Thursday, March 23, 2006

England Report Card

Andrew Flintoff: A+. And that's just for his outstanding leadership, most notably the way he got his bowlers to execute on specific plans for individual batsmen. There can be no doubt that he has just concluded his second wonderful tour of India, and he led by example with bat, ball, in the slips and everything else. This man can do little wrong at the moment, and will hopefully go on to be one of the genial legends of the modern game.

Matthew Hoggard: A+. Hoggard was absolutely outstanding, and what really stuck out for me was the way he adapted so smoothly to the different pitches. He used the slower ball and other variations to good effect at Nagpur, and when he found some bounce in Mumbai, he was right in at the throat, unsettling batsmen despite his relative lack of pace. He seems to improve with every outing, and while he may not yet be England's strike bowler, he certainly is their leading man.

James Anderson: A. Three years ago, Jimmy Anderson was the pin-up boy of the England side, and was going to go on to great things. Three weeks ago he was a forgotten man enjoying a sunny A-tour in the Caribbean. Today, he's firmly a part of England's quintet of world class seamers. Quite a ride he's been on. His bowling in Mumbai was a revelation to the England camp - control and movement, at a brisk pace, never allowing the batsmen to settle. Harmison and Jones will vault straight past him when they return, but he now knows that he really can belong, and that should bode well for his future.

Alistair Cook: A-. He fell away somewhat after a stunning debut performance, and that's what keeps him from getting a perfect grade. However there can be little doubt that England have unearthed a potential gem - a young batsman with the mental fortitude and technical competence to go a long way in this game. It'll be interesting to see if Marcus Trescothick winds up in the middle order this summer.

Owais Shah: A-. I'm probably being a little generous here, if only because I've followed Owais Shah for many years even if I've never really been a fan, per se. As I've already said elsewhere, he showed remarkable poise and panache on debut, and made it very clear that he was going to assert himself on the game, and not be dictated to. He played both the spinners and paceman with aplomb, and really only misses out on the perfect grade because he failed to turn the 88 into a century, and ran himself out stupidly in the second innings. 120 and 60 rather than 88 and 38, and Kevin Pietersen would have been looking over his shoulder come the summer.

Paul Collingwood: A-. You can't really downgrade a guy who saved his country's blushes with a terrific knock to open up the series, but as one other critic noted, he appeared to bat himself completely out of form over the three weeks. He remains England's best fielder, even if his bowling is clearly not going to cut it in a Test match. With Flintoff and Strauss certain picks, England have to choose 4 from Vaughan, Trescothick, Cook, Bell, Shah, Pietersen and Collingwood. The utility man can't afford a sustained drop in form.

Andrew Strauss: B+. Strauss has not been at his best all winter, with the pitches not suiting his preferred cuts and dabs. However, despite looking unsure as to how to put an innings together, he came to the party with a series-defining century in Mumbai, which probably helped cement his place at the top of the order for some time to come. His fielding and catching were a little up and down, but the same could be said of most in this series.

Shaun Udal: B+. Quite an amazing story, as England's 4th choice spinner came to the fore in a handful of overs after lunch on the final day of the series. You can only be happy for him, as there's every liklihood that he has played his last Test match, and what could be better than to go out like that? He fought hard with the bat as well, even if Darrell Hair did help him out, and showed that a little bit of experience and nous can be a match for the most talented of cricketers. He didn't do much, but he didn't need to, as the hara-kiri attitudes of the Indian tail (beginning at #6) played right into his hands.

Monty Panesar: B-. I debated giving Panesar a C, but at the end of the day didn't have the heart. He flew in as the third-best spinner in team management's eyes, and flew out as the understudy to Ashley Giles. He bowls with a nice loop, and can extract turn and bounce when it's on offer. He was not fazed by anything, until the nerves betrayed him in the final innings at Mumbai with so much on the line. His captain used him intelligently, coaxing the confidence into him throughout the series, and he showed a hitherto unseen stickability with the bat as well. His fielding of course is a throwback to the old days - there could not have been a dry eye in the house when he held out his hands to trap that Dhoni skier and missed by about two yards.

Kevin Pietersen: C+. I realy struggled with this one, because KP was neither here nor there in this series. He had some astounding luck with the third umpire, and he had a bum decision go against him as well. His contributions with the bat were as positive as ever, but he never got away to the extent England may have wished him to. Test cricket is not an easy game, however absurdly talented and confident you might be. He gets the + modifier for his livewire ground fielding which was one of the highlights of the tour. Part of him will be hoping that both Vaughan and Trescothick don't make a comeback this summer - if they do, then his place will be under serious threat.

Stephen Harmison: C. He didn't quite get it right in Nagpur, but he made up for that with a terrific display at Mohali, even if the stats show just 2 wickets taken. The extra yard of pace, and the well-targeted steepling bounce are always going to be a handful, and it's not just Indian batsmen who will be troubled by it. The trouble is, since the Lord's Test against Australia, he hasn't really put in a commanding performance, and it will be his place that Anderson is targeting.

Geraint Jones: C-. I'm always a contrarian when it comes to keepers for some reason, and this case is no different. For my money, Chris Read should be back behind the stumps for England, as there's no doubt that he's a better keeper, and Jones has done little with the bat to justify his continued selection. He certainly salvaged some pride with an improved display in Mumbai, and Duncan Fletcher is known to favour his presence in the side, but he can't have much rope left to play with.

Ian Bell: D. For a batsman who seems to have all the raw ingredients, Ian Bell is rapidly starting to disappoint. He doesn't seem to be able to knuckle down and convert the starts, and it's very hard to see him retaining his place in the side this summer. To give credit where it's due though, he pulled off a couple of good catches at bat-pad, and in general taught the Indians a thing or two about how to field in that position.

Liam Plunkett: F. One of the disappointments of the tour for my money, and instinct tells me that he was rushed in a little too quickly. He doesn't quite seem to have the maturity in his bowling that you need at this level, and he doesn't have the raw pace or magical control that could compensate for that. His batting was also a let-down after his heroics in the ODI series in Pakistan, proving for the umpteenth time that the two forms of the game are completely different.

Ian Blackwell: F. The only reason Ian Blackwell wasn't a disappointment was that I never expected much from him in the first place. A true utility cricketer in the Ronnie Irani mould, he may continue to have a place on the one day squad, but he didn't show anything to suggest that he should be picked once Ashley Giles returns to fitness.

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