Shameless Sales Pitch
England v India
Thu. 10.30am – Sky Sports 1
If England win the 4th Test Match Paddy Power will refund all losing pre-match Top Run Scorer and Wicket Taker bets. See website for conditions
Thanks to India’s ‘lamer than an arthritic donkey’ performances in the Test series in England, we’ve had time to think lately. A lot of time in fact. Naturally, one of our first ponderings was ‘how good is this England team actually?’ With India rolling over and having their bellies tickled, lumping too much praise on England is a concern, but it’s evident that this is the best English team in some time and with youth on their side, it has the potential to go on to become one of the best teams of all time. There’s some way to go yet, but how does this team shape up against the one of the most lauded teams ever?
I’m pitting the England team that won this summer’s 2nd Test against India versus the Australia team that won the 1st Test of the 2001 Ashes summer. Yes, England’s victory in the 3rd Test was more of a pummelling, but the team featured Ravi Bopara so is therefore null and void for mention in all debates regarding the best of all time. As Australia’s best team of recent years, we’ve taken the team that trounced a decent England team 4-1 on their own patch back in 2001. The performance in the first Test of that Ashes series was about as complete as you’re likely to see from any team. They bowled England out twice for medium and low scores respectively and showed plenty of fighting spirit in their only innings by recovering from 134/3 to post 576 and an insurmountable lead of 270 which a decent England team were indeed unable to surmount. Here’s a comparison of the two teams.
Andrew Strauss v Steve Waugh
It’s very harsh on Andrew Strauss that he’s up against one of the greatest captains of all time, but that’s the level we’re dealing with. Waugh was the quintessential stereotype of snarling Aussie aggression. When it came to his cricket, there was little room for sentiment and he was ruthless with both opposition and certain colleagues. Leading by example was his way and his players reflected the captain’s bloodthirsty attitude. Like Waugh, Strauss has become more reliable with age. Early on in his international career the spectacular highs were often punctuated by substantial slumps, but these days even on a bad day he seems to be good for a 30 or 40 and can even grind his way to a big score. His Test average suggests he’s not on the same ultra-reliable plane as Waugh, but it might yet happen as his career comes to a close and taking quick singles becomes less and less appealing.
Verdict: S. Waugh
Alistair Cook v Matthew Hayden
Hayden’s reputation in England took a knock thanks to the shrewd tactical work of then England coach Duncan Fletcher and then captain Michael Vaughan during the 2005 Ashes Series. With his form at a low ebb he couldn’t buy a score thanks to England’s bowling and field positions strangling his drives. Outside of this sustained blip however, he was a truly outstanding player, scoring 1,000 Test runs in every calendar year from 2001 through to 2005. Cook already has a long list of remarkable achievements to his own name and more tonnes than first day at Fat Camp, but can’t yet compete with Hayden’s long term consistency. A couple more seasons of what he has achieved in the last year or so would just about do it however, so it could just be a matter of time. At the moment, for sheer weight of achievement Hayden gets the narrow nod, but Cook is closing in on his achievements and could surpass the great superb Australian.
Jonathan Trott v Michael Slater
Although the 2001 Ashes series was arguably the pinnacle of the team’s powers, as an individual performer Slater struggled and was dropped for the final Test. In the background, his marriage was falling apart and the turmoil clearly had an impact on his game. At his best, he was a flamboyant stroke-maker and a privilege to watch. At an average of nearly 43 runs per Test match innings, he finished his career above the much-coveted 40 average that is often used to lazily identify greatness, but his failure to convert high scores into centuries became something of running joke. In many ways, Trott exemplifies the new generation of English cricketer that is responsible for hauling the team to the top of the world rankings. That’s mainly because he’s not English, but it’s also because of the steely efficiency with which he goes about his job. As short as his Test career has been, his average is knocking on the door of 60 and there’s a lot more to come. He may not get to match the longevity of Slater’s career, but he’s the better player.
Ian Bell v Ricky Ponting
This is an interesting match-up mainly because both players are renowned for looking scratchier than a dog with fleas when they first come to the crease. Sadly, it’s not much of contest because Ponting is by far the better cricketer and one of the best to have ever played the game. Bell is much improved in recent seasons, but is still never likely to surpass Punter’s standards. Ponting has 39 Test centuries and an average of 53 to his name which is a record almost good enough to ignore his captaincy shortcomings. If was a personality contest, Bell would stand a better chance. Ponting’s combination of moodiness and moaning make him difficult to warm to, whilst Bell comes across like one of the more likeable members of the English team – not that it’s much of an achievement considering his opposition. Still though, when they pick up a bat, there’s not much competition.
Kevin Pietersen v Mark Waugh
Ok, Mark Waugh wasn’t the best batsman in the world. He wasn’t even the best batsman in his family, but he was an excellent player in his own right. His Test average and runs total is comparable with some of the greats, but he suffers from simply not being as good as his brother, otherwise known as ‘Bradley-Wright Phillips Syndrome’. Pietersen is a jackass of the highest order – even going so far as to get a terrible tattoo of the English crest on his South African arm. He’s damn good however and when not staring longingly at himself in the mirror has found time to compile 18 Test centuries at an average of 49, something made all the more remarkable by the fact he endured a bad spell with the bat not so long ago. Almost literally, Waugh has the edge when it comes to fielding, but Pietersen has that X-Factor that’s capable of turning it on against any bowler in any conditions.
Eoin Morgan v Damien Martyn
When you think of the members of those great Australian teams, Martyn is probably the last name that comes to mind, but that amnesia does a disservice to his excellent Test record. He was superb during the Ashes summer of 2001 and eventually ended his career with a batting average of 46. There’s a nice contrast in this hypothetical match-up because whilst Martyn’s wonderfully text book style went down well with the purists, there’s no doubt that Morgan’s style makes certain members of the MCC physically sick. He earned his reputation with some brilliant performances in Twenty20 and One Day games, but he has shown versatility to rein it in for Test cricket yet still play with freedom and application. Marto was a quality player, but Moggy is the type of player fans, neutrals and possibly even a few of the more liberal members of the MCC love to see at the crease. Not much in it, but Morgan is the name I’d have on my teamsheet.
Matt Prior v Adam Gilchrist
With the gloves it’s Gilchrist. With the bat it’s Gilchrist. In the bar for a couple beers it’s Gilchrist. The Aussie wicketkeeper was the bane of many a side and despite coming across as being one of the more affable members of the Baggy Greens, he had the ruthless streak that seems common to their DNA. After the bowling side had apparently done all the hard work by getting through the Aussie top order, Gilchrist had the capacity to come in, steady the ship and almost in the blink of an eye, take the game away from them. His shot-making was outstanding and in something of rarity for modern wicketkeeper, his ability with the bat didn’t come at the expense of talent behind the stumps. Matt Prior has certainly improved his glovework since the early days of his England career and he’s a threat with the bat, but simply not in Gilchrist’s league.
Stuart Broad v Brett Lee
Lee was about the quickest bowler of his generation, but his ‘inoffensive surfer boy from Summery Bay’ look and demeanour meant he lacked the menace and outright ferocity of the famous West Indian pacemen. Plus he sprayed the ball around like a broken showerhead. When he got it right, he was a real handful, but his spells of line, length and pace were far too brief and often littered with too many bad balls. And whilst some commentators and pundits suggested that his somewhat inflated average was the sign he could hold a bat, he really couldn’t and it had more to do with getting the not out ahead of Jason Gillespie or Glenn McGrath. Stuart Broad has suffered from similar inconsistencies to Lee and comes across as a bit of an arse on the pitch, but when he gets the bit between his teeth, he’s almost unplayable. His place in the side was questioned at the start of the season, but he has had a fantastic couple of months. Plus, he’s much more of a genuine all rounder than Lee.
Tim Bresnan v Jason Gillespie
Gillespie wasn’t exactly a bad bowler per se, but he certainly benefited from working in tandem with McGrath and Warne. Whilst the other two could tie down an end, batsmen were anxious to keep the board ticking over and took ill-advised risks against Dizzy, earning him a good few of his wickets. As part of a bowling unit, he was a useful and highly capable bowler, but examined in isolation, he wasn’t the biggest of threats. He was an excellent nightwatchman however and took ‘nightwatchman-ing’ to new heights by scoring 201 not out in the role against Bangladesh in 2006. That innings earns him the dubious distinction of being the only player to have been dropped permanently after scoring a Test double century. Bresnan is still in the early stages of his Test career, but already he looks like a player who can excel at the level. He’s quick and accurate and if he can steer clear of injuries, could be a key part of the English attack for many years to come. He’s also handy with the bat beyond the role of the nightwatchman and overall he’s a better option.
Jimmy Anderson v Glenn McGrath
Sorry Jimmy, you’re good, but you’re not Glenn McGrath good. In an era when bulking up and raw pace was considered the way forward, McGrath stayed true to the line and length philosophy. He’s typical ball barely tickled the feet of the 80mph range, but even without express pace made life so remarkably uncomfortable for top class batsmen the world over. It’s almost impossible to count the number of times McGrath managed to coax something out of a pitch that seemed to be doing little for other bowlers and although it shouldn’t change his legacy, his consistency over a long period of time was astounding considering the difficulties he had to endure in his personal life. To his credit, Anderson is a good bowler who seems to verging into the territory of ‘exceptional’ more and more these days. Plus he’s a solid nightwatchman and good for the occasional scrappy 20.
Graeme Swann v Shane Warne
The match up between the spinners is another one in which a talented Englishman has the misfortune to come up against one of the all time greats. Murali eventually went on to easily surpass Warne haul of wickets, but there was a swagger and explosiveness to the Aussie’s bowling that made virtually every ball of his spell compulsive viewing. From the moment Mike Gatting looked at him like he was some sort of witchdoctor for taking his off-stump with a ball that pitched some distance outside leg, we knew Warne was something special and his career lived up to those early expectations. He did have moments he’d rather forget – those blonde highlights included – but he bounced back from slumps several times. Swann is the best spinner in the world at present with an unbelievable strike rate in the first over of his spell, but not quite in Warne’s league overall. Sadly for Warne his ability with the bat was only slightly better than his grasp of a monogamous relationship and Swann has the edge with the bat, but it’s still not enough to overturn the deficit. Warne every time.
So, still a bit of work to be done for the English boys, but they’ve got time on their side. Well, most of them do. Comments, criticisms or more Ravi Bopara jibes welcome in the comments section.