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Ashes preparation starts here

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Oliver Brett | 06:00 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009

At the start of an English summer, when expectations are naturally heightened simply because it's an Ashes year, the warm-up act for Andy Flower's side is provided by a familiar foe in Chris Gayle's West Indies.

But while many of the game's global fans will be fascinated by what an ever-improving Windies side might achieve, England have a dual task: As well as winning the two-Test series, there also needs to be a feeling that their chances of winning the Ashes have improved, not declined.

Will a 1-0 win suffice? Perhaps. But at least as important as winning back the Wisden Trophy will be to provide concrete answers to troubling dilemmas.

Top of the worry list is the number three issue. This key batting position has been in the temporary ownership of a number of pretenders of late. It's high time that changed.

Ravi Bopara is the man who will sit in this claustrophobic cockpit for the first time at Lord's, following the axing of Owais Shah and the refusal to allow Ian Bell's county form and Michael Vaughan's reputation to cloud the issue.

If Bopara ends these two matches with at least one big score under his belt, then we can at least enter the Ashes with some confidence that the batting line-up is settled.

If not, then one of Bell, Shah and Vaughan could return to the picture, and far from steaming along smoothly, the England train will have suffered a temporary derailment.

Matt Prior

The performances of Matt Prior against West Indies will also be closely scrutinised.

While his Test batting record is more than palatable, he continues to make high-profile errors with the gloves - like dropping top-order batsmen on a low score en route to a big century - and such misdemeanours cannot continue to go unnoticed.

Every Prior error will speed up the James Foster bandwagon, especially if Andrew Flintoff returns to fitness soon after the series.

The theory is that whereas Prior is good enough to bat at six, Foster might not be. A returning Flintoff, however, both stretches the batting order and boosts the bowling - so when he plays the gloveman can drop down a notch.

As with number three, so to with wicketkeeper: the team's success is almost secondary to the progress of Bopara and Prior.

Overall, the biggest problem with England's Test cricket since September 2005 has been the bowlers.

A number of matches, including six out of six at Lord's, have ended up as draws because England's bowlers have not had the overall quality to take 20 wickets on the essentially good wickets that prevail in modern Test cricket.

No matter how many runs Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and others have racked up in some impressive first innings, they have ultimately - and frustratingly - counted for nothing.

Matthew Hoggard had one bad match and was dumped; Steve Harmison has disappointed more often than not and finally seems on his way out, too, having been dropped from both the Test and one-day squads last week.

James Anderson continues to be James Anderson - veering from unplayable to ordinary, although he can never be criticised for lack of effort - while Stuart Broad's upward progress continues, although he has a hot-headed streak that is not always channelled all that well.

These two look the likeliest candidates to share the new ball against Australia in Cardiff in July, so it is absolutely vital that they produce solid returns against Gayle's men.

The other Ashes seam-bowling spots depend largely on the return to fitness of Flintoff and Ryan Sidebottom.

That said, it would not hurt at all if one of Graham Onions or Tim Bresnan picked up a man-of-the-match award at Lord's or Chester-le-Street.

Finally, who will be England's spinner? The received theory is that Graeme Swann has now supplanted Monty Panesar as the number one choice, and the Nottinghamshire man could have a big season if it's a hot, dry summer.

He may get to bowl a lot of overs at Lord's based on the seamers' recent toils there - and that could prove valuable practice for July.

England's spin-bowling reserves are certainly stronger than Australia's this year, so it may not hurt if groundsmen try to produce the odd wicket with a bit of turn in it. Well, why not use home advantage if you've got it?


  • Comment number 1.

    can prior not play just as a batsman. his average suggests hes good enough! plus with the extra focus just on batting he might get better.

  • Comment number 2.

    It frustrating to continually read the media's spin (!) about Flintoff. You say "A returning Flintoff, however, both stretches the batting order and boosts the bowling". My view is that save for a few flashes of brilliance in the bowling dept we have seen nothing in the batting dept and for a long time I might add. At the moment he is not adding much to the team.

  • Comment number 3.

    "like dropping top-order batsmen on a low score en route to a big century", Funny, I was expecting a fact there, if you can't back up your point why make it. I thought Prior kept pretty well in the Windies, and that this issue had been more or less put to bed, its a million miles away from being the key problem in the England team now. I would say that Ambrose is probably ahead of Foster in the test pecking order anyway.

    As for more from a journalist about Flintoff, change the record, I think its probably in everyones interests for Flintoff to retire from one form of cricket to prolong his career a bit and give him longer rest periods. Logically, since he is largely incapable of substantial innings and the combination that he shouldn't really be bowling long spells but is mainly a very good tight stock bowler, means that I would say we should probably move forward without Flintoff in test cricket

  • Comment number 4.

    so mr. brett two test matches now make a series. how long will it be before one test match will make a series? with the ever increasing growth in 20-20 games this cannot be far away.
    why prior has been selected against the WI is a mystery, his ability behind the stumps and with the bat are well known to the selectors, surely they should have used these two games to look at an alternative. collingwood and pieterson should be rested and the oportunity to see bell and bopara play in the same team would be a good way of judging them.

  • Comment number 5.

    The Aussies aren't a settled squad either. I feel England have a very good chance of regaining the Ashes if the selectors stick to their guns and pick players on current performance than reputation.

  • Comment number 6.

    I disagree that all Ravi Bopara has to do is get a big score in one of these 2 matches, and he is a cert for number 3 in the Ashes. If Bell and Vaughan do their stuff in county cricket over the next few weeks, their case for inclusion is very strong. Bopara could play at 5 or 6 depending on the fitness and form of others like Flintoff/Prior, or indeed any of the batsmen.
    Flower has done the right thing getting Onions and Bresnan on board to widen the bowling resources. With Monty stalling, Harmy being engmatic as ever and Sidders permanently injured, we need to look further than central contracted players. Your critical tone suggests the batsmen are doing their job but the bowlers haven't - all England's winter cricket has been played on batting paradises, of course they should have done well! That is why Shah is out, because he could not fill his boots when everything was in his favour. Playing at home in English conditions is different. I believe there will be much more joy for the bowlers.
    Lots of us fans are fed up with many reporters emphasis on KP and Fred - we love watching them perform and know they are fine players, but there are 9 other guys all capable of putting in a big contribution as well. Don't assume all will be dandy if Fred comes back into the side, and KP does a couple of fancy switch hits. It is time the media moved forward from that style of feedback about the England cricket team.

  • Comment number 7.

    Flintoff is a spent force, he does not make enough runs to be classed as a genuine all-rounder and he has only taken two five wicket hauls in test cricket so his bowling is not as effective as everyone makes out! England need to forget about Flintoff and his mate Harmison and concentrate on the next generation. Can anyone tell me why Adil Rashid has been over looked for all the current England squads?

  • Comment number 8.

    Andrew Flintoff? People still cast him in the heroic, big-hearted mould, which he is, without realising that his effectiveness as a bowler has reduced sharply over the last 4 years and that that has done as much harm to England's bowling as anything else.

    Prior to 2004 Andrew Flintoff was a perennial mystery to people outside England: he bowled like a lion, was the first name on the teamsheet, but was always dubbed unlucky and took few wickets, as his bowling average hovering around 50 attested. People outside England could never understand why he was so highly rated. Troy Cooley got hold of him and produced an amazing transformation. Up to the 2004 series versus the West Indies at home he took 5 or more wickets in a match just twice in 36 Tests: his average wickets per Test had been increasing slowly and was now almost exactly 2 (he had taken 12 Tests to get above an average of 1 wicket per Test!), but the principal epiphet for his bowling was "unlucky".

    Over his next 18 Tests he took 5 or more wickets in a match 10 times and his wickets per match averaged 4.5.

    Since Multan in 2005, he has played 20 Tests, not counting the abandoned match and has taken 5 or more wickets in a match just once and his average wickets per Test has dropped below 2.9.

    His effectiveness as a strike bowler has dropped sharply. There is also a tendency, evident in the Carribean, that even when injured you "throw the ball to Fred" on the assumption that he will take the critical wickets. In fact though, he is tending back to his role in the first half of his career of being more a stock than a strike bowler and the rest of the attack seems to have a psychological tendency to lean on him rather than go out and do the job themselves.

    At the same time, his batting has declined significantly. He has not scored a century since August 2005. Since November 2005 he averages 28.05 with the bat, with 8x50 and a top score of 89. This is far below what a Test number 6 should be scoring.

    Is our reliance on Andrew Flintoff unhealthy for the side's success? An increasing number of fans are coming round to thinking that it is.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with magic_mira (post 3) with regards to Flintoff. He's certainly no number 6 anymore, so even having him in will not affect the WK issue too much. I would strongly consider dropping Flintoff entirely from the Test team (perhaps after the Ashes though, eh? ;-), and keep him in for LOIs.

  • Comment number 10.

    Is James Foster a personal friend of yours Mr Brett? Two prominent articles clamouring for his inclusion, and without a substantive argument, seems slightly beyond the norm for the BBC. I'm not especially a Prior fan, but you seem to fail the objectivity test at times..

  • Comment number 11.

    The answer to number 6 in the medium term could come from Stuart Broad. He has shown a genuine ability with the bat, and needs to be tried further up the order to see if there is a genuine all rounder hidden in there.

    To me the jury is still out on Flintoff, but he is certainly not a saviour, and shouldn't be considered a shoe in when fit.

    For keeper I would go with Ambrose over Prior, his batting isn't much worse and his keeping is much better.

  • Comment number 12.

    Great post from Cricketing_stargazer. England's reliance on Flintoff is incredibly destructive to the rest of the team. Freddies achievements in 2005 were exceptional but he peaked and he will not reach those heights again. I sympathise with the injuries Flintoff has had in recent times but I also think some of his hunger for the game has gone! However I will happily eat my words if Freddie turns up and detroys the Aussies this Summer!

  • Comment number 13.

    We play 3 forms of cricket, so I'd be OK with seeing 3 different wicket keepers for each form. In other sports you pick the best team for the circumstances. Squad rotation is no bad thing. The opposition don't know what to expect and the squad players get used to fitting in. This helps enormously when injuriies occur. The central contracts is not all roses, it ensures the same players get picked even if their form is rubbish.
    We also have to move our wicket keepers batting position depending on whether Freddy is playing, so we should also consider which keeper to pick depending also on his batting position.
    I'd prefer to see Freddy in than out, but he hasn't hit top form with the bat. Other bowling options may need to be considered to extract 20 wickets. Woakes is making progress. When will he be ready?

  • Comment number 14.

    Agreed with the comments so far regarding Flintoff. The problem is replacing him with a genuine all-rounder. In my opinion, a balanced cricket team needs two players that have more than one skill; i.e. two people who can bowl and bat, or one bowler/batter and a wicketkeeper/batsman. England, for the past 4 years (since Flintoffs batting woes started) have not had this.
    I would pick a keeper/batsmen (probably Ambrose, as a keeper who bats rather than Prior, a batsman who keeps), and then you are left with either trying to find a bowler/batter (Rashid could potentially be one, although I think it is still early for him), or you fudge the issue and pick two bowlers who can bat a bit (which is England's favourite option). At the moment I think the second option is the way England have to go, in the absence of a genuine class allrounder. So we are looking at most probably Strauss, Cook, Bopara, Pietersen, Collingwood, Prior, Broad, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson, Onions.

  • Comment number 15.

    Magic_mira, the issue of Matt Prior in the Caribbean depends very much on your point of view. Critics will point to the 38 byes in the 3rd Test and 52 byes in the 5th Test. Supporters will say that many of those byes had a lot to do with some occasionally wild bowling.

    My own impression was that after a couple of quite good series with the gloves he started to struggle again. He seems to need confidence to 'keep well and the confidence was not there. I can't give chapter and verse on missed chances, but there were a couple and, combined with the huge byes totals, were enough to start people talking again.

  • Comment number 16.

    If Prior scores runs but doesn't keep that well I think he should be in just as a batsman, especially if Bopara fails. I could see in the Ashes using KP at 3, Collingwood 4, Prior 5, Flintoff 6 and then FOster as keeper at 7.

    Personally I would have liked to see Bell come back in at 3 for this tour. I like Bopara but he has no international experience at 3 and if he fails it could lead to Bell coming in during the Ashes with no international cricket for close to 6 months. Bopara should have been tried in the Windies but with only 1 series before the Ashes I would have gone with the experience, especially as Bells been in good form in county games.

  • Comment number 17.

    Whilst a returning Flintoff will enhance the bowling resources in a big way his recent - since 2005 - batting form barely justifies his no. 6 rating. He has been more tail end than front line and there may be justification for Prior at 6 & Freddie at 7.

  • Comment number 18.

    to reply to post 10 about james foster

    The guy deserves his chance, if we actually had some sort of selection policy that goes off county form he would be playing by now. The guy appears to have been cast aside because apparently he wasnt good enough when he averaged 25 with the bat in australia and india at the age of 20

    Now hes the best keeper in the country, ive seen him in one day matches stand up to fast bowlers and his batting is good enough for number 6.

  • Comment number 19.

    Matt Prior let through 111 byes in 4 Tests. That is a lot, wild bowling or not.

  • Comment number 20.

    This article is yet another stunning example of Oliver Brett's stunning lack of objectivity as far as the merits of Matt Prior / James Foster are concerned. Contrary to the implication in the article, Prior did not drop any catches ( let alone any top-order batsmen en route to a big century ) in the recent West Indies test series. And that Foster is not good enough to bat at number 6 in test match cricket is more than theoretical - number 8 would be his best position based upon his England and recent Lions' perfomances.

  • Comment number 21.

    Life is often hard on bowlers and they may bowl many overs to set up a batsman only for Prior to muff it. It can not be overstated how demoralizing it must be for a bowler to have someone as poor as Prior keeping wicket.

    I regard Foster as the best keeper but I would be almost as happy for Chris Read. The bowlers must have someone they can trust and that isn't Prior.

  • Comment number 22.

    I , and the selectors, expect Bopara to do very well against the Windies so he must be given a chance rather than recalling players who are out of form and have perhaps taken their places in the England team for granted given runs of poor scores.
    Bell will get a lot more cricket playing for his county and that is the best place for him to regain his best form,and the same goes for MPV.
    Prior,excellent bat that he is, has conceeded an alarming number of byes in recent Windies matches and it is likely that Foster would not have given the same balls.
    The general lineup from the Moores era has been proven by many Tests and ODIs to be uncompetititve against the best sides in the world at the moment, although with Flowers now running the show I believe we have a good chance of regaining the Ashes if the groundsmen prepare spin friendly pitches.

  • Comment number 23.

    In defence of Mr Brett... Prior dropped Chanderpaul on 56 on his way to 146 in the fifth Test, and dropped him again on 27 on his way to a century in the one-dayers.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think the issue with Prior is based on conditions. He has spent plenty of time keeping in this country, and generally (although there are of course exceptions) keeps well when we are at home. He spent a few years keeping to Mushy, so he can't be that bad! However he has had relatively little experience keeping in foreign conditions; as a result he's bound to concede more byes and drop more catches away from home. This is augmented by his slightly unorthodox technique.

    I think it's clear that Read won't play for England again; it's got to be between Prior, Ambrose and Foster. I would personally play Ambrose (a good keeper who scored some runs in the one test he played in the Windies), but also play Prior as a batsman. Prior can continue to work on the keeping and, similar to Alec Stewart, may at some point in the future become good enough to keep full time for England after spending some time playing solely as a batsman.

  • Comment number 25.

    Part of the problem is that there is no absolute stand-out wicket-keeping candidate. You can make a case for any number options (Prior, Ambrose, Foster, Reed, Wallace, Davies, Jones, Pothas, Mustard, Nixon, ...) and eight of those ten have played for England at one level or another.

    My own opinion tends towards Tim Ambrose being the best option, but it's easy to see why there is so much debate about the issue. I'm not so sure about playing Matt Prior purely as a batsman unless he enters into the battle for the number 3 spot, it is not clear to me right now who would drop out for him.

  • Comment number 26.

    Come on, Mr Brett, let's have less cliches and more analysis please:

    "[Prior] continues to make high-profile errors with the gloves - like dropping top-order batsmen on a low score en route to a big century - and such misdemeanours cannot continue to go unnoticed."

    I don't remember a sible drop of a batsman en route to a century by Prior in the Windies. A number of byes, admittedly, butt his runs more than made up for them.

    "A returning Flintoff, however, both stretches the batting order and boosts the bowling - so when he plays the gloveman can drop down a notch."

    Flintoff is not a number 6 any more and has not been for 2-3 years now, which makes Prior more important than ever.

    Shame on you for trotting out the same old lines long after they have become redundant.

  • Comment number 27.

    James Foster is a classy player and deserves his chance, however if Prior gets good runs against the Windies, then I doubt Foster will be given the opportunity against the Aussies. However I think the WK issue is less important than the bowling attack. The one area where England are considerably stronger than Australia is in the spin department, and that has not happened in a very long time. Therefore we have to play to our strengths and think about picking two spinners for the Ashes. I would go for a pairing of Swann and Rashid if the pitches are conducive to spin?

  • Comment number 28.

    Overall, the biggest problem with England's Test cricket since September 2005 has been the bowlers.

    Oliver, have you been watching a different England team to me?

    Against New Zealand both home and away, our bowlers got England out of difficult holes caused by poor batting. Sidebottom did that in New Zealand, Monty did some work too back home, Anderson took a hatload of wickets at home against the Kiwis at a time when you could argue two members of the middle order were bang out of runs (Collingwood and Vaughan). Against South Africa last year, our batsmen failed to score heavily enough at Headingley. In India, you might say we scored too slowly to really force the issue. Our bowlers bowled pretty well to the best batting lineup in the world at home in tough conditions. Some would also argue that we scored too slowly on West Indian shirtfronts to force the issue. Certainly in the West Indies, some of those bowlers bust a gut on some of the flattest wickets you will ever see and came agonisingly close to bringing victory twice to England.

    Yet its the bowlers fault. You mention the draws at Lords: one of those draws saw something ridiculous like eight catches shelled against Sri Lanka. You cant blame the bowlers there. If you dont score enough runs, you give the bowlers nothing to bowl with, and that has been consistent time after time. In one of your recent blogs, which have been pretty good actually in case you think Im getting after you as a hobby, you said how England have had numerous collapses. Youre not wrong. Our batting has always been the problem. Even in 2005, our batting wasnt that dominant compared to the bowling. We didnt bat the Aussies out of the series but we did bowl them out of it. All the Test victories since then against good opposition have been the same. When did we bat a side out of the game? Even in the West Indies we didnt do that.
    If our batting doesnt perform, its close to impossible for the bowlers to make up for that. You say how good the pitches are. Why is it considered that four bowlers have failed if they dont get 20 wickets yet six batsmen keep getting chances when they dont score runs on these great wickets?!?


    Good post. I think the Flintoff stats with the ball do him down a little unfairly. You have to look at the opposition he has played against since Multan in 2005 and the situations he was facing. He went to Australia as captain when he was clearly right out of form. It was a Herculean task that was too much for him. With his fitness problems, it takes a great deal of time to get back to top form. Its fairly comparable to Ian Botham trying to come back from the back injury he sustained.

    I dont think the younger players like Broad or someone like Swann rely on Flintoff psychologically. I liked Swann getting on the back of some fielders in the West Indies. His inclusion in the side has provided some positive energy. Hes another vocal guy on the field and that should relieve a little pressure on the senior players like Flintoff. Broad is another who has his own thing going. When England have relied on Flintoff, its to cover for the injury or failings of others. Hes always shouldered it manfully but perhaps he needs to say No, its time someone else stepped up to the plate. Certainly the 2007 Ashes series was a time when he should have declined the captaincy.

    That final 50 over game in the Windies showed everyone why Fred is a man you throw the ball too. We have to use him right. He isnt a stock bowler. Use him as a short sharp spell man.

  • Comment number 29.

    Andy, fair point. However, if we are going to use Andrew Flintoff in short, sharp spells both he has to say "no" and other bowlers have to say "throw ME the ball instead". It isn't happening. The rest of the attack has tended to rely too much on him for the magic spells. Like it or not he is being used as a stock bowler. Maybe if he were to be given 15 overs instead of 30 he would take more wickets, but he is not the same wicket-taker that he was in 2005. Incidentally, the numbers for his magic run of 18 Tests include full series against South Africa (away) and the 2005 Ashes against a very strong Australia, so you can't say that he was making hay against weak sides.

  • Comment number 30.

    What a disappointing article. Sloppy thinking, sloppily expressed; a long way short of the BBC's usual standards. In particular, I was puzzled by the statement that

    "As with number three, so to with wicketkeeper: the team's success is almost secondary to the progress of Bopara and Prior."

    What - if anything - is this statement supposed to mean? Presumably "so to with" should read "so too with"? Even then, I struggle to understand the point Mr Brett is making. Taken literally, he seems to be suggesting that the selectors have chosen Bopara and Prior not because they believe them to be the right people for their respective positions but because they (the selectors) are more interested in 'pushing' those players than in winning the Test series? Surely that's too ludicrous for words? Even words written by Mr Brett?

  • Comment number 31.

    I too would play Prior as a batsman only....promote KP to No. 3 (he's often been at the crease before the bowlers have worked up a sweat anyway). But I don't really get the James Foster cause - no question he's an excellent keeper but he bats in Division 2 in County Cricket and I'm not sure that's the best practice ground for facing international quality bowlers.

  • Comment number 32.

    I think Flintoff adds something to all the other bowlers around him. If he only gets 2,3,4 wickets per match, it's often apparent how many wickets he assisted for other bowlers. You can't simply sum up his influence on statistics alone. He makes things happen.

    Although saying that, his batting is pretty poor and I would say Broad is currently a better allrounder. Considering how well he can bat at present, I would put him above Flintoff in the batting order for tests.

  • Comment number 33.

    I see no other result but an England win in the Ashes. This is mainly around the fact that the Australian bowling attack is very weak and to win a Test Match, you need 20 wickets. England's attack is good enough to do this and therefore I see a 1-0 or 2-0 win for England.

  • Comment number 34.

    This 'debate' is all very well, but ultimately it's about whether players are doing the basics well enough. We know Prior isn't the best keeper with the gloves but he's the only keeper who appears capable of making hundreds at test level. If he's taking the vast majority of catches that come his way, then i'm not concerned about extras. The winter tour is history and the conditions here are very different. The few byes Prior may concede will not cost England test matches here, but his batting may help win them, equally, dropping regulation catches may cost England. Is he capable of doing a successful job for England? I believe so.

    England have wasted the last 2 years or so with a lot of fuzzy thinking and fiasco's galore, and that's why credible & tested alternatives are few and far between.

    A fit Flintoff is a plus, but his batting must meet the basic requirements for a number 6, as he must not bowl many overs atall to stay fit. He has the ability but he must have the form, which is what England had plenty of in 2005.

    England need 11 players who can match the Aussies for competitiveness and ability. There doesn't look like too much difference between the teams (Australia have the edge, imo) but the Aussies have proven that they can deliver more regularly and wilt less frequently, and for that reason alone will start as favourites. What actually happens when play starts is another matter...

  • Comment number 35.

    I noticed that Troy Cooley was mentioned above in relation to Flintoff. Before he couldn't be persuaded to stay wasn't Alan Donald very keen to remodel Flintoff's action so that he doesn't get injured as often? The fact that this hasn't been done in the last 3-4 years suggests either slight delusion/pigheadedness on Flintoff's part (which I can't really believe) or a lack of honesty from whoever his bowling coach is. The fact that we can't get a coach on board that really delivers results with our bowling, since Cooley, then Donald left is the main worrying thing about our team...especially as now we have a batting coach as our main coach!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    Flintoff is not going to fit for the whole of the Ashes series, which is a major problem for the balance of the team. I personally would pick Ian Bell to bat at 5, with Collingwood at 6 with probably Vaughan at 3, unless Bopara does score runs, which would be a bonus becuase he is a better bowler than Vaughan, and could be a key partnership breaker. Also with Bell at 5, this makes it easier to take a proper glovesman especially if Freddie is fit, so I would take Foster.

    The bowling needs someone to give it some explosion, either a Harmison or Simon Jones. I would take Jones if he is fit. If Freddie is fit, i'd have to say that I probably wouldn't pick Broad as Anderson, Jones/Harmison, Flintoff and Swann/Panesar I feel all bring more to the bowling attack. If Flintoff isn't fit then I would consider a straight swap with Broad.

    This would my team, if every player is fit.


    Only problem comes in when Jones and Flintoff break down during the series which is more than likely to happen. This then means having to take a 5 man bowling attack and picking Prior instead of Foster!

  • Comment number 37.

    Personally I would have Bell in at number 3. He has scored more runs this season than his opposition, and I see no reason in keeping him out of the Test side in favour of Bopara, who is unproven at this level and is not a number 3 at any level. We are talking about a man who had a test average of 300 against the West Indies at one time - people seem to have forgotten that. He did reasonably well in the winter tour against the WI, certainly compared to those other luminaries (KP, Colly) who should have been dropped long ago.

    Hoggard also deserves more shrift than he got from the selectors. OK so there's been stuff going on in the background, but I'd still rather see his broad beam running to bowl against Punter & co than Fred limping in at half speed.

    Sidebottom needs the same sort of treatment as Fred's had - he's fit and playing so why is he not in the England test side?

    And finally, Broad is the best hope for an all rounder we have. Don't forget he started out as an opening bat and from what I've seen, he knows which way to hold a bat! Let's have him at 5 or 6 and see what happens.

  • Comment number 38.

    I hope Anderson continues to bowl well and ends all this rubbish written about him by journalists like Oliver Brett.

    He did well last year yet most of them think about his past performances and say that he is still inconsistent. He is a vastly improved bowler.

  • Comment number 39.

    I think most teams in the World would have Jones in their pace attack if he can stay fit. We have really missed him since the Ashes and I hope he gets the wickets to get him back in the side in the next few weeks.

  • Comment number 40.

    As far as line-ups for the Ashes goes, i think the batting is already decided, and i think, baring total failure by Prior and/or Bopara against W.I, that they'll be in. I think there is definately one bowling place up for grabs, 2 if Flintoff causes more headaches with fitness & form. Chopping and changing batsmen & keepers between now & the ashes must only be a last resort brought about by a players total lack of form.

    I agree that Bresnan and Onions could do with looking the part from the word go, as the squad and potential starting 11 would immediately look better going forward this summer. If both fail to impress then England will lack depth and momentum.

  • Comment number 41.

    So if Flintoff is fit, then that means we can drop Matt Prior and replace him with James Foster? The trouble with that theory is that it utterly ignores Flintoff's batting form over several recent years; Freddie averages less than both of them, and surely these days he's a no.8 at best.

    My second selection worry is the continued use of middle order/one day batsmen at no. 3 in the batting line up. Bopara, Shah, Bell all have talent, but they're never going to be test no.3's. Surely the solution to this is to find another opener and move Alistair Cook to 3? The alternative would be to move Pieterson up to 3 and have one of the above batting at 6, where I think they'd do better.

  • Comment number 42.

    PS Gerrards Whiskers- I think Simon Jones is having another knee operation and is expected to be out of action for 2 months...

  • Comment number 43.

    People who say Flintoff is detrimental to the team because the others rely on him are being ridiculous. I fully agree that his days as a number 6 are long gone, but he is still are best and most consistent bowler.

    Anderson and Broad have shown great willing to shoulder the burden when Flintoff is not fit, but they have different attributes.

    I agree with Mr Brett's views about Foster - what does he need to do to get another chance. He has been the most consistent keeper/batsman in the country (along with Chris Read who has had plenty of chances) for several years and would not have been dropped in the first place if he hadn't broken his arm in 2003.

  • Comment number 44.

    sorry to disappoint spurs_dplatt and gerrardswhiskers, but jones has just had another knee op and there seems little or no chance of his being fit for the ashes

  • Comment number 45.

    Well, following the disasterous last Ashes debacle where our prepaeration was at best inept, we have managed to go one better. Could we have prepared for an important summer any worse than we have done, answer, no, its been a disaster as predicted. We've had the captaincy and coach soap opera (enough said of that), we have a team on a glorious losing streak, and we have only just realied that our bowling attack is not anywhere near the mark, and a management team that has bowed to player power by allowing our players to ignore the build up to the season by playing hit & giggle cricket for loads of dosh. Where does this leave us :-

    . Flintoff injured - some surprise. Hugh Morris would leave us to believe that this could work in England's favour - who is he kidding ? As if we are all stupid !!! Basically, the ECB were unprepared to ensure that one of Englands key players could gain some proper rest after an arduous winter. Do I expect to see him fit & firing in the Ashes, no. But I am sure we know what we are doing .... not

    Collingwood, Pieterson, Bopara (IPL ers) totaly unprepared fo the first test match of the summer - what about central contracts ? How can Hugh Morris et al claim that the Windies series is so crucial when they have sent a message that being unprepared is OK. And on what basis was Michael Vaughan awarded a central contract ?

    We have failed to address batting issues claiming consistency of selection and now find 2 matches before the big one starts that we are blooding Bopara at 3, the key position in any line up. I hope he does well however as I think he has the talent to become a seiously good player - only England could leave him out after his hundred in the Windies.

    We have finally worked out that we have a pop gun attack so we are trying Bresnan and Onions - we have also discarded our most successful bowler, Hoggard following one poor match (I wonder how many wickets he takes for Yorkshire this season)

    I think Pieterson could be ready for a toys out the pram scenario before too long - remember I said it here. He will self destruct, media's dream

    The only crumb of comfort is that an Aussi side minus McGrath, Warne, Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist is not as formidable as once was, but believe me, if they get ahead, this team is more than capable of murdering us. What England needs is a good start, a few outstanding performances to demonstrate that we are here to compete - then it may be different and we would have a chance. But, somehow I doubt it - I can't see our bowling penetrating a solid (if not outstanding batting line up) and our batting will demonstrate the domino effect on at least a couple of occasions when under pressure

    Come September I see yet another review of English cricket with Hugh Morris, Geoff Miller and a few others ready to fall onto their swords. Very negative I know, but I genuinely hope that I'm proved wrong, somehow I don't think I will be

  • Comment number 46.

    Is Mr Brett related to Foster or are the BBC lining him up to write a column for them?

    At worst Read and Foster are equally good but really everyone knows that Read is the best keeper. Foster also bats in division 2 where the bowling is pretty mediocre. Big jump to test cricket!!
    Foster made some pretty bad errors when he played for England before and he was mainly a keeper who batted a bit! Priors a quality bat who is developing into a decent keeper, lets give him time as Im sure the selectors will,

  • Comment number 47.

    We seem obsessed with allrounders in this country. Flintoff has been a good international player who, at times, has offered flashes of brilliance but I think those days are gone. He shouldnt be picked on those few moments so, replace him. If we do need to replace an allrounder with allrounder then the only 1 about good enough is young Rashid at Yorkshire. Im not sure what he has to do to get a game and 5 years ago a leg spinning alrounder would have walked into the team. If we think we can manage without an allrounder then pick an extra batter and use the bits and pieces men of Boapara and Collingwood as required to fill in the extra overs. As for Steve Harmison, I would have never picked him again last time he snook into the squad. He shows no pride in wearing the England Jersey and seems to be of the impression that he can play when he wants. Get someone young in, I dont care who but someone with a bit of passion who wont get homesick and cry for his mum on winter tours... Onions and Bresnan are good additions as both are good, young county prospects. Lets hope they kick on and make the international grade.

  • Comment number 48.

    It's going to be a long, hard slog this summer...

    Bell / Collingwood / Bopara / Vaughan / Shah / Prior / Ambrose / Foster / Panesar / Swann / Harmison / Jones / Hoggard / Onions / Bresnan / Flintoff all have "issues". You could even add Cook & Broad to that list, leaving us with Strauss, KP and Anderson as the only players who you could put on the team sheet and be relatively confident (barring injury of course).

    Put another way, we have at least one opener who will get out hooking when set; a number 3 who is more likely to get single figures than three figures; no all-rounder; a keeper who either can't bat or can't catch and a set of bowlers who cannot be relied upon (hence the need to play 5 of them in case one or more of them gets the yips).

    And we think we can beat the West Indies?!?

  • Comment number 49.

    Only in England would the parochial ( Essex fans appear particularly parochial, especially in the case of "impartial " Oliver Brett) fans be clamouring to replace a wicketkeeper who is improving with the gloves and averages nearly 50 with the bat. Prior is one of our very few players who is better then their Aussie equivalent ( Haddin, in his case). The problem is - and will remain all summer - our bowling. Onions and Bresnan are not good enough.

  • Comment number 50.

    Nothing changes, still an "old boys club".
    The inclusion of a few 'new faces' into the twenty20 squad should in no way be seen to have any bearing on the test squad's composition.
    I firmly believe (and the past backs me up)that the England test squad is still and maybe always will be an old boys club. Needless to say that when the Ashes come around, regardless of how well they have played in any other form of cricket, the likes of Vaughan, Bell, Collingwood etc will all of a sudden be essential inclusions for the Ashes squad.
    Flintoff has done nothing special with the bat since, well its been a long while. He is no Botham and now, after many injuries, may never be.
    We need a real all rounder but it seems we don't have one anymore.
    If you have five quality batsmen, if only, then it is easy to include the best wicketkeeper, rather than one who is just ok and can bat a bit too.
    Surely the selectors should use every other match leading up to the important stuff like the Ashes and the World cup to test out NEW players, not just give old players like the very amiable Robert Key, who has failed time and again, to prove his test quality, another try.
    Lets just pick the best players, regardless of old boys club membership whether they are young, old, black, white, pink or blue.
    Just pick the best players. That's it.
    Until we do that we have no chance of beating the likes of Australia and South Africa who DO pick the best players, as the inclusion of Symonds proves. Yes, he is a 'bad boy' but he is a superb cricketer, so they punish him and then pick him again. After all, who remembers past imperfections when you have just scored a quick-fire ton or taken five wicket that helped win the match.
    England need to look to younger players and give them a try in meaningless series like this West Indies upcoming waste of time before we are forced to take desperate measures in the middle of the all-important Ashes series. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!! Mwah ha ha!!!

  • Comment number 51.

    Cricketing Stargazer:

    I think we have bowlers who say Throw me the ball. Anderson now has the right mentality to say it. Broad will always say it. Swann does too. In those three, I see an attack Flintoff could fit nicely into. The problem with Flintoff is that hes always been the man to cover over for other peoples inadequacies. In 2005, he was the man to go to and also hit enough runs to cover over some issues in the England middle order. In 2007, he had to cover for an injured captain in Vaughan. He got to Australia not in prime form courtesy of the injury routine and found himself leading a side with a wayward senior fast bowler in Harmison, a slow left arm bowler who shouldnt have been playing in Giles, and the bowling reserves were the like of Anderson, himself nowhere near bowling fit after back problems. We saw it again last season against South Africa. It was one evening session. South Africa were batting and Anderson bowled a hideous first spell. He got hauled off, Fred comes on and Smiths out within a couple of overs. The spell against Kallis also comes to mind. In that series he showed what England had lacked. To go from watching Pattinson bowling to Fred was one level to another.

    What was encouraging from an English perspective was seeing how the bowlers fought in the West Indies when Flintoff returned home with injury. Anderson, Broad and Swann really showed a lot of heart out there. In many ways, you saw the new generation performing whilst a more experienced bunch of internationals fell apart (Flintoff got injured, Harmison floundered, Sidebottom turned into a man hauling a bucket of bricks uphill, Panesar tried to find his mojo again).

    Its undeniable that Fred is taking less wickets but is he bowling any less well when he is fit? I dont think he is. Hes not bowling with any less pace or aggression, something you cant say of Harmison who looked like a half-paced cabbage in the ODI series. Freddie not at full blow is still better than many other options. We just have to use him smarter. In many ways, hes been overused just as Angus Fraser was worn down.

  • Comment number 52.


    Dropping anyone let alone a good batsman isn't filling anyone with confidence, superb keepers don't drop them when it matters. The theory is more you catch its reasonable to assume the less you have to score.....

  • Comment number 53.

    I believe if Bopara steps in nand does well in the number 3 slot the batting takes care of itself , Strauss, Cook, Bopara, KP, Collingwood. As to the wicketkeeper/flintoff arguement i believe Prior should be given a bit more praise because at times he has showed that he has ability behind the stumps and we must remember he is only human so is inclined to make mistakes! I'm undecided to weather flintoff should still be in the squad or not. I could see a bowling attack consisting of Anderson, Broad, Sidebottom, Swann, but would you have flintoff in there or would you maybe add in Rashid (gives you 2 spinners both of who can bat and lets face it Rashid has got to worth ago) or maybe add in Onions or what about giving Woakes his chance? He is looking awfully good at the moment!!

  • Comment number 54.

    Andy, the point I was trying to make is that Andrew Flintoff today is looking like the Andrew Flintoff of 2003: bags of guts, loads of effort, some brilliant spells, but frequently unrewarded. Troy Cooley did something to him (pitch it up an extra 2 feet??) that turned him from an unlucky bowler into a major wicket-taker. Now he is returning to being an unlucky bowler.

    Now it may be, as you are intimating, that the personnel that he is working with are part of the problem. In 2005/05, when he was at his peak, he was part of an attack (Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff and Jones) that hunted as a pack and complemented each other. However, the Cooley-fied Flintoff of 2005 would have continued to take wickets in the same way that Muttiah Muralitharan has done even when he has had to shoulder 40%+ of Sri Lanka's overs.

    I agree that the attack in the 5th Test bowled very very well without Andrew Flintoff. The emergence of Stuart Broad and the return to his best of James Anderson were huge plusses of the Caribbean tour. However, I do not like the tendency that when Andrew Flintoff is not playing people are "just filling in for him". He's good, but we are trying to make him too indispensible. He should have to win his place back when he is fit, like everyone else. And the onus should be on other bowlers to get the big wickets.

    There are some stats floating around that England's win percentage is actually lower with Andrew Flintoff in the side that when he is out injured. That is mainly down to the Pakistan series in 2006, but the mere fact that it is even mentioned is a reflection of how much his personality impinges on the side (similar things were said about Ian Botham in the mid'80s).

    I would prefer us not to plan everything around one player. The world does not end when Andrew Flintoff is not playing, as we saw in the 5th Test in the Caribbean when Broad, Anderson, Swann and Panesar almost brought off a sensational victory. If he's fit and worth a place, play him, but don't plan the entire side around him, particularly when he probably should not be batting any higher than 8 (and there is an argument for batting Stuart Broad at 7 and Andrew Flintoff at 8, if not now, in the near future).

  • Comment number 55.

    what has happened to chris tremlett? he had a good series against India and has not featured since?

  • Comment number 56.

    Tom, a lot of injuries, is what and they have knocked him back. Last season he had an almost injury-free season, but managed just 31 wickets in 13 matches. This season he has played 3 matches and has just 4 wickets so far.

  • Comment number 57.


    Oh, I dont disagree on the fact that Flintoff is very unlucky. I also dont disagree on the idea that the lack of wickets is due to not pitching it up that extra little element. Caddick was the same. When on song, youd see it up a little further. After a bit of tap, hed drag back and so bowl more tightly but allowing the batsmen to leave more balls.

    As you rightly say, Flintoff hunted in a fine 2005 that didnt give up runs easily (and I do include Giles in that). Hoggard was very steady and consistent. Since then, there has been nobody to act as the steady influence on a consistent basis. When Flintoff does come on, its frequently been when runs have been leaking heavily and so he has to try to attack and also stem the flow of runs. Subconsciously a bowler can get that little bit too defensive. Flintoff certainly had to get defensive in the 2007 Ashes when our bowling attack was pretty much him, Hoggard and Panesar, and it does seem that it stayed with him. However, that hat trick in the ODI series will spur him on to pitch it up more and more.

    One thing Ive always thought about Flintoff is that he suffers as Shaun Pollock did. Both got fairly close to the wicket, Pollock especially. The problem with that is that its far easier to avoid the edge as a small amount of seam movement will miss the bat edge. Glenn McGrath used the crease very well in his career. Id move Flintoff out a little further.

    Another undoubted issue is that the opposition play more cautiously against Flintoff. In some games since 2005, they knew that theyd be onto some easier runs if they saw off Flintoff because youd be facing the like of Plunkett or Harmison the other end. If the guy down the other end is sustaining no pressure and leaking runs, you reduce the effectiveness of Flintoff or whomever it is bowling as the batsmen dont have to take the risks. You need that combination of pressure at both ends to make things work, one of the main reasons why the Mcgrath-Warne partnership was so fantastic. Who do you attack out of those two?!?

    I certainly agree that we shouldnt plan a side around Flintoff. You shouldnt plan a side around any single person. For all of Bothams heroics in 1981, Headingley would still have come to nothing without Graham Dilley or Bob Willis contributing so much. An all-rounder should be a valuable commodity to an existing side, not a lynchpin around which the side is built. This was the mistake England made when Flintoff became Ashes captain. Trying to juggle so many roles proved too much with the personnel at his disposal and with the first rumblings of the imminent axe Fletcher lobby coming out.

    I dont hold any belief that Flintoffs personality stops the side from performing. Ive seen those stats on the England win percentage and its a great case of meaningless statistics proving something that really isnt there. Flintoff missed two successive series against New Zealand which certainly tips the balance against him. Against South Africa he dragged us back into it with the ball. Its nothing to do with Flintoff the man holding his fellow players back. Its all down to those fellow players not having the ability to move forward and match Flintoffs performance level. If some say that their personality gets to them and restricts their performance, then those people arent good enough to play international cricket. If the personality of one of your own team inhibits your own performance, how are you going to take on opponents with strong personalities?

  • Comment number 58.

    England have been wrecked since 05 by the gross stupidity of the selectors and team management, combined with the loss from the side of key players. For those who think Prior is the answer at wicketkeeper, I'd suggest G.Jones was no worse behind the stumps and just as good, if not better, with the bat - are people's memories that selective they don't recall his crucial contributions with the bat in 05, plus the key catches he took? Hoggard has one bad game and hasn't been seen since - what's that about?
    The weak link in 05 was Bell. Anyone wishing to put forward a case for his recall is either Australian or needs their head read. He is not good enough. And Strauss is too conservative a captain to succeed against Oz.
    We need an in-form Vaughan back at 3 to stand any chance this summer but if the team continues down the same path it has forged over the last few years, I can only see an easy Oz win. Even if they now lack a quality spinner, a bowling attack including Lee, Clark and Johnson will be enough to knock Eng over. I predict Johnson will terrorize the Eng top order like Bruce 'Radar' Reid did back in the 80s. They have a wicketkeeper who scores runs for fun, an excellent new opener, and a far stronger top 7, and are strong all the way down the batting order compared to the brittle English top order. Broad and Anderson are not consistent enough with the ball and will be picked off by Oz batsmen.
    I'd recall Harmison, Vaughan, G.Jones, Hoggard, and S.Jones (if fit). I'll be slaughtered for living in the past but look at Eng's performances since 05 predominantly without at least 3 of those players. The new players to come in have not been good enough. They have weakened England. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.

    Cook, Strauss, Vaughan (capt), KP, Colly, Flintoff, G.Jones, S.Jones, Hoggard, Harmison, Panesar

  • Comment number 59.

    We wait all these years since Stewie retired to find a wicketkeeper/batsman who is good enough to average 40+ and when we find him we want him out. Ridiculous. He has made errors but he has also played some fantastic innings. No one else is in his class with bat in hand. I'm not saying he should be forgiven everytime he makes a mistake but as he's by far the best option we have he should be given every opportunity to get it right.

    I like Foster and Ambrose but put them in this current side and our batting looks so weak it's scary. A fit and firing Matt Prior at five, six or seven gives us a much better chance of regaining the ashes.

  • Comment number 60.

    To anyone who thinks Prior kept well in West Indies:

    In the 5th test he conceded the greatest number of byes that any keeper in any test match in the history of the game has ever conceded.

    His keeping is very shoddy, and while he deserves a little more time to improve his keeping, it is something that could cost England matches against Australia

  • Comment number 61.

    As an Aussie, I sincerely hope Onions gets picked for the Ashes. This bloke is average. No seam, no swing, just the occasional wicket, usually on a green seamer resulting from batsman error. He will get taken apart. Ditto Broad.

  • Comment number 62.

    Amidst all the Flintoff debate, why does Mathew Hoggard barely ever get a mention? What did he do to deserve his exclusion from the squad?

  • Comment number 63.


    I think it is very unfair to single out Robert Key as someone tried again and again, he was actually somewhat unlucky to be dropped in 2004 (the last time he was given a go) and deserved an opportunity a couple of seasons ago when on excellent form. He has been given very little chance in comparison to the likes of Bell, Cook, Collingwood and Vaughan.

    I'm not saying that he deserves another chance here, I'm just saying it's unfair to single him out for criticism on that front

  • Comment number 64.

    Glitter, actually Robert Key last played v South Africa in 2005. His last ODI was in 2004 against Zimbabwe. Since then he has been a Lions regular, without ever producing anything very spectacular.

    What the fact of him being included in the T20 squad has to do with an old boys network for Test selection is beyond me! :-)

  • Comment number 65.

    # 60. The principal reason why England conceded so many byes in the 5th West Indies was down to the bowlers, in particular Amjad Khan ( one cap, and one too many). In the words of Geoff Boycott ( who certainly is not a Prior Fan )"Prior would have needed to have been rubberman to have stopped most of those byes"

  • Comment number 66.

    The problem with the article and with the one before is that it sounds like its written by Fosters mum or Foster himself. There almost seems to be a wish here for Prior to drop a catch so that Foster can get in the team?!

  • Comment number 67.

    I think Hoggy might be worth another look for the Ashes, do England really have a more reliable swing bowler? I think both Bresnan and Onions are certainly worth a look, but I would be a bit worried personally if both lined up in the First Ashes Test.

    And I have a feeling that Flintoff is not a guy who you can measure the value to the team in wickets, when he is bowling. I'd like to see him scoring more runs, but I think a middle order of KP, Colly, Prior and Freddie is a lot more stable that having KP at 4 and Flintoff at 6. Chances are that at least 1 of those will go cheaply, so when they bat 4 and 6 its not unlikely England slide from say 80-3 to 120-5. And Collingwood is in a similar vain. Can score big, but can can be a cheap wicket. The more I see of England in the last 4 years, the more I think we pine for a Thorpe like figure at 5 to be a fulcrum, someone who isn't going to get out cheaply.

  • Comment number 68.


    Look, we've got the message that you don't like Foster, but I'm not sure what's motivating you to keep writing different childish posts about him.

    Just for the record, everyone does not REALLY KNOW that Read is the best keeper. Foster's glovework, particularly over the last two years and particularly standing up to the stumps has been recognized as being exceptional by many professionals and commentators in the game, all of whom I'd hazard a guess know much more than you do.

  • Comment number 69.

    we definitely do miss Thorpe. He was the rock in our middle order. Now, we look horribly fragile. Colly often goes cheaply. KP will score freely and then get himself out with a silly shot. There's no great solidity with the openers, certainly not the no3, and we'll have to hope Prior and Flintoff can swing the bat successfully but that will continually be on a knife edge, besides whcih my money's on Freddy breaking down again and not making it through the series.

  • Comment number 70.

    On the contrary mr badger or whatever your name is. I have absolutely nothing against Foster, he's clearly a good keeper. I can't stand the negative prior posts before he's even gone out to keep wicket in a test.

    No need to hazard a guess, they do know more than me....and you.

  • Comment number 71.

    There is a distinct (and deplorable) lack of respect and deference for the West Indies, not only by the author but by most of the respondents. Condescendingly, the West Indians are treated like the lesser bands (or sidekicks) before the main event. The Ashes appears to be the bride and the Windies the bridesmaids.

    I hope they take strong exception to this and make England pay in spades! But thats not likely to materialize either if the recent posture of Captain Gayle is any indication: time will tell! A captain should always lead by example.

    As for Ravi Bopara, the Aussies may transform him into a habitual bench-warmer! I cant see him accumulating any significant amount of runs against them. Perhaps after the Windies side show is over, he may not even get consideration for the Ashes!

    In the final analysis, how things unfold at Lords and Chester-le-Street will depend largely on the weather. If its cold and damp, it would definitely favour the home team and adversely disadvantage the visitors.

  • Comment number 72.

    Unfortunately we're going back to the 1990s revolving door system in order to give a false impression of 'progress', and the situation will only get worse. I gather the ECB is now looking at ditching central contracts altogether(see article in The Observer Sunday 3 May), thus completely undoing the achievements of the Fletcher/Hussain/Vaughan era.

    The ECB should totally reform the county system,ignoring the inevitable squealing from big county bullies such as Lancashire, and put in place a structure based on regions, such that the best players are selected from a much wider base and given a central contract, and the regional teams are designed entirely to feed into the national team - in the meantime removing those Kolpaks and other ageing international stars cluttering up the counties/regions who refuse to accept that an integral part of their contract is to coach their teams and pass on their talent to younger generations.

    I've read an awful lot about 'mollycoddling' of our players, particularly from the media, over the past few years and I just don't see where this comes from. The England players in particular are expected to perform with hardly a break, and then suddenly people take it as a personal affront when the team doesn't do well, whilst the numerous hangers-on who trail around after them take great pleasure in criticising their performance (I can think of quite a few has-beens who have contributed precisely zero to the encouragement and training of future generations of cricketers).

    It was very interesting to hear even that stoic Matthew Hoggard, who I can never remember complaining in public before, saying that when he was injured the England management couldn't have cared less about his welfare (not so very long ago Hoggard was the world's leading wicket-taker). It seems to me that the SA and Aussie management realise how important it is to retain highly experienced players in the squad whilst also showing that they can be ruthless in de-selecting certain players who fail consistently to perform. But in the main they seem to give them the benefit of the doubt for longer than the England set-up.

    It's more than time that root and branch reform of competitions is undertaken and the number of tournaments (yet more Twenty20 next year I gather) greatly reduced so that those competitions which do remain gain real weight, meaning and value. Maybe the current world recession will bring in some sense of proportion - I do hope so, but in the case of the England set-up I doubt it.

  • Comment number 73.

    Bat Foster/Prior at 3 and Bopara at 6.
    Or play Ramprakash (assuming he makes some runs).

  • Comment number 74.


    If we did move to a regional system, then I fear the bigger counties would be able to stamp their authority even more on the game. When the plans for the regional 20-20 were released, it was pretty clear just who they were serving. Some counties deserve credit for reaching out. Someone like Liam Dawson wouldn't have gotten the chances he has got now 15 years ago. He would have been missed and his talents been overlooked. There is greater reach from counties into the lower leagues. The reward of this exploration hasn't been realised yet as the younger players haven't hit the heights but I believe they will, and increased contact from counties to lower league club sides who have good oaching programmes in place will reap rewards.

    I'm against Kolpak domination but there is also no doubt that Kolpak players do pass on skills to younger players. Leicestershire got some criticism in the past but you see their side now packed with young players with Ackerman and Dippenaar offering an experienced core to the side and it's good for the game. Nobody wants to see scenarios of two sides packed with overseas/Kolpak players as we did in some games last year but it does seem like sides have taken heed of that and are giving younger players chances to a greater level thus far this season.

    "It seems to me that the SA and Aussie management realise how important it is to retain highly experienced players in the squad whilst also showing that they can be ruthless in de-selecting certain players who fail consistently to perform. But in the main they seem to give them the benefit of the doubt for longer than the England set-up."

    Man management is key. Neither the ECB or Peter Moores ever gave the impression of being good man managers. At times it was going back to the bad old days when you'd find players on the county circuit who'd learnt of their dropping form the Test side via bloomin' Ceefax. Professionalism comes from the top down. A successful side on the field needs a quality administrative setup. India is a great example. For years, the BCCI was a bit shambolic but they are so well organised now compared to previous years. Few sides ever reach their peak with poor administrators (hello to the PCB and WICB!).

  • Comment number 75.

    With regards to an earlier post about Flintoff - the fact he has so few 5 wicket hauls does not mean he is a bad bowler. Despite being injured so often, his bowling average is impeccable.

    2005 ENG v AUS 27.29
    2005 PAK v ENG 31.46
    2006 IND v ENG 30.55
    2006 ENG v SRL 29.50
    2007 AUS v ENG 43.73
    2008 ENG v SAF 36.44
    2008 IND v ENG 29.43
    2009 WIN v ENG 30.20

    Which makes him a damn good bowler still.

    Oh and this made me laugh:

    58. At 6:14pm on 05 May 2009, johnnyrant wrote:

    I'd recall Harmison, Vaughan, G.Jones, Hoggard, and S.Jones (if fit). I'll be slaughtered for living in the past but look at Eng's performances since 05 predominantly without at least 3 of those players. The new players to come in have not been good enough. They have weakened England. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.

    Cook, Strauss, Vaughan (capt), KP, Colly, Flintoff, G.Jones, S.Jones, Hoggard, Harmison, Panesar

    Problem is, it IS broken. Vaughan lost form and is injured fairly regulary, Flintoff lost batting form and is injured a lot, G. Jones lost form, S. Jones is always injured, Harmison produces one good innings every few years (and he also considerably weakens our side far more than Anderson and Broad). It worked in 2005, that doesn't mean it will work now, it was FOUR years ago.

    Oh, and Fletcher tried what you're thinking, 2006/7 Ashes - Giles and G. Jones recalled. We lost 5-0 I believe and both were dropped mid-way through. Clive Woodward also tried the same thing with England and the British Lions after the World Cup win... that didn't go too well either.

    The Ashes was a peak. We haven't got the resources to get to that level at the moment, but that doesn't meant go back to past squads.

  • Comment number 76.

    Why can't we have Prior and Foster in the side?

    If Foster is the best keeper then I'm all for having him in.

    I think our bowlers need all the help they can get because, to be honest, I can't imagine many Australian or West Indian batsmen feeling at all nervous as Englands finest trundle up to the wicket.
    Maybe Harmison and Flintoff did once have that effect but they don't any more, especially if it's known that a bowler may not be fully fit or recovered from injury.

    It seems to me that Prior is a better choice than some of the other batsmen.
    I've not heard what his outfield catching is like, but I would expect it to be better than most.

  • Comment number 77.

    If we think we can beat Australia on a spinning wicket, think again. They may not have the best spinner bowlers of the two sides (although that is debatable - North, Clark and Hauritz are pretty handy), but they are by far the better batmen against spin bowling. Stick to low slowish tracks, transfer the Lords Test somewhere else (the Lords test is a gimme for Australia), and we're in with a chance.

  • Comment number 78.

    Per Miller the point of picking Foster for 20 twenty is to create pressure by having a top class wicket keeper. Pray why is this not the mantra for the longer game as well. So Prior can continue batting well but keeping averagly hoping this will improve. Why cannot a world class Wicket keeper do the same in reverse.
    If your top five or six batsmen cannot get the runs we are in trouble relying on seven eight and nine to get them.

  • Comment number 79.

    Why all this about the ashes? How about trying to beat the West Indies first? The ECB (and most england supporters) seem to put an inordinate amount of effort into the ashes, while being beaten by the likes of south africa and West Indies. I'm sorry, but that is very poor attidude and incredibly insulting to South Africa and West Indies. As an england supporter, any series they play whether its the ashes or against bangladesh are of equal importance. And considering the current form of the Australian test side, I would further suggest that more impetus be placed on the West Indies series!

    I agree with the blogger's point about preparing wickets that offer turn. Looking at the spinners option, this is probably the only area that England are superior to Australia.
    Essentially its Panesar and Swann vs Malcolm North and possibly either Nathan Hauritz or Cameron White. Theres not match of a contest, both Monty and Swann have proven themselves matchwinners with the ball, whereas the australian bowlers, particularly North, were used more to give the seamers a rest.
    Having a side that consists of 6 batsmen and 2 bowling allrounders, and 3 bowlers would probably be the best team for england. Having 6 batsmen, plus, Broad, Bresnan (or Flintoff) and Swann all potentially offering something to the batting, definitely allows for the opportunity to play both Monty Panesar and Graham Swann.

  • Comment number 80.

    Not much to agree with here. The clamour for Foster has become unseemly. Prior's keeping will only improve. England have for so long desired a keeper who could provide genuine runs, which Foster won't provide any more than Read, Jones and Co. did. When/If Foster gets in, eventually will come the criticism he doesn't get enough runs and makes the tail too long. Leave Prior alone if you can't get behind him. This is a better team with him than without him.


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