The former England captain's take on the fortnight in cricket

'England have a long way to go'

Australia's growing worries, the burdens of Vettori and the advent of 40-over ODIs (10:08)

August 31, 2009

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The Tony Greig Show

'England have a long way to go'

August 31, 2009

In Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, England have settled and sound leadership © Getty Images

Australia have surrendered the Ashes as well as their official status as the top Test team in the world in the wake of England's win at The Oval. Victory in the decisive fifth Test handed Andrew Strauss's men a 2-1 series triumph and the result means Ricky Ponting has the unwanted tag of being the first Australia captain in 119 years to lose two Ashes series in England. The defeat also means Australia slip from No. 1 in the world to No. 4, behind South Africa, Sri Lanka and India.

There is no better tonic for the game in England than beating Australia at home. The fact that the series went right down to the wire made it even better. After England's 2005 victory the celebrations were overdone and it's an indication of the difference in attitude of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower that this time the partying has been constrained. It's almost as if they are saying that they recognise that there is unfinished business. Let's face it, there is, not least of which will be to see to it that they beat South Africa away and don't once again go down in a whitewash in Australia in just over a year from now.

England captain Andrew Strauss has credited his team's dramatic success to coach Andy Flower. Strauss said the former Zimbabwe captain had the vision as well as the communication skills to extract the best from the players. High praise indeed, especially after the fiasco involving his Kevin Peterson and his coach Peter Moores.

England were a little fortunate in so much as Ricky Ponting and the Australian selectors did play into their hands by deciding to go into the Oval Test without a recognised spinner. Ponting and the selectors have conceded this, as well as the fact that they misread the pitch. For Aussies, concessions are rare, and this is a bit of an indication of just how much they are all hurting!

While England basks in their well-earned glory there will be a few knives out in Australia. Don't be surprised if Ponting is relieved of the limited-overs captaincy. Also, there are bound to be discussions about whether or not there should be changes to the selection panel.

There is no better format or place in the world to play cricket than Australia, and it is therefore understandable that when the Australian team don't produce the goods there are going to be questions asked. At the moment Cricket Australia as well as some former and current players are not playing the so called blame game, but rest assured there will be victims. Australia has to find a frontline spinner, and they must decide what to do with Brett Lee. It seems to me that while Mitchell Johnson was bowling well he was covering some of Australia's bowling problems; the time has come to sort them out.

Their batting doesn't seem to be in too much trouble and I expect Michael Hussey to return to his usual consistent self. The one issue that does need to be addressed is who should open the batting, Shane Watson is a temporary opener, and if he can remain fit then he will probably hang on to his spot until someone else puts the hand up.

In Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, England have settled and sound leadership. The team has also developed fighting qualities and a good spirit, but they will still be worried about the batting performances of Ravi Bopara, Alistair Cook and Paul Collingwood. They have to hope that Kevin Pietersen returns fit as soon as possible because his presence will allow the selectors to try Stuart Broad as the allrounder batting at No. 7. Jonathan Trott is another exciting player, and he along with Adil Rashid will hopefully be given plenty of encouragement. Steve Harmison seems to be making retirement noises similar to those made by Andrew Flintoff, so the fast-bowling depth will be weakened. Whatever England do, they will be trying very hard to see to it that their tremendous Ashes victory is the start of a good run at Test level, perhaps even one that results in them being the best Test team in the world. But they have a long way to go.

Andrew Flintoff is recovering from yet another knee operation, and it's a little sad that such a wonderful cricketer has now finished his Test career. I can't help wondering if we would all be better off if he and others chose to give away the limited-overs formats and stay with Test cricket. There was a time when this was considered the way to go, but IPL cash has put paid to that. Flintoff did experience many ups and downs during his career but he will go down in history as one of England's greatest allrounders. He has been a superb strike bowler and slip fieldsman, ending with a batting average of 31 and a bowling average of 32

In England there is still plenty of disenchantment over the fact that the Ashes was not on free-to-air television. It was shown live on Sky, a pay channel, and only 1.9 million watched England win on the last day at The Oval. In 2005, when the Ashes was broadcast live on Channel Five, a free-to-air network, 7.4 million watched. Having said that, the ECB are decidedly better off financially because of the wonderful deal that they got with Sky, but it is still causing a few problems.

New Zealand in Sri Lanka
Before the start of the Test series, I suggested that without Shane Bond, New Zealand would struggle to get the 20 wickets usually needed to win Tests. This has turned out to be the case, but their problems run deeper than just bowling. Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor are both fine batsmen, and Daniel Vettori would have expected them to provide New Zealand with some meaningful runs. That has not really happened.

Having the coach as a selector is completely different. I don't like it because the coach is a contracted employee who doesn't rely on his on-field performances to justify his appearance in the next game. The coach should be subservient to the captain and his position reviewed if ever the captain is changed.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have been able to churn out runs thanks to centuries by Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, and the blossoming Thilan Samaraweera. Samaraweera is just what the doctor ordered for this Sri Lankan line-up. He has a good defence, is a fighter, and is now developing as a stroke-maker and a big hundred merchant to boot. All this on the back of his close call in the terrorist attack in Lahore, earlier this year. Samaraweera averages just under 60 in his last 15 Tests. Those numbers are extra special, but rather like with Hussey much will depend on how he handles the inevitable run of low scores that this great game has a habit of imposing on all batsmen at some stage.

Vettori continues to perform credibly for New Zealand, and the high esteem in which he is held has been rewarded by New Zealand Cricket, who have made him and Andy Moles part of the selection panel. To be honest, I don't understand how the captain of any team is not part of the selection process. The captain is expected to make all the decisions and accepts that he will be blamed if things go wrong. Conversely, he receives the praise if his team does well. When I was asked to captain England my selectors, Sir Alec Bedser, Sir Len Hutton, Kenny Barrington and Charlie Elliott, expected me to come to the selection meetings with the team I wanted. They also expected me to be prepared to justify my selections and to hear them out, should they have a different view. They gave me the distinct impression that, within reason, they wanted me to have the team I wanted. That to my way of thinking is what NZC are saying to Vettori.

Having the coach as a selector is completely different. I don't like it because the coach is a contracted employee who doesn't rely on his on-field performances to justify his appearance in the next game. The coach should be subservient to the captain and his position reviewed if ever the captain is changed. Martin Crowe has alluded to an excessive workload possibly resulting in Vettori burning out. Vettori seems to relish the responsibility that has been thrust upon him, but I can understand Crowe's concern because losing this fine cricketer would be a huge blow to NZ cricket.

Watch out for the 40-over game
It seems that the predicted growing disenchantment over the length of one-day internationals will, given time, result in a reduction to 40 overs-a-side. The issue, which has come to a head as a result of research into how cricket followers want to spend their leisure time, has been discussed at meetings of the England Cricket Board with Cricket Australia and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the three most powerful national bodies in the game. It's just feasible that World Cups of the future could be 40-over matches. This may well happen sooner rather than later.

The IPL: the squeeze is on
For a while now, the world of cricket has been waiting and watching the business model created by the highly successful Indian Premier League to prove itself. It's one thing creating a highly desirable cricket product, but totally another ensuring that all the parties involved are suitably recompensed. So far the cricketers have done very well, but others are waiting, some with bated breath, to see how the individual franchises perform. It is also vital that the IPL's broadcast partners make a profit, because it is they who are, in the main, providing the meaningful cash. With all this in mind, it is interesting that the BCCI has decided it will no longer use the services of IMG, the sports management firm, for conducting the IPL, following a disagreement over payments for the league's second season in South Africa. N Srinivasan, the BCCI secretary, explained that the Indian board's working committee felt that IMG's fee was "disproportionate to the service rendered". This is the first indication that the squeeze is on to secure IPL's financial future.

Posted by wayde on (September 1, 2009, 2:07 GMT)

I play 40 over cricket and enjoy it, but I don't want to watch great players do it! Seemingly it's the middle overs they want to remove to up the ante. These are the overs that shape the game to my mind, it's when the bowlers work to restrain the opposition or the batting side reset after a bad start. It seems to me that the Cricketing powers that be are playing to the lowest common denominator again. I want to see great bowling. I want to see cricket strokeplay. I want to see intelligent cricket. I don't want to see smashem bashem batting and bowlers as enhancement talent Its sport as entertainment, not pure entertainment. How long till there is a WWF league of 10over cricket where the bowlers can only use a 5yard run up and the boundaries are 40m away? I look forward to KP miked up sledging the bowler as he runs in…

Posted by pavanouce on (August 31, 2009, 15:46 GMT)

40 overs one-dayers?? gosch.!! I don't think cricket matches need to be shorter anymore, especially having so many t20 games going around.

Posted by Woody111 on (August 31, 2009, 8:40 GMT)

Fair call to emphasise the importance of England's win but why does everyone mention 'first captain in 119 years to lose....' Perhaps it's worth exploring how many captains have been in the position to lose two consecutive away Ashes series. Clearly one has to be captain for 4 years or at least two separate tours to lose them both.

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