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'England look a little more settled'
The selectors' conundrum ahead of the Ashes, and why Vaughan wasn't as great as he was made out to be by some (18:34)
July 6, 2009
Related Links » Players/Officials: Kumar Sangakkara | Graeme Swann | Michael Vaughan Series/Tournaments: Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka | Australia tour of England and Scotland Teams: Australia | England | Pakistan | Sri Lanka
The Tony Greig Show
'England look a little more settled'July 6, 2009
The first Ashes Test gets underway in Cardiff this week and both sides seem to be a little unsure about what team will be best suited to the conditions. The form of some of the players hasn't made things easier for the selectors, although both teams are, as expected, making confident noises.
Australia's warm-up match has highlighted the lack of a class spinner, with Nathan Hauritz continuing to struggle. Mind you, having picked him as the lead spinner for the tour, they are almost committed to play him in Cardiff, which is kind to spinners. Brett Lee on the other hand showed that he is still capable of bowling fast, but more importantly he succeeded in extracting plenty of reverse swing. Mitchell Johnson will lead the Aussie attack, but he will need support from the rest.
The selectors have a few difficult decisions to make because there is not much between Lee, Peter Siddle, Stuart Clark and Ben Hilfenhaus, and two of them are likely to miss out. The Australian batting is also a little suspect, especially after the failures of both Ricky Ponting and Phillip Hughes in the warm-up match against the England Lions. Michael Hussey and Marcus North, on the other hand, both returned to form with big scores, but I am still not convinced that this Aussie line-up will handle the England attack if they swing the ball.
England look a little more settled to me, especially when one considers that the pitch is likely to turn. Graeme Swann is bowling with plenty of confidence and could just make the difference. If forced to pick a winner in the first Test, I would go for England, but only by a whisker. There is always a lot of tension around during a first Ashes Test, so temperament could play an important part.
Michael Vaughan's retirement seemed to have come as a bit of a surprise to many, but let's face it, it was the worst-kept secret of all time. Vaughan has not been a regular in the England team lately, and no player, even a former captain, can expect to be selected on the basis of sentiment. Sure, Vaughan did a good job back in 2005 but it seems to have been conveniently forgotten that England then lost 0-5 in a whitewash in Australia in 2006-07. I happen to be of the view that the heroes of 2005 were eulogised to such an extent that they began to believe the hype. Vaughan's Ashes victory was a great effort, and it was a great series, but it was also very close.
Test cricketers who get the message from selectors that they aren't likely to be picked often find it hard to continue playing first-class cricket. The time was definitely right for Vaughan to give the game away.
What has surprised me are the captaincy comparisons made by some writers and commentators. Vaughan has been compared with some of England's great captains, but I am certainly not of that view. He was good but certainly not in the special category. That category includes my heroes Douglas Jardine and Ray Illingworth. Vaughan may make my top 10, but only just.
The first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is underway at picturesque Galle and there will be many Sri Lankan cricket lovers keeping a close eye on the leadership of the super- talented Kumar Sangakkara. They will be looking for positives; signs that Sangakkara has the captaincy qualities displayed by his predecessor, Mahela Jayawardene.
Jayawardene did a great job, just as Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva said he would many years ago, when they anointed him a future Sri Lankan captain. It is, however, pertinent to point out that Jayawardene, Sangakkara and other senior members of the Sri Lankan side have always run the team on a consensus basis, so I see no reason why Sangakkara will disappoint. Not only is he smart, he has always been proactive, and anyone lucky enough to have been exposed to him will know that he is an impressive character. I think he will do a great job, but like his predecessors his success will depend on the fitness of his star players.
Pakistan are depending heavily on their debutants, the 17-year-old Mohammad Aamer and Abdur Rauf in the bowling department, and both have got their careers off to a good start in Galle. Mind you, often new boys do surprise us all, so we need to give them a little more time before we judge their ability at the highest level. This could be a keenly fought series and much depends on the battle between the naturally talented Pakistan batsmen and Sri Lanka's spin wizard, Ajantha Mendis.
There is absolutely no doubt that a strong, independent ICC is essential to the future well being of the game. Especially right now, when the Twenty20 format is threatening to take over, and there is what seems to me like money grabbing by boards and players alike.
The BCCI is easily the most financially powerful cricket body in the world and they along with their allies Australia and South Africa must be persuaded to act in the best interests of the game at large. This, among other things, is the job of the ICC, and if they fail then the game will experience serious problems.
The most recent ICC announcement has been one that has come out of left field. They are, apparently, seriously looking at reducing Tests to four days. I am not going to get too stirred up about this because the idea seems to have been floated in an effort to extract some feedback. It's true the Future Tours Programme is under pressure to make room for all the Twenty20 cricket, and the various players' associations want less cricket and more money. I have said for a while now that four-day Tests are on as long as the hours of play for each day are extended. Currently we play six hours a day over five days. If we were to introduce seven-and-a-half hour days, no time would be lost. It's worth trying, as long as the ICC makes sure that a minimum of 450 overs are bowled over the four days.
Talk to Tony
In this fortnight's show, Tony Greig analyses the prospects of both Australia and England ahead of the Ashes with Cricinfo readers Sriram Dayanand from Toronto, Cananda, and Peter Brookes from Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
From now on, the Tony Greig Show will run fortnightly on Monday. You have an opportunity to be part of the show every fortnight. All you have to do is send in your queries here and Tony will pick a couple of you to discuss a cricket issue with.
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