Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The King is Dead

May 19th, 2004.  England captain (and personal hero to your humble author) Michael Vaughan has been ruled out of the opening test of the summer against New Zealand.  The captaincy will pass to Marcus Trescothick, but what of Vaughan's spot alongside him opening the batting?

"Simple" says I to my good friend Mainzey.  "Move Butcher up to open, Nasser to 3 and bring in Collingwood."

My decision seemed logical at the time.  I was, remained and retain membership of the Paul Collingwood fan club.  He had played Test cricket, albeit briefly, and Butcher had opened before.  Apparently though (as I was to discover years later) Butcher was not keen to surrender his spot at 3, and so the selectors plucked Andrew Strauss to make his test debut.  Some thought (and still think) that I bemoaned the pick, and didn't rate Strauss.  Not true.  And his debut ton, coupled with a wonderful second innings knock that ended when Hussain ran him out (the last victim of Nassers career) before Hussain rallied the side to victory (both innings I watched after calling in sick for work at the Odeon.  Sorry, but its been 8 years, sue me) thrilled me.

Today, Wednesday August 29th 2012, Strauss announced his decision to stand down as England captain and retire from all forms of cricket after a test series defeat by South Africa (if this sounds familiar, its because both Nasser and Vaughan resigned in the same circumstances.  Bloody Saffers....)  He played exactly 100 Tests, 50 of them as captain, and scored 7037 runs at an average of just over 40, with 21 centuries.  He also won 46 of the tests he played in, winning the first eight.

I cannot say that I have been a constant supporter of Strauss.  In 2007, his annoying habit of driving at full balls and nicking to slip (or keeper occasionally, just to mix things up) infuriated me, and I was not upset to see him left out of a tour to Sri Lanka.  His return for the next series away in New Zealand confused me, as did the call to bat him at 3.  But he won me round with brilliant centuries in Napier and in a great run chase at Old Trafford in 2008.  When events opened up the England captaincy on a permanent basis in 2009, I was very happy to see Strauss take up a role he seemed to have been born to perform.

I have also been a constant reminder to people that after his first day ton at Lords v the Aussies in 2009, he didn't reach three figures in a Test match again until the first test over 16 months later, and then after not until May 2012.  He continued to chip in, but frequently seemed to get out when set, especially when a bowler came round the wicket to him.

However, in spite of these, I will miss him.  England under Strauss were ruthlessly efficient, dominant in the field and constantly looking like 20 wickets could be taken with as little as 60 deliveries.  England did not lose a series after his debut series UNTIL they had reached the summit of Test cricket, some three years later.  England won with a regularity that never became boring.  I will miss the late cut, the pull over midwicket, even the cover drive which seemed to desert him after 2009 will be missed.  England will also miss him in in the slips.  His trusty mitts snaffled 121 catches in his 100 Tests, probably none better than the wonderful one handed grab at Trent Bridge to get rid of Adam Gilchrist in 2005.

Alastair Cook has been groomed to step in to the breach ever since he skippered the "mini tour" to Bangladesh in 2010.  He has played 83 tests, has only one fewer test century than Strauss and also has 73 catches.  He will not REPLACE Strauss, he will succeed him.  He will be a different type of captain, and it will be interesting to see if full time Test captaincy can FINALLY do something that Shane Warne, loss of form and even batting 13 hours has failed to do.  Make Cook sweat.

Fare thee well Andrew.  Enjoy the next stage of your life, but please remember.  I never hated you, I just thought it was Collingwood's time.  It was not then, and I'm glad that it was yours.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Defending The Crown

England have named their squad for the World T20 tournament, to be played in Sri Lanka in September, a competition they enter as holders after winning the last tournament in the West Indies in 2010.  There are a few notable changes from that 2010 team, as the captain, the leading bowler, and of course the Man of the Tournament are no longer part of the England setup for one reason or another.  It will be tough for England to defend their title, but they are still the number one ranked side in T20, and will rightly enter the tournament with a high level of confidence.

The lineup for Englands last T20 game v the Windies was Kieswetter, Hales, Bopara, Morgan, Buttler, Bairstow, Patel, Swann, Broad (c), Dernbach, Finn.

All of the above 11 have been named, and are joined by Bresnan, Wright, Briggs and Lumb.  Bresnan Wright and Lumb were key members of the 2010 squad.  Lumb may have to back up Kieswetter and Hales, who smashed an England T20 record score of 99 v the West Indies in the last match.  Briggs is something of a T20 specialist, with a career economy rate below 7 an over and a wicket every 16 balls.  He is a specialist slow bowler, and not much of a spinner (much like Samit Patel, another slow left arm option).  Luke Wright has been in and around the England setup since 2007, and has been hampered by having never found a specialist role (jack of all, master of....).

The key men for England are :
Eoin Morgan, one of the most destructive limited overs batsmen in the world
Graeme Swann, a wily campaigner who found Sri Lankan pitches to his liking in the recent test series (and his comeback International tour back in 2007)
Steve Finn, the fastest bowler in the squad with a proven track record of extracting life from even the flattest subcontinental wickets in the last year, and
Stuart Broad, entering an international tournament as captain for the first time, he must keep his temper and set an example for his mostly young squad (only two over 30s!)

Can England win? Yes, of course they can.  They are a well drilled, well set squad.  Will they win? I'm an England cricket fan, I'm not counting my chickens.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

And Now...The AFC

DUTTON - So, the AFC..

MAINZEY - The second best conference in terms of quality and Mannings (did I really just say that?), the AFC is like the Australian Olympic team compared the the GB team that is the NFC.

DUTTON - Yorkshire won more medals than Australia.  There are, to my mind, NO outstanding Superbowl candidates in the AFC, but like the NFC lets start in the East.

MAINZEY - Ah, Mullins Division (NY Jets), and boy is he going to have fun this year with Timmy (God's personal representative in the NFL).  My dads team should also have a blast with no QB until the boy Tannehill is ready, the Bills may surprise some people with their defence and a few skill players, but lets be serious.  The Patriots win this division by a mile.  Best QB in Brady, best coach in Bellichek...pretty easy one for me this.

DUTTON - Hard to argue, though I think the Patriots could use help at tight end.

The other three teams have passable defences, the Bills having spent big to improve. But the Dolphins will have a year of growing pains, and Tebow will be the starting QB by week five. Easy Patriots win.

The Powerhouse division would be the North, with three playoff teams in 2011. I have a feeling that the most talented team in this quartet is actually Cincinatti.

MAINZEY - Still sticking with the Jimmy Graham over Gronk joke I see

AFC North the one thing I do know is the Cleveland will be last. As for the others I think the best team are the Steelers they have Big Ben with Weapons and still have a defence. I am torn between the Ravens and the Bengals although I hope the Bengals win 10 games.

DUTTON - Sticking my neck out (never a task I'm afraid to do) in saying the Bengals finish above the Ravens in 2012.

The West is probably the most intriguing in the entire NFL. The Chargers are the perennial contenders, the Chiefs have a top defence and a few offensive weapons returning, Denver replaced a gimmick QB with some guy called Manning, and the Raiders begin a truly new era as they go into their first season post Al Davis. My money is on Kansas.

MAINZEY - Cincy and Kansas bloody hell Neil have you been drinking??

The Chargers may have Norv and they also have talent but I know who I am going with. The same person I have picked to win the AFC South since 2000. I am on the Peyton and Broncos bandwagon and I am sticking with it!!!

DUTTON - I don't think the Bengals will win their division, just finish above Baltimore!

I think Denver will push, but everything Kansas have done this offseason has impressed me.

MAINZEY - I may have missed what Kansas did, where they the team who signed Peyton Manning?

DUTTON - No, they have their own injury blighted QB, and they did sign another Peyton (the oft injured and 2011 Madden Curse victim Peyton Hillis).

MAINZEY - Ok just checking I hadn't missed something

DUTTON - Idiot.

So, potentially the worst division in pro football, the AFC North. all means, you can lead off on this one.

MAINZEY - AFC North is surely the poo division of the league this year. 

That being said this is a no brainer for me Texans all the way the OLine may not be as good but with Foster and Schaub throwing to Johnson and Daniels they should have more than enough

DUTTON - I'll be prepared to controversial here, I think Johnsons days of "elite" are done. Can't stay healthy, Texans will ground and pound to lighten his load. Their receiving corps is a worry, but they are still the cream of this crap.  Titans will compete, but Colts and Jags will stink again.

So Pats, Steelers, Texans and a disagreement in the West. Wild cards?

MAINZEY - May not be elite but better than the rest in that division. 

Yeah my wildcards are going to be Ravens and Bengals.  You?

DUTTON - I'm going with the Bengals...and the Denver Broncos.

So there you have it, all eight divisions broken down into idiot sized chunks.  How will our selections pan out? You get to find out in under a month.