that Bell has the ability to play test match cricket, but his temperament is severly lacking, Moggy (Eoin Morgan) has been a bit of a find in the ODI scene, and deserves a chance at #6 in place of bell, at best england find a new #6, at worse we have another bell on our hands. He is worth a try and i hope against Bangladesh he gets it.

  • Comment number 21.

    Someone said earlier Morgan need to assert himself in the longer format of the game.

    I'm not sure he's had the chance to, and I'm not sure he can do anymore than he's done in the ODI format. FGive the bloke the chance.

  • Comment number 22.

    Agree with the people saying Morgan should be given a go. I know that he's in the selectors thoughts. Its only because he didn't have a stunner of a county championship this year that he's not in there already. As a lower order batsman, he's got to be the next option.

  • Comment number 23.

    Bored3death,

    All great openers - Sehwag and Gambhir would frighten the life out of me if I was taking the new ball! Watch Dilshan next year as well, Sri Lanka are starting to use him as an opener in tests as well as ODI & T20, with devastating effects.

    But come on, after the year he's had Strauss is up there with these guys - he's been phenomenal! Perhaps not the very best (Gambhir shades it I'd say) but the point is that he is very dependable and one of the reasons England should have confidence in their batting line-up at the moment.

  • Comment number 24.

    You Poms are funny. How you manage to find the negative in just about every situation never ceases to amaze me.

    This game was pretty even bar one partnership and an inspired spell on a wearing pitch. If England had batted first then the match would most likely have been played out much the same but in reverse.

    Despite his patchy record two facts remain about Ian Bell... he played a crucial innings in his PRIOR test match, and he has been selected. I think Andy Flower's comments are the most sensible I've heard since the match ended.. but then he's not a Pom.

  • Comment number 25.

    I honestly cannot understand why Ian Bell is in the England team. Do you guys have no one with a better temperament? From the limited viewing I have of Morgan, he looks like a much better batsman under pressure. I have not seen him bat in the longer form of the game but surely he is worth a try?

  • Comment number 26.

    Good chat for a cold December day.

    Ozzie Stan - I based the Cook comment on how vulnerable he looked to all bowlers he faced. De Villiers should have bagged him off Ntini without scoring in the first innings, and he never looked settled in the second.

    akaTommySmith - he's on Twitter - http://twitter.com/Aggerscricket

    sirivanhoe2 - guessing you're bringing Key in for Bell, and then Harmie for who?

    George_The-Second - think Strauss and Flower agree with you

    Aneesh - a fair shout, but I can't see England playing two spinners at the mo. Can you?

    lightsjp4 - nice analysis. As Prior's 'keeping has improved - and blimey, it really has - his contribution with the bat seems to have dropped away.

    raycastleunited - agreed. Cook has the ideal example to follow in Strauss - struggled badly with technical problems, went away and found a solution that worked and then built on it.

    Matt, Graham Murray - decent shouts on Morgan. Banger made the transition from big-hitting one-day man to Test arena - could Eoin do the same?

    Bored3death - good point about the 28-year-old Trott. Coming into Test cricket in your late 20s seems to work for Aussies too.

    SportsSportsSportsBS - other bright points have to be the return to form of KP, Trott's solidity, Prior's 'keeping, Onions' accuracy and Swanny's all-round Swannyness. England are a work in progress, meaning progress is being made...

    gustav1 - how long would you give Bell? Tell him he's in for this series and the one to follow in Bangladesh?

    Stev666 - who would you bring in instead of Bell?





  • Comment number 27.

    It wasn't sooo bad was it..? The main goof was not batting first.

  • Comment number 28.

    What ever happened to Simon Jones?

    As I recall, he was rather effective in the pace department.

  • Comment number 29.

    Fair point Tom, although I thought he was looking quite solid in the second innings. My main issue is that's its subjective, and the that the general theme for England fans is to come down on the negative side of that subjectivity about just about everything. Its all 'how can we contrive to lose it from here' rather than 'how can we win it'. Having said that, I think the irony is that the England team itself very rarely seems to demonstrate that thinking... I would expect them to compete strongly again at Durban the seem to have that bouncebackability.

  • Comment number 30.

    Bell has to go!

    We have persisted with him for far too long and it's now time for someone else to have a go.
    I'm not entirely sure who that should be but i'm in favour of giving Luke Wright a try at seven. Until we do try him there will always be a call for him to play so why not now. We can see what he is made of???

  • Comment number 31.

    Good article and sums up Englands predicament pretty well.

    For me, I would keep Cook. As others have said he seems to have the temperment and the attitude to come good. Unlike Bell, he has got a bit of bottle.

    Bell is a complete waste of time for England. He has skill, there is no doubt about it, but he cannot do it for England when they really need him too.

    So as a number 6 he is a waste of time. If England are in a hole, he wont get them out of it. If they are in a great position, there is little need for him to play as an additional batsman anyway.

    Personally i think the only change should be to swap Bell for either Luke Wright or Liam Plunket.

    Wright is as close to an allrounder as we have now that Fred has gone. I am not convinced he will take wickets or score enough runs in test cricket but I am prpeared to give him a chance.

    Plunket is a decent bowler who offers pace and variety and above all is a wicket taker when on form. He is also no mug with the bat so whilst he would extend the tail, the tail would be a pretty good one and he would likely score more runs than Bell anyway!

    If England are to do well in SA they need to be a bit more aggresive and expansive and not so typically conservative by picking an extra batsman. But I wont be holding my breath that they will make any changes!

  • Comment number 32.

    Decent article, but I dont think the use of first class avereges is sufficicent to discard a player from the internation scene, after all, Vaughan and Trescothick were hardly setting the world on fire in the county averages when they got picked. I would like to see Carberry given a chance to open while Cook sorts his technique out.

  • Comment number 33.

    The selectors, once again, have exposed themselves. How did Geoff Miller, a very ordinary spin bowler, get elevated to the position of national team selector. these guys could not "select" their way out of a paper bag.
    Where are Robert Key and Steve Harmison?
    An empty taxi drew up and out stepped Ian Bell. Would someone send this boy-man back to county cricket and tell him to grow up and develop a backbone.

  • Comment number 34.

    There is one number to come out of the Centurion Test that, strangely, no one has mentioned. If I am not mistaken, this is England's 4th match there, with a record of W1 D3. Doesn't sound so hot, especially given that the "W1" was in Hanse Cronje's match, until you realise that against all other sides, South Africa's record at the ground is "P10, W10". This ground was South Africa's banker. England are the only side to go to Centurion and come away unbeaten and that includes an Australian side who had beaten South Africa in their 3 previous Tests.

    One of the risks taken when selecting this squad was the lack of cover and the sameness in the atack. With Adil Rashid taken, again, for experience and the selectors evidently reluctant to play Ryan Sidebottom (however, one is tempted to ask why exactly he is there because he hasn't set the scene alight for England in the last 18 months and his county form was all over the last two months of the season only), there are not too many options. Not having Steve Harmison or Sajid Mahmood means that there is no one to act as enforcer. In the absence of someone of high pace, Stuart Broad has taken on the role and forgotten that he takes wickets when he pitches it up and uses the short ball only very sparingly.

    The Two Andies (Strauss and Flower) are not known for their panic, or revolving doors policy, but they have shown that they can be ruthless, if required when making small changes. At Centurion they expected four bowlers to be enough and so, Luke Wright, who had been pencilled-in at 7 sat out the game in the expectation that extra runs were required more than a fifth bowler. For the 2nd Test this may not be the case (incidentally, can anyone say that Luke Wright definitely would havbe scored fewer runs and been a less effective bowler than Ian Bell at Centurion????) That will undoubtedly be the only change considered in the XI.

  • Comment number 35.

    A good read, but far too much focus on averages.

    What did Vaughan and Trescothick average before being called up? It was only during the last county season that Tresco's overall first class average finally reached the 40 mark.

    England should have taken another batter. I said it when the squad was announced and I say it now. I would have taken Denly personally - pre-tour I was hoping for him to open with Cook at 3, with Trott further down the order.

    Luke Wright scored a few centuries last season, which was his best yet in county cricket. He's better than the averages you gave suggest, but he's probably not good enough.

    As for the calls for Key and Harmison, both are tried and tested. Key's record against Australia, for example, is worse than Bell's and Cook's and equal to Bopara's. Harmison is an erratic 85mph bowler, not the hostile 90mph bowler that people hope he still is.

  • Comment number 36.

    You make it sound like the South Africa bowling attack is some kind of formidable force. Harris benefited from some arrogant shot play and the second innings collapse was down to a few players getting nervous/bored. Our best batters still held their own in the second innings.

    I still believe Cook can find his feet again but Bell shouldn't even be considered in the England team. I hate it when people criticize Trott for not having many shots but praise Bell for being an elegant player. At the end of the day it comes down to runs scored and Trott has the mental strength needed at international level.

  • Comment number 37.

    As has been mentioned above, Bell will always be fighting for his place now and it only takes one back knock for him to be right back in the firing line. I hope he either gets the whole series to work himself into a bit of form or is dropped and never returned to. This in for a couple out for a few nonsense is helping no one.

    If he does go Morgan surely must be next in line. His one day form has been fantastic and surely could translate into lower order test play be it scoring quickly/rotating the strike to support a higher order player or... well, we won't see him defend out a draw until he's put into that situation but only tests will show that.

    An all rounder is a great luxury but you can't force it. Wright might be worth a bash but is he that much more of a dangerous option than Collingwood? I'd go with another striker bowler as Broad and Swann make our tail long enough to go with five.

    Who though, I don't know.

  • Comment number 38.

    welshbluenose, matt-h88 - yup, averages don't tell you everything, but they're the best way of comparing batsmen over time. The more Test cricket you play, the less county cricket you're playing - hence why Banger and Vaughan don't have great county numbers. Their best years, and runs, came on the international scene.

    Lee - thing about Harris is that he keeps doing it. He might look limited - hell, he is limited - but he gets a lot of good batsmen out. Even if it drives Sir Geoffrey mad...

  • Comment number 39.

    Lee, there were still experts who felt that the attack selected for the tour had too much sameness by leaving out Steve Harmison. Evidently Ryan Sidebottom's lack of pace and fitness record have counted against him for selection (okay, so why was he picked????) You don't want to expose Adil Rashid (maybe he is pencilled-in to debut in Bangladesh). And Luke Wright is too green/not good enough. It doesn't leave a whole lot of options.

    As was said during David Gower's disastrous captaincy debut v Pakistan in 1982 when he was given four right-arm, medium pacers and a flat off-spinner "you can change the bowlers, you can change the faces, you can change the ends, but you can't change the bowling")

    At least with Steve Harmison you had the chance of a delivery, an over, or a spell at high pace that could change a match, or just wrao up a stubborn tail, frustrating as the begger is!!! (Durham winning the county championship twice consecutively has had a lot to do with his greater availability and that is not because he has trundled in in the low to mid-80s.)

  • Comment number 40.

    I have to say Bell is useless. When we need his runs, he fails. That one time that he did perform under pressure at the Oval as someone suggested earlier was very streaky and lucky and he still coudnt convert it into a ton. The thing is that for now Andy Flower probably has no option but to play him if he goes with the six batsmen policy again.
    I believe that within 6 to 24 months everyone will have heard of James 'titch' Taylor. 19 years of age and A hugely gifted right hand batsmen who got young player of the year last season (1200 runs)averaging 58 for Leicestershire who are arguably the weakest county therefore his runs come under pressure on a regular basis. Every time he has stepped up a level he has succeeded remarkably. Seriously, watch out for him.

  • Comment number 41.

    I think that England are a bit too timid in their approach. Surely a few risks need to be taken for victory?

  • Comment number 42.

    Ben, Marcus Trescothick was a frustrating, under-performing batsman for Somerset with an average just above 30 when he was picked on the basis of a destructive innings against Glamorgan that Duncan Fletcher had witnessed. I'd already been following his career closely for several years and his returns were barely good enough to ensure a new county contract. There was nothing in his county record to indicate that he would be the immediate success that he was from the first ball that he faced. It is true that now England players almost never play Test cricket, but that was NOT true 10 years ago!!!

  • Comment number 43.

    Although I disagree with calls to drop Bell(for the remainder of this series at least), I can totally understand where the criticism is coming from.

    With regards to the man at the top of the innings, I am not so sure. Yes, Cook's batting has tailed off since his rise to stardom when he first arrived on the test scene. However, the first test in south africa has shown an improvement, if only slightly, and a sign that he is heading back to his old ways. His work with Graham Gooch will no doubt continue to improve his ability and hopefully he will be a better player as a result. It is also important to remember that his work in the field is worth a fair few runs. The same can be said for Bell at times.

    As for the bowlers, stick with them. Anderson is nailed on. As is Swann. Onions and Broad are progressing well. We have the makings of a great 4 man attack which would leave no reason to select a 5th bowler, just give it time to develop. The argument could be that a 5th bowler would help this develop, and with the batting of Broad and Swann, its understandable. But give this group time, we won't need anyone else, and a 6th batter can only help the cause, even if Bell is struggling at the moment.

  • Comment number 44.

    Tom, you missed my point about Vaughan and Tresco's averages. When they were first called up, their county averages weren't great. They were called up because Fletcher saw something in them, not because of their averages.

    As as result, we got their best years on the international scene, as you said. But if we go by your methods of ignoring players with a poor average, then we could miss out on talent or get that talent too late and not get all of their best years for England.

    For example, lets say Denly turns out to be brilliant. If we wait until he is averaging 50 for Kent, that's a few years lost for England. It's the job of the selectors and coaches to spot potential players, not read a list of averages.

  • Comment number 45.

    matt-h88 - sorry, see what you're saying now. That was one of Fletcher's greatest gifts, wasn't it - spotting something in a county player who was average by most judges and then watching them blossom on the international scene. Banger was probably his best shout; Geraint Jones and Saj Mahmood his worst. Hold on - I've just remembered Jamie Dalrymple...

  • Comment number 46.

    Can someone explain to me why it matters what number a batsmen bats. I mean sure, if you're lower down the order then the rest of the team might get out sooner and you have less time to score runs, but surely you would then get a higher average to compensate by being not out more often. A player should surely bat the same at number 3 as at number 5 or 6. What factors am I ignoring here? I always think when it comes to discussion of which number a batsman is best at that the average at a number is a statistical peculiarity based on the form the player was in at the time he was playing at that position.

  • Comment number 47.

    Hmmm Tom, interesting comment and pick of names. Poor old Geraint Jones will never be forgiven, will he but, at the end of the 2005 Ashes, few doubted GO as a batsman.

    How about a few others: Steve Harmison; Simon Jones (his selection for the 2004 Caribbean tour left the 606 fans apoplectic that he had been selected over the more deserving Sajid Mahmood, who had just been bowling like a demon in India with the "A" side); Paul Collingwood (how many county watchers would have picked him?); Matthew Hoggard (Duncan Fletcher made him a first-choice when, previously, his England returns had been pretty iffy) and Ashley Giles; quite apart from Michael Vaughan, whose county average was pretty poor when selected but, within 18 months, was the number 1 batsman in the world. Oh, and did I mention Andrew Flintoff: Duncan Fletcher persisted with him when most 606ers had written him off as being well short of Test class (your Boss was one of those who saw the 2003/04 season as being make-or-break for him as a Test player).

    Speak Jamie Dalrymple's name softly: he is doing great things at Glamorgan, albeit in the lower tier and Middlesex fans are lamenting his loss. Yes, his form fell apart, but he had a record of playing doughty innings in a crisis for England in the first half of his ODI career.

  • Comment number 48.

    TheWalrusandtheNasriator I am of the opinion that if batsmen are good enough then they should be able to bat anywhere any time and in any position, whats the point coming out slogging trying to make quick runs (because that s what they normally do) if you are in mid collapse, when you really need a guy to drop anchor and steady the ship. All this this guy is a four or six for me is irrelevant they should be good enough and mentally capable enough to adapt to fast changing circumstances.

  • Comment number 49.

    I am so sick of reading uninformed idiots who know nothing about cricket slagging off Ian Bell on the Beeb. The guy had a rough patch last year, culminating in the first test fiasco against the WI and as usual Bell was made the scapegoat whereas, golden boy Cook and Teflon Collingwood were both given another chance. He was aksed to go away and get runs and did so at county and one day level in spectacular style, yet Cook was given a place in the one day sides and Bell was discarded.

    For those who say Bell is the selector's favourite it was the fourth time he has been dropped and it appears that if we need a scapegoat we turn to Bell. If the batting order needs to be re-jigged we turn to Bell, he has batted at all positions from opener to number 7.

    He came back against the Aussies and everyone seems to have forgotten that he made runs in both the last 2 tests batting at 3 and contributed to the Ashes win. In the same series Collingwood and Cook looked like rabbits in the headlight against class bowling, as Cook always does against good bowlers because his batting action is flawed.

    What was Bell's reward for two decent games against the Aussies at number 3, he gets dropped to 6 in the batting order for this series and despite the fact that he was the one batsman who didn't play in the one dayers and was the one batsman who was denied a decent chance to get minutes in the middle in the warm up games, yet we expect him to turn up cold for the tests and perform.

    Get off the guys back and give him a chance, even if it's as opener for Golden boy Cook who can only flourish on good pitches or aainst poor attacks due to his poor technique and is a walking wicket at the moment, and has been for a while. Being dropped benefitted Strauss and Bell and a year back in County cricket will probably do the same for Cook who undoubtably has potential, but serious flaws in his game.

  • Comment number 50.

    Do we really pay licence fees for armchair views and reconstituted bits of commentary from the last few tests?

    I'm sorry to be harsh but some of the posts are senseless.

    1) yes bell as everyone seems to point out "only makes hundreds when someone else has" but if we break this down its not so bad. All batsmen in the england team score most of their centuries against poor teams. Bell is the same. Typically when we have played the poorer sides, Belll has been out of the team (west indies this summer) or batting at 6. He has batted at 3 against south africa in 08 and australia in 06/07, notoriously difficult series, where few batsmen have made hundreds, and when in fact bell has done better than a lot of team mates, averaging 30 against australia in 06/07 and scoring 199 against SA.

    However, Im not saying Bell should keep his place, im simply saying i wish everyone didnt pull out inanae meaningless comments about players without really knowing the fact.

    Furthermore, Tom Fordyce, Trescothick and Vaughan's low first class averages are nothing to do with the playing england and so not playing for counties, they were both averaging sub 40 well into their 20s when first picked for england. Furthermore, it was not fletcher who plucked them out, but the selection committee i.e. David Graveney. It could be argued that this is not an act of genius, they simply turned to those who had dominated the england age group each year, which was why subsequently andrew mcgrath, bell etc were turned to.

    I also agree that there is nothing wrong with alastair cook, as i think most qualified to judge believe - Derek Pringle, Jonathan Agnew, Boycott etc all support him, so I would like to see those with a little more knowledge, and perhaps actually watch and understand the tests to post articles on it.

  • Comment number 51.

    ^^ from above, where i say Bell bats at six, this is why all his tons are after someone else already has.

    Furthermore, what is wrong with jamie dalrymple, his batting was fine, he did well and often went in with a few balls left and got run out selflessly, doing exactly the job asked of him. His bowling was accurate and inexpensive, and was perhaps key when england took the Cb series in australia in 2007

  • Comment number 52.

    Hi Tom, I'd just say to Bell that he is our number 6 and back him without placing any time limits on him either publicly or personally. If we had a strong batsman waiting in reserve i'd feel differently but we don't. Morgan's record in the County Chamionship last year was very poor and there are elements to his game which suggest he isn't cut out for tests (e.g. nervousness at start of innings, need to feel bat on ball). Wright is similar in that I think he will develop into a fantastic one-day player but both his bowling and his batting are limited at the moment in the test arena.

    I'd just like to see some backing for him and see him walk to the crease with some confidence rather than feeling like the whole country wants him to fail.

    P.s. what were you're thoughts regarding Broad's behaviour in this test match? I thought it was exruciatingly embarrassing and hypocritical to see him edge the ball and then eventually decide to refer it after his complaints in the first innings. He knew he'd edged it. The saffers knew he'd edged it. The umpires knew he'd edged it. To me it summed up the problems with the referral system as it stands and also reflected very badly upon Broad

  • Comment number 53.

    Greenmarkfo..
    Nail.on.head.

  • Comment number 54.

    The only batsman on the england scene at the moment who looks capable of coming into the side and performing is Eoin Morgan. He is busy proving himself as a top one day player, why not give him a shot at the test side. I mean lets be honest, he can't do worse than Bell

  • Comment number 55.

    yes greenmarkfo i agree with all the stuff about bell, but the same all applies to cook, he is a media scapegoat too. he does a lot of hard work, sure hes not in the form strauss has been of late, but he always bats against the new ball, and the places england have toured of late, that has been the only time batting is hard, so cut him some slack. Coolingwood made no runs all summer and by shoveling wayward bowling into the leg side when batting is at its easiest the media now love him again. his form wont last for ever, and then he starts batting like the all-rounder he was at the start of his career - very average.

    also whoever suggested trott bat lower is deluded, he has patience, application and good technique at playing pace, but struggles to really up the run rate and play spin convincingly. Not a criticism, but all the symptoms of a top 3 batsman, not a middle order player.

  • Comment number 56.

    Yes,lazy article...All Strauss nneds as two batsmen to score centuries, Ave 60+, Bowler 5fer,, Ave 20...no problem...just perform basically!

  • Comment number 57.

    Oh furthermore, Morgan for tests? I think a minimum degree of cricketeing intelligence should be required to post on here. If you want to talk averages - his first class average is 36 - mostly made up of games against canada for ireland. Hed struggle to play in the county championship for most counties, but luckily he's at middlesex. even he admits hes poor at first class cricket at the moment - see interview in All out cricket in October issue.

    so get back in your armchair

  • Comment number 58.

    Issues: Opener Alistair Cook struggling for form and not showing any improvement dispite coaching by one of the games greats. How many times will he get out flapping at one out side off stump? Number 6 Ian Bell hasn't shown consistency since debut, has the ability but mostly chokes with a decent bowling attack. Lastly any number of the bowling attack, other than Freddie, no one has shown consistency of late, but Freddie is no more in test cricket.
    Possible solutions: Give Key a sustained chance at opener (say 6 tough tests at least), I still think he is a choker, but who else is there? Number 6 is a greater challenge, An all rounder (who? I can't think of one), or coach the hell out of Luke Wright, who certainly has the capability, but needs to be less like KP and more like Geoff Boycott when the need arises, or keep pushing Broad and Swann to bat (however I believe this will and definately has affected the bowling, especially in Broads case), or blood someone else (who? Again I don't know). Lastly the bowling attack, other than Anderson, who is a willing worker but hardly a wicket machine, this I believe is our biggest challenge. Have we all given up on Harmison, who was world number 1 for a while in 2005 (I believe), Simon Jones can't stay fit, but has been our best, most acurate bowler in terms of wickets of late, but as I say not fit. Broad needs coaching (is he a bowler or a batsman or an all-rounder). etc etc etc.
    Conclusion: We are where we are, the players aren't going to put themselves out with no one challenging for their places. So we either take a chance with the odd new comer, or we put up or shut up.
    Lastly my two penny worth: 20 odd years of seeing Aussies who don't look like getting out and bowlers like Warne and Mcgrath etal who look like taking a wicket every ball, to cringing every ball bowled to ANY English player, thinking "will it be this time he leaves his bat there and nicks it to 2nd slip?", or watching English bowlers, thinking "which will it be? 4 or 6 six off this one"

  • Comment number 59.

    Who would you rather have striding out to bat fourth wicket down - Eoin Morgan or Ian Bell? Who would South Africa prefer to see? Bell looks completely shot. Morgan is belligerent, smart and tenacious. He's also a fantastically mobile fielder. Get him in sooner rather than later.

  • Comment number 60.

    "I am so sick of reading uninformed idiots who know nothing about cricket slagging off Ian Bell on the Beeb"

    Just because you dont like said criticism doesnt mean that those with differing opinions to yours are either uninformed or idiots, should we all bow down to your awesome knowledge and opinion of the game and said player, lest we all be considered idiots?

    Bell has had extended runs in the team, in fact his selection has been pretty consistent, even though his form hasn't warranted it, almost every time he goes out there in a situation that demands a bit of grit and determination, he has been found wanting. The runs he has made have also more often than not been made in situations where his comfort zone has not been compromised, and its distinctly notable that his second innings scores look very poor, which suggests to me that he does in deed lack the backbone to go out and turn it on in a pressure situation out of fifty matches he has made only one century in the second innings.

  • Comment number 61.

    49. At 8:06pm on 22 Dec 2009, greenmarkfo wrote:

    I am so sick of reading uninformed idiots who know nothing about cricket slagging off Ian Bell on the Beeb.

    ---------

    Good way to make your point there - everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot.

    People "slag him off" because of consistent underperformance, not because of one lean patch. They are frustrated with him because he looks so talented yet appears unable to fulfill that talent in the international arena - he does not "walk the walk" and simply does not look at home playing for England. It also appears that he has had a lot more chances (ie recalls, and stays of execution) than various other batsmen over the last few years.

    I would be delighted if he went on to become leading runscorer in the series, with a couple of matchwinning centuries - but from what i've seen of him over the last 5 years I don't think it likely. You obivously disagree, fair enough.

  • Comment number 62.

    keir, if i was south african I'd rather see the guy who you know wont last more than 60 balls come out (Morgan) than the guy who hit my attack including steyn in his pomp for 199 the previous summer

  • Comment number 63.

    My hay'penth worth.

    Cook; Is being groomed as the next captain, strauss is out of the Bangladesh series I think, so cook will captain. We don't have a replacement opener so I doubt very much if he will get dropped despite needing time to develop. Possibly why they brought Gooch in? Flower as ex Essex batsman and Gooch as Essex batting coach? I think he's going to have to learn the hard way whilst on tour going through a slump. After the Ashes he was sent back to Essex and promptly hit a ton (maybe double ton) I don't think the counties can help too much with technical flaws at the top level in a short period.

    Bell; Drop Him!!! but not yet. He needs a while at the position. Confidence in owning the slot can help take away from the nerves and not being shuffled up and down the order has got to help too.

    However to win we need to take 20 wickets and if conditions aren't right for our bowlers it's going to be difficult to do anything but draw. As Cook will fail again and Bell will get a 75 and 35, this leaves us stuck now and in the forseable tours.

  • Comment number 64.

    yeah you guys all know what your talking about [SARCASM]

    read all my above posts that should fill you in on your inadequacies

  • Comment number 65.

    the_cricketer, I do remember that Ian Bell. And I grieve for him too, because sadly he was abducted by aliens and replaced by the bunny in the headlights we saw last week. What has impressed me most about Morgan over the past few months is the way he looks as though he relishes playing on the bigger stage. Bell looks like he'd rather be anywhere else.

  • Comment number 66.

    the_cricketer "yeah you guys all know what your talking about [SARCASM]"

    Tell me do you get up early in the morning to practice being so obnoxious or does it just come naturally?

    Maybe once you take off your rose tinted spectacles you might notice that many of the things opposing your own comments are also quite valid concerns.

  • Comment number 67.

    well Morgan must be so pleased now that he has impressed you keir, probably his life-long ambition. Seriously hes not up to it, read his interview in AOC, check his records, etc. hes very good at executing high risk high reward shots, meaning he can score quickly against defensive fields with unorthodox shots, but he doesnt have a game plan to construct a century in first class cricket, he cant execute low risk low reward shots, and your unlikely to get hundreds with high risk shots, do you want me to draw a probability distribution? Bell was criticised for making 50s not hundreds, how will the armchair fans of 606 take infinite flashy 20s and out from morgan - not well when we lose games because of it

  • Comment number 68.

    stev666 i know a lot about cricket, and i play to a high standard, im sure you think the same of myself. but you have to wonder why proper pundits agree with the things i say and not you guys - and why boycott said on air "stick to your day job, il do the cricket" to all you naive armchair fans. your opinions are of course welcome to be expressed, but very deluded and base don reconsitituted media coverage from people who dont know a lot about cricket like this tom fordyce character

  • Comment number 69.

    the_cricketer Not really my opinions are based on having watched Ian Bell bat over the five years he has been playing test match cricket, to express an opinion in any other circumstance without factual knowledge would be pointless. I am not so presumptuous as to question your knowledge or experience as I am not in a position to do so. I am however in a position to watch Ian Bell consistently choke when push comes to shove, and you dont need to be force fed nonsensical punditry to formulate the opinion that he is a weak character, and more often than not folds quickly under pressure.

  • Comment number 70.

    The selectors were plain daft taking so few batsmen. It was as if they could not foresee any of the six batsmen being out of form, when there were clearly question marks over Cook and Bell last summer. I know the Andy's like continuity, but they dropped Bell after the 51all out at Sabina Park. It is a pity that Joe Denly did not really push his position as a contender when he had his chance. Now we are left bickering about the merits of all rounders and our not quite world class bowlers.

  • Comment number 71.

    "Bell has had extended runs in the team, in fact his selection has been pretty consistent, even though his form hasn't warranted it, almost every time he goes out there in a situation that demands a bit of grit and determination, he has been found wanting. The runs he has made have also more often than not been made in situations where his comfort zone has not been compromised, and its distinctly notable that his second innings scores look very poor, which suggests to me that he does in deed lack the backbone to go out and turn it on in a pressure situation out of fifty matches he has made only one century in the second innings."

    This is exactly what I mean.
    He may have played in nearly 50 tests but he has only batted in 29 of them in the 2nd innings, a conveniently ignored fact, that becomes even more meaningless when a lot of those innings were played down the order.

    You seem to have conveniently forgot the 2nd innings 65 in the 2005 Ashes against possibly the finest bowling attack ever seen.
    Don’t forget the rearguard 92 against Pakistan or the 57 from 181 in the 2nd innings against India. Then there was the 2nd innings 87 at Perth which gave us a fighting chance of saving the 3rd test, when he came in at 0-1. The score was 170 for 2 when he was finally dismissed.

    Have you ever tried playing in Sri Lanka? It’s hard just to run a short distance, the humidity is crippling. Yet he and Matt Prior batted most of the day and came so close to heroically saving it on the last day, when others were falling like flies. He has produced under pressure, it’s just that people have short memories.

    It seems that no matter what the guy does there are always ill informed people like this who just love to criticize the guy. His record is so far superior to Ramps and Hick it’s laughable, and yet people are labeling him in the same way. I just can’t understand why he gets so much criticism. 8 tons and 21 50’s in 50 tests is an extremely good record – it’s just that a lot of people on here are blind to it, because they don’t want to see it.






  • Comment number 72.

    Hi Cricketer
    Don't get me wrong I think that Alistair Cook has the makings of an extremely fine cricketer, but until he sorts his feet out he will always struggle againnst class attacks or against a moving ball.

    It's interesting to see that he has changed his initial movements, but what worries me is that when the ball arrives at the crease his position is still the same as it was pre Gooch. At least he realises he has a problem, which is good and he is trying to do rectify it.

    I just feel he would benefit more from a spell in county cricket rather than against a top notch bowling side who may destroy his confidence.

  • Comment number 73.

    "He may have played in nearly 50 tests but he has only batted in 29 of them in the 2nd innings"

    "It seems that no matter what the guy does there are always ill informed people like this "

    No he batted in the second innings of forty of them, seems you aren't so well informed either. And your four examples don't exactly do much for rectifying the fact that he still doesn't bat well under pressure in the second innings.

  • Comment number 74.

    England's team selection for the next Test Match should depend on how they are viewing this tour. Are they wanting to seriously go out and win the series or are they building for the Ashes and onwards.

    At the momenet their side smacks of indecisiveness. They have taken the easy options of picking Cook and Bell, rather than being bold and taking Carberry and Moore on tour.

    From the squad, it seems Strauss and Flower are trying to win the tour, so their side should be Wright/Plunkett in for Bell, as the extra bowler is the aggressive option and 6 batsman is the nothing choice.

    On another note, for the Bangladesh tour... look out for Jimmy Taylor from Leicestershire as an outside bet for the tour. Has the proven technique, hope to god he has the Cook, rather than Bell temprament.

  • Comment number 75.

    Rob key needs to given aqnother go, He could open with strauss, think he would be perfect fit now

  • Comment number 76.

    I would play Wright for Bell in the next test. As far as the match situation go, England would presumably seek an extra batsman when under pressure (say at 80-4) and in these kind of situations Bell has consistently failed to impress. As a point of comparison, Luke Wright in his début game for the England Lions came in with the score at 89-5, scored a century, and pretty much single-handedly dragged the score up to a respectable 280. This is disregarding his capability to take weight off the other bowlers; in particular I think that his inclusion could allow Broad to bowl fuller (a la The Oval Test) as Wright is more of back-of-a-length bowler and would take the need away from Broad to seek to bounce batsmen out.

    I'm also intrigued as to the number of people who are attacking Prior's batting at the moment. The man scored the second most runs for England in the Ashes series. One bad match does not disregard from an average of well over 40 in Test cricket in 2009, even when including the Centurion Test. His wicket-keeping on an occasionally unreliable surface was solid, and it was only in the first innings that we can say that his batting was at fault. As Trott was also out-patienced by Harris, I think we can forgive him this lapse. If Prior's shot in the first innings had instead sailed for 6, the field would have been set back and Prior would have been able to nudge the singles (in the way that Kallis batted against Swann).

  • Comment number 77.

    Sorry but Cook is not performing well at all at the moment and Bell should be sat at home watching the series on the TV. There is a serious lack of Test class batsmen is England at present but I agree with a few other that Eoin Morgan should be given a chance in the test side. Just let him play his natural game - sometimes that can be very useful when a side is plodding on at a boring 2 runs per over. I'm dead against this "One day specialist" tag - if you can play cricket you should be given a chance in all forms of the game not just one.

    As for the bowlers we need 5 in at all times me thinks Anderson and Onions fine at the moment, Swan is a star and should be batting at 7 instead of the unpredictable Broad. Sidebottom gives good left arm variation and the only other one I'd have in would be Rashid who will be a fab all round cricketer and variation to Swan's offies.

  • Comment number 78.

    I agree with much that you have written and I also suspect that Cook will come good provided he sorts his feet out sharpish. Bell, well OK give him another game to see if he can click. But as others have commented, he only scores when the going is easy and other batsmen have cashed in with big runs. If he is to be taken seriously he must construct a battling innings when the others have all failed (our Chris Gayle?). I would like to see young Rashid given a go, some variation in style, angle and a useful bat. I also wonder if Pietersen shouldn't be bowled more, he turns it and gets bounce, a useful option when things are getting stodgy, as they always do with the Kookaburra. Anyway, fingers crossed for the next one.

  • Comment number 79.

    As someone about to set off to watch the Cape Town test, I have my concerns about the balance of the side. The optimist in me says there will still be all to play for.... My key concern is that the loss of one front line player to injury, setting aside all the valid concerns about lack of form, leaves England dreadfully exposed.

    Whilst this is another debate for another time - SPOTY Team of the year - not on this evidence. Should have been the Ladies!

  • Comment number 80.

    Most great teams in any sport need three great players.the rest will be fine if the great ones perform.Think sir matt busby's instruction to the rest of team "just give it to bobby" Sadly we only have 2 great(ish) players- KP and Strauss and they had the last test off.We dont have a great quick bowler to bring in which is what we really need.All the other batsmen apart from KP and Strauss are much of a muchness I agree with Aneesh why not try Rashid seeing as we dont have another Trueman to bring in and yes I am from Yorks.

  • Comment number 81.

    Good analysis.

    Rashid if it might turn, Sidebottom if it could swing, otherwise Morgan if we play 6 batters. Not Bell under any circumstances. Do what your opponent would least want you to do. I think SA would cheer if Bell were retained. Wright not good enough with either bat or ball to be a Test-level all rounder.

  • Comment number 82.

    From what I can tell, with no TV coverage of the match, England were in the match for most of the time, and probably would have been in a position to win the match themselves if they had batted first. The team as a whole played well. It seems that Bell played one awful shot, and so is being pilloried by the majority on this thread. However, they say he should go, but I cannot see an obvious replacement (certainly not anyone in the squad).

    The trouble is that the English (press and public) don't give anyone a chance. All I read about England is negative, whether on Blogs like this, or on the ball-by-ball commentaries on various web-sites. English performances are always denigrated, even winning the Ashes this year was accompanied by loads of negative comments. Maybe as a result of over-praising the performance back in 2005, where England scraped the win far more than this year, and were being lauded as world-beaters, and subsequently failed to live up to these unrealistic expectations.

    In my opinion, the selectors for this series should tell the players that they are in for the whole series, so that they can relax a bit more. The only changes would be for bowlers who are obviously better suited to specific conditions, and for injuries.

    I do find it a very strange squad though. Apart from possible changes in the bowlers (Sidebottom and Plunkett being possible replacements if England decide to go with 5 bowlers), there are players who are really knocking on the door for a place. Also, with no other first class matches on the tour how is anyone likely to 'play' themselves into the team?

    Anyway, I still predict that this is likely to be a drawn series, as I don't think that the quality of the two teams is very even, it is just that there is more pressure on the English players, which may be the decisive issue. Hopefully when the real supporters arrive and start encouraging them they may perform even better.

  • Comment number 83.

    Rashid will not play while Swann is busy knocking out 80 runs and five-for bowling figures. It has been a very long time since any Test wicket has truly suited giving two spinners a canter. Given Rashid's performance in the one day games, I would say he still has a lot to learn, so even if there was a two spinner track, England would be better off with the likes of Dalrymple, a proficient batsman (in the Collingwood mould) who bowls well.
    Actually I could quite see the two (Collingwood & Dalrymple) regularly making 150 plus run stands in the face of the usual 120 for 4 batting collapse, then throttling the life out of the opponents batsmen for 20 overs. But it isn't going to happen.

    Given the resources available, perhaps there ought to be some more radical thinking?
    Open with Straus and Trott.
    If the openers both do their job and knock the shine off the ball 20-30 overs send Pietersen in at 3.
    If they don't, then put Collingwood in. He's faced his fair share of new balls, all be it after he's settled with an old one, so I can see no reason why he can't nudge and block his way through an extra half-dozen overs, in the past he has scored well as the fourth batsman too. He might even be able to encourage said KP from doing anything silly going for his ton. He has certainly scored better at 4 than at 5/6.
    That leaves Cook to practice his flair and footwork against a slower ball, as the future Captain elect he ought to learn how to marshal a defence anyhow.

    Bell will never be solid enough in the mind to mastermind a defence as last batsman. To be honest, that such a 'talented batsman' is going in after Collingwood suggests that team England have serious concerns. So that only leaves Wright as number 6, or Sidebottom as 10 if they go for an extra bowler.

    Given Broad's increasingly erratic bowling I would be tempted to put Sidebottom in for him, if only for the added control

  • Comment number 84.

    I don't understand the comments that try to relegate Tom's analysis and opinions to irrelevance. Also, if people are so well informed, have such great insights and play the game so well, then why not do it for a living? If you don't, you're probably not good enough.

    To the_cricketer in particular: you might know your stuff, but I'd much prefer it if you could bring yourself to play within the spirit of the game, even here!

    As for the conundrum, I like Bell and would even go as far as to say that he is one of my favourite batsmen. Yes, he played poorly and he has played poorly in quite a few matches. I'm not sure he'll ever live up to the expectation we apparently have, but I'd like to see him in the side for at least another match or two, batting at 6 - and for the Andy's to tell him as much, so he knows where he's up to. If it doesn't work, I hope he gets sent back to Warwickshire and he's left alone for a while.

    Someone earlier (forgive my laziness for not scrolling up to check who) asked where Simon Jones was. Well, he should be in Hampshire, getting ready for the next Championship (team to look out for in '10?). What I don't understand is what Hoggard did wrong. Like Harmison, he got dropped after a terrible match in NZ, but never even got a look in since then. Hardly heard his name uttered! He's not the type of bowler we need at the moment, but it still confuses me how he's dropped off the scene.

    I also don't understand people calling for Rashid to play now. We've got a spinner, in the form of his life, who also contributes regularly with the bat. You simply can't have two spinners in SA at the moment. If you do, then we've got KP, who could be used more, in my humble opinion.

    So, what to do? Cook made his debut at 3, if memory serves me correctly, and did so quite admirably. Why not move him back there, move Trott up to open (great job in the ODI's) and leave the rest as is for now. No need for panic: simply a few tweaks and a little more support from part time bowlers would go a long way, I think!

  • Comment number 85.

    The argument re Bell is a bit tiresome now, he is a scapegoat for greater issues - though i ask the question of when did Paul Collingwood step up to number 3 when the team was searching? Of, that's right, NEVER! Bell's record was superior to Collingwood's at 5 or 6, but was damaged in his time at 3.

    The issue that is overlooked is Stuart Broad. Severely talented in both departments, but needs to get his head around playing test cricket, especially bowling in it. Trying to bowl a different, "wicket-taking" delivery eve ball is not what's needed. Find a channel, a rhythm and a groove and be patient. It worked for Glen McGrath, Shaun Pollock, Courtney Walsh - to name but three - and Broad has the ability to follow suit; but not until he realises that is what is required in Test cricket. Sometimes you need to just sit in and be patient. The times for all-out attack are there and he similarly has the ability to execute those. His ability with the bat is clouding that fact that he is selected as a bowler, and part of a team of bowlers and a team of cricketers that will need him to curb his aggression at times and fulfil a "holding" role.

  • Comment number 86.

    Jonathan Rowe (#85), agree fully with your comment about Broad needing to change his approach of trying a different delivery with every ball. However, I think that what you go on to say highlights the problem in doing this: You mention Walsh, Pollock and McGrath - 3 of the outstanding pace bowlers of recent years. Broad is nowhere near these guys in terms of ability and this is the problem. Some people talk about finding a regular line and length like McGrath as though it should be fairly straightforward. The reality is that it is exceptionally difficult and is something that is only achieved by the best bowlers.

    The difficulty with a bowler trying to replicate this consistency is that if they are not good enough then 50% of your balls will be of the 'hit me' variety. This is why many good, but not excellent, bowlers employ so many variations in the course of a spell, or even in the one over. At this stage this is the group that Broad is in. I'm afraid I don't believe that he yet has the talent to achieve the kind of conistency we'd like. Hopefully that will change soon, as we desperately need a bowler of that mould.

  • Comment number 87.

    The role of the last batsman is not to score Pietersen-esque centuries. It is to stay at the crease as long as possible to support, encourage and protect the later non-specialists, whether that is swingers like Prior and Swann, blockers like Anderson, or even rabbits like Monty. Runs would come (if slowly) by occupation.

    It is not a role that comes easily to stroke players like Bell. If the chap was in any sort of form and/or displayed any strength of mind he would be ideal in one of the three opening spots.

    Playing Collingwood at three would be a desperate move, prompted by KP's objections to facing the new ball before it has been run in and his star staus, plus the conscious decision that the tale could look after itself, if the first four batsmen did what they are there to do. He is better suited to the last man standing role. But the fact remains his largest scores (not necessarily most valuable) have come from not being the last specialist batsman. The fact that he has never scored any runs at three is because he has never played in that position.

  • Comment number 88.

    I said this when the squad was announced and i'll say it again, it's ridiculous to name just 6 batsmen - especially if you're thinking about playing 6 batsmen. Potential injuries aside, what if a batsman is woefully out of sorts?

    Bell should never have been recalled in the first place. He made tons of runs for Warks last year but that only underlined what we already knew - he's a tremendously talented batter. His problem is that he can't produce consistently under pressure when it's needed. As other posters have pointed out, his centuries all come when someone else already has one.

  • Comment number 89.

    It's easy to look through the county averages and say that nobody is knocking on the door but look at Trescothick and Vaughan. Two of England's finest Test cricketers of the last 10 years and i seem to remember both of these having fairly moderate county averages when first receiving their England calls.

    Perhaps Moore, Denly, Carberry, Hildreth etc will fail miserably at Test Level but on the other hand, perhaps there's a world class test batsman in there who just needs a chance. As we've seen in the past, some people are more suited to test match cricket than county cricket and will raise their game - just like Vaughan and Tres.

    We'll never know unless we give them a chance...

  • Comment number 90.

    Agree....Carberry is in SA with EPP....for god's sake try him! If they won't pick Key (have no idea why?), then try fresh blood....Cook is in a rut and needs to go back to play county cricket or he will regress even further than Bell (who should not play again, as he simply does not have the temprement). I also agree that Vaughan and Tres did b*gger all in county cricket, Fletcher liked what he saw in them and then they really did perform at Test level!

    Plunkett should come in at 7 (he averages 40 and is a mucj better player as he has more county cricket experience), Swann at 8, Broad 9, Jimmy 10 and Onions at 11.

    Picking Bell will not win us the match, it will mean we have a good fielder, 1 less bowler and really no extra batsmen!

  • Comment number 91.

    I would like to see an extra Bowler in the side but it has to be someone capable of taking wickets at this level, we cannot go back to bits and pieces cricketers and despite a clearly fine attitude he is never going to be a test bowler. If a bowler comes in it has to be Sidebottom and it has to be for Bell.
    I have been supportive of Bell in the past but the first innings dismisal was of someone who has not got the neccessary between the ears.
    Cook has been back to County cricket and scored runs so needs to be given another two tests at the very least, he will always look poor but his temperament will pull him through, the complete opposite of the much more talented Bell.
    I suspect it will be the same side if everyone is fit.
    I have no problem with Prior at 6 even though he was poor in the last test because Broad, Swann and Anderson are capable of making good contributions. If it looks like it may turn then Rashid will et a go but he should have been given a try in the Windies last year.

  • Comment number 92.

    James - liked what you wrote there until you said play Plunkett at 7!

    My view on Bell is that he is being given chance after chance and every time bottles it. There is no doubting his potential talent but he will never be better than an excellent county cricketer. He simply doesn't have the temprament for Test cricket. Just like Graeme Hick (although not as good!).

    Cook is worrying me. He's never been attractive to watch but he now looks terrible and getting worse. Not sure he's run out of lives just yet, but he's on very thin ice.

    Not sure who to bring in. Denley hasn't impressed in the ODIs. Maybe Moore (although another south african), pos Rob Key, though his time has probably gone.

    On the Broad debate. This baffles me. He's clearly very talented and when he pitches it up in the corridor, he's a world beater. But why oh why does he keep banging it in short (and gets slapped). Does Otis Gibson pat him on the back after a session and say "great short stuff there mate, keep it up"!?!? Is that what he's been told to do? I almost hope that is the case, because if its because he can't control where it lands, then he's got no future.

  • Comment number 93.

    Durban has the juiciest pitch in the country with loads of bounce. So if England are going to pick an extra bowler – and they certainly need to – then Plunkett should get the nod. He is the tallest of the lot, with swing if the clouds are around.

    We (SA) should have a much more balanced side with JK back to full fitness, Morkel should come into his own in Durbs. England's top 6 will need to dig in!

  • Comment number 94.

    Good article.

    My England 11 would comprise of

    Strauss
    Bell
    Collingwood
    Trott
    Peiterson
    Wright
    Prior
    Swann
    Anderson
    Harmison
    Onions

  • Comment number 95.

    Some hopefully interesting Ian Bell stats...

    He finished the 2009 Ashes series with a better average than Collingwood, Cook and Bopara.

    He finished the 2006/7 Ashes series as England's third best batter behind Pietersen and Collingwood, with more runs and a better average than Cook and Strauss (and Flinthoff if you count him as a batter).

    He finished the 2008 series against South Africa as England's second highest run scorer and with the fourth best average, again ahead of Cook and Strauss (and Flinthoff).

    His test average for 2008 was 37.56 (slightly worse than previous years, but far from disastrous).

    Fielding record in tests: 46 catches in 50 matches. (For comparison, Kevin Pietersen has 32 in 55).

    These figures to me suggest that he is in fact making a valuable contribution to the team effort, and doing so against quality opposition. Last time I checked it was runs and wickets that won matches, nothing else - not looking exciting nor having the 'right' character.

    Add to this that he is still only 27, so as a batter could well have his best years ahead of him, and I think England would be crazy not to support him through this minor slump.

    Bell has also been one of our better batters in ODIs, you may be surprised to learn. Over the last 36 months he has averaged 32.71 - better than Ed Joyce, Denly, Cook, Flinthoff, Bopara, Strauss, Prior, Luke Wright (a pitiful average of 22.53), Mascarenhas and Vaughan over the same period.

    And incidentally, Ian Bell has 47 first class wickets at an average of just over 33. This is much better than those of Collingwood (first class 40, tests 57), Trott (46) and of course as earlier mentioned Luke Wright (43). Why doesn't he get a bowl in tests?

  • Comment number 96.

    Pietersen's average this year is just above Cooks and barely better than Swann so why isn't anyone calling for him to be dropped?
    Yes he has Talent but he also has a habit of getting out to stupid ill-conceived shots instead of going on to a decent score. He has the talent of a Sewag or Tendulkar but doesnt get the results, lets make him work for it and actually earn his place by dropping him for the next test make him realise he has not got a guaranteed spot.

  • Comment number 97.

    While the First Test was one of the most exciting on record, I was appalled at the sub-standard condition of the Centurion pitch. It is not usually so bad. True, the recent heavy rains held back preparations, but it was a disgrace as a fair test of a player's ability, both batsman and bowler; too many deliveries were acting unpredictably and made batting extremely difficult. Durban should provide a better all-round contest, with pace and some bounce in the pitch. The condition should suit Anderson, who has experience of Kingsmead. If there's humidity about, then Sidebotham could be a fair gamble; otherwise go with what you've got. To be honest, as an Englishman living in South Africa, I still feel the Proteas have a better all-round side, youth and wide experience combining perfectly. And Smith is not going to fail many more times. Stop going on about past performances and averages, what happens on the day matters more. Lofty, Ballito, South Africa

  • Comment number 98.

    Ianser,

    I hope that is an ironic commentary and that you do not mean that! Of course some of Pietersen's dismissals are problematic, and the last one was a crystal clear example. But I trust that the captain, coaches etc have more weapons in their leadership/man management armoury than just dropping people, otherwise we really will have a revolving door selection policy.

    Ballsintherightareas,

    Yes, I think there is a case to be made for Bell. Certainly to be arguing to drop him on the back of one bad test (under pressure against quality opposition) when in the two previous tests to that (under pressure against quality opposition) he delivered pretty well. Sadly, I think some of the criticism comes because he looks a bit young and boyish. Not helped of course by all that rubbish about body language at the crease that he started talking about at one stage. Also an element of the 'Gower-critique', ie that much more is expected if there is a lot of talent and the batsman makes things look easy: a less obviously talented player would perhaps get less stick. On the other hand, a few more centuries against better opposition, and a few more crucial innings would really help...


  • Comment number 99.

    I always find it sad that the two most naturally talented English batsmen, Bell and Bopara, can't translate their form to International cricket. Typically, they come into the side, make the game look ridiculously easy and set very high standards which they struggle to maintain and with that comes pressure. In Bell's case, this has done for him! We wait to see the lasting damage to Bopara.

    The flip side is Collingwood, who looks worse than me at the crease, but is dear to most supporters hearts due to his bullish defiance, stickability and fight. I hate watching him bat!

    Bopara is an interesting one because he was serverely examined against the Australians and I HOPE will be better for the experience in the long run (# says a little prayer).

    I believe Bopara should be on the tour batting at no.6, there is less pressure with a certain degree of licence to 'get on with it' probably not against the new ball, plus he can bowl some useful overs and has a nhabit of nipping the odd batsmen out.

    Thought he would have been mentioned more...what do you think?

  • Comment number 100.

    ballsintherightareas & Bored3death,

    Nobody is arguing that Ian Bell has made a half decent amount of runs in his test career, what we're saying is that his runs tend to come when the pressures off.

    When the chips are down and we need someone to hold their hand up in a pressure situation, more often than not Bell looks like a rabbit in the headlights and sells his wicket cheaply.

    His last 2 test have been the same old story and we need to accept he's not mentally strong enough and start trying other options.

    Technical deficiencies can be corrected with decent coaching but you can't grow a pair of balls overnight.



 

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