Monday, July 22, 2013

Australia Rooted

For a long suffering fan of English cricket and Scottish football, sustained success is a harsh reality to deal with. Even after the stark - the close fought result due to a lack of England batting application - deficiencies of this Australian team were laid bare at Trent Bridge, we barely dared to dream of this kind of vast superiority at Lords.

The press has been mired over the past two days with articles regarding everyone's disappointment and disenchantment at the lack of a 'real contest'. What tosh, we have been being served by Australia since Allan Border took a grip on their team, enjoy it and revel in it.

The signs that were prevalent in Nottingham became glaringly obvious at Lords, Australia can't bat. Whilst the remainder of this series looks a forgone conclusion, the outcome of the return series down under will depend on whether England can resolve their own batting schizophrenia.

One can look at things in one of two ways. The lack of form of Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Prior as well as the uncertainty over Bairstow (Root is now a shoe in) could be taken as a huge cause for concern. Alternatively flip it on its' head and say that England are thrashing Australia without even playing well as yet.

For Australia, things are at the lowest ebb and so in some ways it cannot get any worse or can it? So many stories are emanating from their camp regarding internal dysfunction that some simply have to be true, Darren Lehmann was trumpeted as the saviour but there is no discernible affect on their results.

Ashton Ager has proven a false dawn (so far), Shane Watson simply gets out, Clarke has the weight of the world on his shoulders and Harris had dubious fitness. Only Peter Siddle would be a decent bet to break into the England side.

With the Gabba, WACA, SCG et all to come, England badly need to ram home a message to Australia that home advantage will not overcome the obvious gulf in class between the sides. The irony is that Cook, Trott and KP who were all so dominant in Australia are the ones not firing yet and there is the rub.

England must establish whether their batting is in a slump or in an irreversible decline. Dale Steyn and South Africa showed up their batting horribly last Summer and an English Ashes thrashing followed by a home side comeback down under would be hugely unpalatable. England are required to win both series to establish a new order.

The next two tests will shape the future but in the meantime, England fans should revel in unadulterated glory and Australian fans should show true concern. The reality is with these back to back Ashes series, there is still a lot of cricket to be played - No Nonsense.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wayne Rooney

One thing is certain, Wayne Rooney wants out of Old Trafford. Whether it is his role in the team, money or simply that Coleen has just got sick of the weather and the shops, United's former talisman wants to leave.

The problem with Wayne wanting to leave is that whilst The Rooneys enjoys a high profile, love the socialite aspect of their life such as centre court at Wimbledon, and whilst Rooney is far more talented than David Beckham, due to his more troglodyte appearance he doesn't sell as many shirts as Sir David did.

Beckham effectively self financed his move to Real Madrid through shirt sales. AC Milan made a profit on his time there it is reported as did PSG. The problem put quite simply is they are NOT the Beckhams. Therefore there are far less clubs that would want him even if they could afford him. A huge circus without the money and now questionable on field performances to go with the smoking and public urinating.

Now it is unfair to write a man off purely because of his likeness to many of the baddies in The Lord Of The Rings but there is also a suspicion that we have seen the best of him, whether due to his off field lifestyle (Beckham didn't drink either perfect chap that he is) or just a general waning of his powers as with Andrey Shevchenko and Fernando Torres - are any Chelsea fans getting concerned yet?

For Chelsea, his most likely suitor this is another very high risk transfer but also one that makes a lot of sense. Rooney is the type of talented bulldozer of a player that Mourinho so loves, no nonsense, direct and pure fighting spirit. He is also hugely versatile, another trait that Mourinho craves.

If Sir Alex Ferguson WAS ManYoo off the pitch, Rooney for many years was his incarnation on it after the departure of Roy Keane. It could potentially be very destabilising for them, even if it doesn't actually happen.

However for United, it also makes a lot of sense. If Moyes' assertion - although his comments did seem a little ambiguous - that Rooney is in the main going to be a squad player, then a transfer fee of around 25M and a further saving of another 25M in wages plus whatever other bonuses  makes a lot of sense.

Renegotiating his contract would also certainly be troublesome, he will want more, they will want to pay what they see as a fading star less. Losing him for nothing in two years would become a very real prospect. ManYoo have more income than pretty much anyone but FFP is a reality and the Glazers are businessmen.

The risk for Chelsea is having twice been bitten by Shevchenko and Torres that they buy a third Christmas turkey. One suspects however that Mourinho is entirely behind this move this time and that should give the fans encouragement at least. The problem is can Rooney get back to his best? If he can he is capable of adding to any team.

Arsenal have added themselves to the mix but one really questions their true intention at season ticket sales time. Spurs for years 'very nearly' bought everyone only to be 'out bid' at the last minute. Higuain was a 'done deal', the Suarez bid seems fanciful and can anyone really believe Wenger will pay Rooney 250K per week on top of the transfer fee?

The transfer window is starting to heat up now and for the top teams, a nervous eye will be cast at the Etihad where Manuel Pellegrini has seamlessly slotted in so far and has quietly conducted what initially looks some excellent transfer business. ManYoo are in danger of going backwards - although Cesc Fabregas would be an amazing if unlikely capture - and Chelsea know they still need to strengthen.

An odd part of the story and hopefully for Chelsea fans a fictional one is the mooted prospect of Luiz or Mata - two of Chelsea's best players last year - to be used as a part exchange for the older Rooney. This writer feels neither is an inferior player to Wayne Rooney.

Chelsea fans must hope that this is tit for tat disruption coming from Old Trafford. If Rooney is valued at 25M is anyone seriously suggesting Mata or Luiz worth only 15M, especially given Chelsea turned down circa 25M last Summer from Barcelona for Luiz.

Rooney seems unwilling to hand in a transfer request given his need to waive bonuses and add ons. This of course flies in the face of his wanting to move for 'footballing reasons'. Paul Stretford his agent makes nothing if ManYoo do not offer a new contract or Rooney doesn't move, he may be simply trying to force one of the two and doesn't care which.

For Mourinho or even Wenger, prizing Wayne Rooney from their biggest rivals would be an incredible coup and the fans would no doubt revel in the mischief of that alone. One would hope however for either club that the ones left laughing the hardest are not ManYoo, and all the way to the bank................  No Nonsense

Monday, July 15, 2013

England Scrape Over the Line

England made the hardest of jobs of beating Australia at Trent Bridge winning with only 14 runs to spare ending a test match of the highest drama if not necessarily quality.

England went into the match and the series as strong favourites and whilst the score reads 1-0, Australia will have garnered great heart from this test match despite the desperate disappointment they will have felt.

There is little doubt that this is the worst Australian team to face England in over 25 years. It is a team woefully short of genuine test class with probably Michael Clarke and possibly Peter Siddle as the only Australian players who could displace a player from England's side.

England by contrast have test batting pedigree in Cook, Trott, KP, Bell (sometimes...) and Matthew Prior supplemented by the potential of Root and Bairstow. Their seam attack is possibly bested only by South Africa and adding Graeme Swann to the mix, they are potent.

Cricket stadia in England however seem to inspire Australians rather than intimidate in the way that the English can struggle at the Gabba or the WACA. The way that Australia dug in during this match was hugely impressive.

Much was made of the disarray Australia found themselves in during their dreadful Indian tour and then build up to the Ashes. Mickey Arthur it seemed had 'lost the dressing room' and there is little doubt that the always impressive Darren Lehmann has had a huge galvanising effect.

This was of course a match that England should have won at a canter. Some very ordinary shot selection in the first innings led to England posting a sub par total. Australia however did little to dispel the notion that their batting line up will struggle to cope with England's seam attack in these conditions.

The tail has wagged impressively for Australia in both innings but it would be folly to think that you can win test matches by relying on numbers 7 onwards. Ashton Agar's innings on Thursday was incredible but it was also hugely unlikely and even if Australia had posted even 50 less runs for their first innings this would have been a very comfortable win for England. Ifs and buts however.

England's batting has become a serious issue. Not one batsman managed a half century in the first innings and it was only once backs were against the wall in the second plus a huge reprieve for Stuart Broad that England managed to post a competitive total.

England's problem appears to be the same as in the shorter format in that they have no idea currently how to pace an innings at the outset. Too often they are stuck not moving the scoreboard forcing them to eventually play half hearted wafts such as the one that got Joe Root out on Friday.

The flip side is playing with a degree of abandon that the situation does not merit. The way Kevin Pietersen played in the second innings was an exception showing that you can temper aggression with determination not to give your wicket away. Bell's century was also of the highest quality it must be said.

Cook and Trott badly need to get back amongst the serious runs. They gave the platform at the Gabba in the previous series that paved the way for KP's huge double ton at Adelaide. After that they didn't stop scoring runs. It is also England's lower order that looks shaky now in comparison to Australia's.

For England's attack, the fitness of  James Anderson is paramount. He sits alongside Dale Steyn as the world's premier seam bowler. Fitness is also an issue regarding Broad and Swann. Neither offered the penetration that they have previously done. Getting them 100% right must also be a priority.

The enigma that is Steven Finn continues to frustrate. He has all the tools to absolutely destroy batsmen but his character is as big a concern as his economy rate. His two overs yesterday cost 24 runs at the most crucial of times. Finn has been around long enough now to perform much better than that if he is indeed ever going to.

Cook will undoubtedly have lost confidence in him now but the problem is he remains a genuine strike bowler and one must still hope that one day it will all click. Lords should suit him better but the Australians will fancy their chances against him now as the weak link.

Brett Lee as an example was always expensive but he was a fine competitor who relished the challenge, and there was always the suspicion that he was one ball away from taking your head off. Finn needs a bit more Lee and a bit less Harmison.

Tim Bresnan remains a more ordinary but possibly more competitive option for England. He proved a fine replacement for Finn down under it must be remembered.

Australia need Warner back as quickly as possible. Whilst he's not an out and out test player, he is the kind of character that they need now. Australia will benefit from a series of attrition with players that can dig in. Brad Haddin was a fine example yesterday. He may not quite have the class but he certainly showed a lot of the same character as Ian Healy, his was a fine knock that probably deserved better.

Whilst Anderson's ten wickets won him the MOM award, Ashton Agar's debut in England deserved the headlines. Whilst he is in the team for his bowling, his first innings 98 was an incredible effort that transformed the match. He bowled with a large amount of control if not huge spin and looks a decent find for Australia. He is certainly several levels up from Xavier Doherty.

Shane Watson again continues to frustrate. Whilst his candidacy for LBWs looks pronounced, his inability to convert good starts into big scores is inexplicable for a player so obviously talented. He always does the hard part only to get himself out in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Australia also badly need Clarke to get amongst the runs. He should be blameless for his first innings dismissal - it was the perfect delivery from Anderson - but he is Australia's one true world class test batsman. 

One other deciding factor may be the two captains. Cook's use of the DRS was impeccable whereas Clarke was too keen to use up his reviews leaving him impotent when the Broad 'dismissal' came about. Cook shows far more patience and had he not, England may not have been able to review the crucial Haddin dismissal yesterday.

Whilst England will be jubilant in victory, the shortened break to the next test on Thursday will suit Australia more. This close defeat coupled with the occasional controversy on field blended with the character of Lehmann will ensure ideal conditions for the maximum incubation of the siege mentality that they so crave.

In basic terms, Australia simply need to find a way to get their top order to start scoring runs. The question is whether the likes of Rodgers, Cowan and Smith are really upto consistently scoring runs in the Test arena. It is debatable at best.

If Australia can find a way to post a good first innings total their seam attack has the potential to expose the sometimes brittle nature of England's batting and they are by no means out of this series.

England badly need Cook and Trott to start performing with the bat and for Swann and Broad to get back to their best with the ball. They need to solve the Finn/Bresnan conundrum and they need to keep James Anderson wrapped in cotton wool

England should win this test series with something to spare but the Australians love Lords and their record there is superb - although England did beat them there in 2009.

Should England get themselves 2-0 up then it could become a very comfortable series setting the tone for down under. If however Australia dig in and find a way to win, it could become an incredibly close series. The Ashes could hinge on Lords - No Nonsense.