England V Sri Lanka Series Preview 2016

An appetite for test cricket has grown significantly over its three-month hiatus.

AB de Villiers exploits and King Kohli’s dominance on the IPL stage for RCB have made for regular headlines over the past few months, yet it’s the guile and resolve under late-May skies on a green seamer that a seasoned cricket fan has for months yearned for.

The World T20 is now all but a distant memory for England, who turn to the games most classical format seeking redemption for the final over heartbreak of a Carlos Brathwaite masterstroke.

Sri Lanka on the other hand, will head into the first test at Headingley today hoping to replicate the feats of the 2014 series, which saw them triumph convincingly over the hosts in all three formats.

It’s worth mentioning at this stage that the series will be decided by an ECB initiative, which sees all sides; Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England, accrue points across the three formats throughout the summer.

These points are then tallied up and attributed to an aggregate total that will decide who hoists the trophy at the conclusion of the tour.

Sri Lanka –

The absence of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sanagakkarra from the score sheet will likely prevent any hopes Sri Lanka has of recreating its 2014 fairytale.

Sri Lanka drew both its tour matches against county sides Essex and Leicestershire, and will confront one of the more difficult batting wickets in England during the first test.

An inexperienced top order will be tasked with combating a Jimmy Anderson in-swinger and the seam movement of Stuart Broad on a deck synonymous for assisting fast bowlers, particularly during spring.

Karunaratne and likely Headingly debutant Shanaka were the only Sri Lankan’s to score hundreds in the two game series leading up to the first test.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that on both occasions the Sri Lankans were heavily outscored by their opposition.

In the case of Essex, a side currently sitting atop the table in the second division, Sri Lanka managed just 254 batting first, before a Tom Westley – Jaik Mickleburgh master class saw Essex pile on 412 for the loss of just four wickets.

I’m not sure whether that says more about Sri Lanka’s batting or bowling.

Though, Sri Lanka can take inspiration from what New Zealand did to England in their last start at Headingley.

Tasked with 455 for victory, Mark Craig and Kane Williamson took a combined six wickets on the final day to draw the two match series and send England into the Ashes with their tails between their legs.

Sri Lankan spinners Siriwardana and Herath will be buoyed by Headingley’s propensity to turn during the last few days.

The two games played at the venue so far this season in the championship, however, have proved ineffective for spinners.

On just one occasion, in the second innings between Yorkshire and Surrey just over a week ago, did a spinner make their mark on the wickets column.

That was Joe Root, claiming the wickets of Kumar Sangakkarra and Steven Davies on the final day.

Adil Rashid is yet to take a wicket for Yorkshire at Headingley this season.

England –

Barely a series goes by without hearing about the English top order and its vacillation.

As Cook approaches yet another milestone wearing the three lions, all eyes will be firmly fixed on his accomplice, Alex Hales.

Having averaged just seventeen in eight innings during England’s triumph over South Africa, Hales’ development as an opening batsman will be an intriguing sub plot to keep an eye on throughout the summer.

Nick Compton is another player who will be scrutinised over every ball he faces against Sri Lanka.

In his first home series since his return to the English side last year, Compton will have the likes of Alex Lyth, Gary Balance and Sam Robson chomping at his heels to get back into the side.

This series should prove a pivotal one in the outcome of his future in an England shirt, his exodus could come as soon as July against Pakistan if he fails to upkeep or improve his current Test Match average of 31.47.

I have no doubt the class player he is, that he will be able to achieve this.

Look no further than Yorkshire duo Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, alongside Captain Cook, as the top run scorers in this series.

So far in the championship Cook has amassed 523 runs in seven innings, while Jonny Bairstow (533 runs in six innings) and Joe Root (240 runs in 3 innings) have both made a memorable start to the season.

England had one of the most successful years of any of the test playing nations last year, winning two series and drawing another.

Their only loss came in a tedious series against Pakistan in the UAE, where spin bowling unsurprisingly proved somewhat of a Kryptonite for the England batting lineup.

Their triumph over South Africa on their own turf comes to mind as the most memorable of England’s 2015/16 victories, and highlights England’s strong reliance on their bowling stocks, in particular, their swing and seam bowlers.

They showed what a force they can be on green-tops both at home and away bowling Australia out for 60 and South Africa for 83 in the same year.

If Sri Lanka is to have any hope in claiming victory, their biggest challenge will undoubtedly be their rearguard action against swing and seam and the way they utilise those conditions themselves through Matthews and Shanaka.

Could King Kohli Reach The Heights Of The Little Master?

In front of a set of makeshift stumps along the river Ganges, a young Indian boy emulates a lofted Kohli cover drive.

His bat hardly resembles the prepossessing sight of Kohli’s MRF, yet the ball whizzes away with consummate ease down toward the final step of the Ghat.

Ten years ago, Sachin’s straight drive was practiced across India. Now, Kohli’s mesmerising footwork is intricately choreographed on the living room rug of a home in Bengaluru.

Admiration of a cricketer is only gained through performance. And Kohli’s cult following, much like the little master, is a corollary of his batsmanship.

My first memory of the indisputable talent of Virat Kohli came at Hobart in 2012. Requiring a win to keep the series alive against Sri Lanka, Kohli hit an unbeaten 133 from just 86 deliveries in an Indian batting performance that, at the halfway stage, showed little promise in delivering a victory.

He treated the Sri Lankan bowling like fodder. Angelo Matthew’s slower balls found the middle of his bat while his wrists made light work of Malinga’s yorkers through the leg side.

His salute to the dressing room upon scoring his hundred was as much a tribute as a coming of age.

He rarely fails in delivering an innings that makes your jaw gape with amazement and leave you utterly perplexed.

Sunday’s innings against Gujarat, which happened to align itself with Sachin’s birthday, was one of these. It made me think, who will have left the biggest impression on Indian Cricket come the conclusion of Kohli’s playing career.

Both Kohli and Sachin are undisputable marksman of the One Day formats, yet statistics tend to suggest that Kohli, at the same stage in their careers, is more prolific. In 171 matches Kohli has scored 7212 runs at an average of 51.51, while the little master at the same point had tallied 5828 runs at an average of 38.85.

There is no comparison in the test arena. Sachin’s 15,921 runs came in 329 innings at an average of 53.79. Kohli is averaging just 42.02 in tests with a run aggregate of 2994 in 72 innings, laudable but not nearly as prolific. His test stats draw more parallels with the likes of Gautam Gambir, who in 100 innings scored 4046 runs at an average of 42.58.

“He rarely fails in delivering an innings that makes your jaw gape with amazement and leave you utterly perplexed”.

Of course this is taken from a purely statistical viewpoint and hence doesn’t consider the opposition, time period nor the quality of the wickets played on. Kohli never got to face Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar in their prime. For the most part of his career Sachin didn’t have to quickly swap between a five game Test Match series and a T20 tournament.

Kohli’s batting style is more debonair, the cricketing equivalent of a hip-hop routine, whereas Sachin possessed elegance and touch that could have been ripped straight from the textbook.

Kholi is an enigma in the field who drives around in an Audi R8, and probably owns fifty of them. Sachin gets around in a more conservative Nissan GT-R, aptly nicknamed the Godzilla for its ability to get from 0-100 in 2.9 seconds, somewhat akin to his run scoring.

Gee, now i’m really clutching at straws to establish relevant similarities.

It’s anyone’s guess as to who will have scored more runs at the end of Kohli’s career. But runs don’t necessarily translate into the definition of ‘India’s Best Batsman’. They should ultimately be judged on their cricketing footprint. That is, who will the fans reminisce over more when a new generation of Indian cricketers come along.

Have your say here:

@roundthe_wicket on twitter.

BBL: 80,000 Reaffirms T20 Popularity in Australia.

Five years ago, with the BBL in its infancy, Cricket Australia could only have dreamed of seeing 80,000 fans file into the MCG to see two Melbourne sides go at it hammer and tong. With the state v state concept beginning to wane, the Bash was lacking its all-important prefix. Games were played out in front of empty grandstands while T20 leagues around the world started to gather considerable momentum. Australian domestic cricket was falling behind.

The consequential shakeup of the Australian domestic T20 competition over the following years was met with an unprecedented reception.

In the midst of its fifth edition since turning franchise, the BBL has become the summers’ biggest hit.

The Big Bash League’s impetuous growth is a testament to the brand created over the past 5 seasons. It has far surpassed the corruption riddled IPL as the world’s number one T20 competition off the back of gripping, entertaining contests.

A modern generation cricket fans’ transient attention is captured by balls sailing into the second tier – or in some cases, Dan Christian, out of the stadium. The 52,000 strong crowd at the Adelaide Oval on NYE were incited by a Travis Head knock that is independent of the T20 format. Individual performances to the tune of 53 in 15 balls are seldom seen in Test and One Day cricket these days.

The NYE game won’t be remembered for the premature fireworks display, but rather the last ditch escapades of Travis Head.

Beyond the commercial benefits of T20, the Big Bash is the ideal breeding ground to christen young cricketers. A franchise based competition pits them against the best Australia and the world have to offer. They have the opportunity to rub shoulders with established imports over a 5-week period gaining an insight into the demands of international cricket.

Amongst other things, it offers exposure to a highly profitable international market where young players can hone their skills in a number of different pro T20 leagues. Becoming accustom to overseas conditions goes a long way to changing the current home-dominated state of international cricket.

Most importantly, raising a cricketer in a hostile arena is ideal in developing the think skinned nature that is a prerequisite for any Australian player. Nothing equips you more than a portly gentleman leaning over the boundary fence and politely telling you how ‘poorly’ your bowling tonight.

Yes, the BBL has uncovered the formula to developing a well-backed, successful competition – one that is fan orientated rather than commercially driven. By mixing cricket with 80’s rock ballads and flamethrowers, the Big Bash brings a festival atmosphere to every night.

Who knows, the BBL may soon rise to become as highly anticipated as the major football codes every year.

Travis Head Spark’s NYE Fireworks Show In Breathtaking BBL Clash

NYE has produced a number of miracles in its time, but none have been more inconceivable than the defiance and utter disregard Travis Head showed the Sixers bowling attack. Sean Abbot’s New Years resolution now pertains more to one of the 10 commandments – thou shall not bowl in the death overs.

The sixers seemingly had the game won with 4 overs remaining. The 46,000 strong crowd condemned to a dull roar. At least that was until Travis Head’s masterful array of T20 stroke play confounded the record-breaking crowd in a display that put on more of a show than the premature fireworks.

When Travis Head strode to the wicket, the Strikers were in a position of relative dominance. Simmons fleeting stint at the crease got the Strikers off to a brisk start, before the cagey Jayawardene played a stroke that would have been more at home on a dusty Pallakele deck. Though, as key wickets continued to tumble through the middle overs, the game looked set for an early finish. As Abbott ran in to deliver the first ball of the 18th over, the Strikers still required 51, in 18 balls. A remote chance considering Head had hit the boundary just four times and was striking at only 118. The first four balls of Abbott’s over went for 20, and Head seemed to conjure striking impetus. Abbott‘s predictable line and length saw him travel over the mid-wicket fence three times in four balls, squandering 27 vital runs. The experience of Bollinger delivered a tidy 19th over with a six off the fourth ball the only significant damage.

A bold move by the Sixers skipper saw Abbott trusted in delivering the final over. A modest 13 needed off 6 deliveries. As the first ball was flicked with ease over square leg for six, Head needing 11 to deliver his first BBL century, the Strikers were destined to end 2015 in the top four. Two more short balls from Abbott were hooked over square leg for six. Head finally becoming the first Striker to make a BBL ton in its 5th edition. Pandemonium ensued.

What a way to usher in the New Year – 2016, we can’t wait!

All ‘Hale’ The Heir To The Throne

Alex Hales looks odds on to take his place alongside captain Cook at the top of the mercurial English top order on Boxing Day despite underwhelming warm-up game form.

The ECB have an ineluctable wish this Christmas – find an opening partner for Cook.

The cricketing public could be forgiven for thinking the English selectors are attempting to stage a cricket version of the Bachelor. Since the egress of Strauss in 2012, the England captain has been through 8 divorces. Compton (twice), Root, Carberry, Robson, Trott, Lyth and Ali have all been shoved into the opening spot on the ill-conceived volition of selectors.

The inclusion of Adam Lyth into the squad for the recently completed Ashes series seemed to be without substantiation, a wing and a prayer selection based on a lack or exhaustion of options. His performances exhibited England’s great deficiency and signaled a crisis seldom discussed by selectors – the epigrammatic life span of cooks opening partners.

The most successful partner post Strauss is a man who is in contention to feature in the First Test on Boxing Day. Ironically, he was also the first to fill the Strauss void – and he didn’t make a hash of it. In fact, he and Cook have been the most prolific opening pair since Strauss’s departure, superseding the short-lived liaison with Michael Vaughan in 2007/08. In 17 innings, Cook and Compton managed 927 runs at 57.93. To supplement these already laudable statistics, their time together was during two series victories away from home.

Compton may have overplayed his hand though. After being dropped in 2013, Compton has plied his trade in division one of the championship for Middlesex with resounding success. In 2014 he averaged 43.68 for Somerset before returning to Middlesex in 2015 where he averaged 38.72. Statistics that put him within the top echelon of talent going round the English domestic scene.

To further Compton’s case, he has the potential to remedy England’s biggest problem – their routine dependence on the middle order – Root, Barstow and formerly Bell. Since his first stint, Compton’s successors have been frail, to say the least, in seeing off the new ball. Just three century stands have been had between Cook and his opening partner in 55 innings since Compton. In 17 innings together, he and Cook managed the same amount.

The first time round – Nick Compton celebrates his first Test Match ton. Picture Copyright Getty Images. 

Despite the fact he will likely feature on Boxing Day, he will doubtingly recuperate his relationship with his ex.

Enter Alex Hales.

——–

Having burnt through eight openers in three years England turns to the services of Alex Hales, whose presence in the shorter form setups has been habitual yet chiefly unproductive. In 23 ODI innings, Hales averages a modest 25.17 having scored only a single hundred. His statistics aren’t flattering, yet his gung-ho approach to batting may well compliment the English top order. Cook and Root are technicians of the game whose performances flourish off the accumulation of singles. If Hales does face the new ball come the first morning in Durban, his incessant boundary hitting will relieve some of the pressure that has accompanied Cook for the past three years. An attribute that will bode well with selectors for future series.

He wouldn’t be the first T20 connoisseur to chance his hand at the longer form and succeed – case in point – David Warner (4305 runs at 50.64).

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With South Africa in a relative state of flux after their derailment in India, England can pounce on the half eaten carcass and produce a thrilling series victory away from home. Early expectations of this series predict one that will be defined by the small battles; Amla v Cook, du Plessis v Root. Two men that have played a starring role for South Africa over the past several years, Steyn and de Villiers, stand between England and a series victory. If England take India’s lead and contain de Villiers, the trophy may well be travelling cross-country back to England.

Form Guide (Last 5): South Africa – LLDLD

England – LLDLW

Prediction: South Africa 2-0

An Ode To Nathan

From tending the wickets of the iconic Adelaide Oval, to bringing up a half century of matches in the baggy green, Nathan Lyon has taken the path less travelled to become Australia’s most prolific finger spinner. We map the peaks and troughs of an ever-blossoming career. Jordan Crick  

(Image: All smiles. Nathan Lyon at the peak of his powers. Ian Kington.)

September 1st 2011 – Galle. The obsessive scouring of the domestic competition to find a new spin king had long turned into a game of roulette for Australian selectors. After continued unsuccessful attempts in the form of McGain, Beer and Hauritz (to name a few), the wheel landed on a young, unknown curator from Adelaide. Another potential winner. He becomes the 11th spinner to be tested since the departure of the irreplaceable Shane Keith Warne 5 years earlier. As he comes onto bowl in the 15th over, a brand new baggy green cap proudly hoisted atop his head, he is faced with the task of bowling to Sri Lankan maestro Kumar Sangakkara, who had recently amassed 184 runs in a three match tour of England. In an attempt to repay his skippers boat of confidence, he tosses the ball up outside off-stump, drawing Sangakkara forward to take his outside edge which, fittingly, finds its way to the dependable hands of Michael Clarke in 1st slip. He follows it up with a further 4 high-profile Sri Lankan wickets to grab a five-fa on debut, a sign of the heights he is to reach across the next 49 test matches of his esteemed career.

December 9 2011, Hobart. The final game of the Trans-Tasman trophy was more than just a crushing victory for Australia, it was the defining moment for Nathan Lyon as a cricketer, and, most importantly, a person. Playing just his 7th match as the 421st Australian player to pull on the baggy green, Lyon was faced with his biggest adversity yet. With the Australians needing a further 42 runs to win the test match and secure the Trans-Tasman trophy, a sanguine Nathan Lyon strides to the wicket alongside the untapped batting talent of David Warner, who has made his way to a maiden hundred in just his second test. With 7 runs left to get, his innings ends. Bowled by Bracewell for 9. It was the first real adversity Lyon had to overcome in the baggy green. It taught him the most important virtue necessary for success at test level – perseverance.

The Ashes 2013-14. Playing second fiddle to in-form Mitch Johnson in a series dominated and defined by searing pace, Nathan Lyon managed 19 wickets at 29.26. He revitalized round the wicket bowling, taking the prized scalps of Bell, Prior and Bairstow in an aptly devised leg side trap. A scheme that has provided a bountiful supply of international wickets and will surely be etched into Nathan Lyon folklore. While the effect Lyon had on this series will be largely overlooked, his partnership with Harris and Johnson was crucial in delivering a clean sweep of a one-sided Ashes series.

As he walks off the ground in Hobart against the West Indies, he will join a club that, to Australian cricket, has about as many members as the lunar landing module of Apollo 11. Only the great Hugh Trumble (421 wickets) comes close.

Though Lyons career will not be celebrated in a myriad of champagne showers come its completion, he will have had a pivotal role to play in the outcome of a number of Australia’s great victories.

Here’s to fifty more!

Tickled Pink

It was the face lift test cricket yearned for. The pink ball a suitable prescription to cure wilting fan interest that has for years plagued the sustainability of the games most ancient format. The days of Brian Lara’s awe inspiring innings captivating spectator attention has been replaced by ‘blink and you miss it’, ‘razzle-dazzle’ T20 ‘entertainment’. Fans simply no longer have an interest in enduring the qualities of guile, grit and determination that are synonyms with the red ball game. Their interests have instead been swayed by a generous helping of franchise cricket, complementing an appetite for six hitting, music and ‘rocket men’. It’s gained a fan-girl like following the likes only One Direction have encountered. A modern generation cricket fan adores the aesthetics, the ‘carnival like’ atmosphere that goes hand in hand with T20. Like a good ol’ fashioned sibling rivalry, Test Match cricket has become T20’s ugly stepsister, and they DON’T get along. So, did the Cinderella story witnessed under the bright lights of the Adelaide Oval revive Test Cricket’s relevance amongst T20 hysteria? Or have we simply added a further novelty to an already over-revolutionized game?

Like a large majority of the cricketing fraternity, I had my qualms over whether or not a day/ night Test Match could progress the format without tarnishing its great historical worth. Of course, this is still yet to be seen, but if 120,000 fans are anything to go by, it seems Test Cricket is set to retire under crimson setting skies.

It had everything. In the words of the Twelfth Man and Bill Lawry ‘the tension, the drama, the buzz, the crowd, the atmosphere’ was all there. So much so that the bright lights and pink ball that resurrected a ‘dying’ format also gave us all tunnel vision. It’s quite possible that we were caught up in the aesthetics of the occasion, without giving any thought to the contest in front of us. Before a ball was even bowled in the ‘historic’ pink ball encounter, a test match between the Proteas and India was finished inside three days. In stark contrast to the adulation and endorsement of the Day Night test, also concluding inside three days, the South Africa/ India clash was slammed by the cricketing community, labeling it an embarrassment to the games greater appeal. It served as a clear representation of Test Cricket’s fundamental issue – fan boredom. Yet, the fans that were lucky enough to pack out the Adelaide Oval over three days (and nights) were far from disinterested. You do the math…

“It’s quite possible that we were caught up in the aesthetics of the occasion, without giving any thought to the contest in front of us.”

Test Cricket has become a high school popularity contest, dominated by a beta version of itself. Like Sandy Olsen taught us in Grease, you have to change your appearance to impress the more popular, and that’s exactly what day/ night test cricket has done for its supporter base. It’s ‘redesigned’ itself to appear more gregarious to a T20 minded spectator who admires the aesthetics rather than the games inner workings. It wants fans to be screaming ‘You’re The One That We Want!’ as Test Cricket rolls into town like the circus every year.

Loved it or loathed it, you had to admire the spectacle. From a cricket lover’s standpoint, the night session delivered on evening up the contest between bat and ball. Swing was king as batsman prodded and poked outside off-stump, waving their bats like a magician waving their wand. This time, however, the bowlers had a spell over the batsman, with the night session yielding 13 wickets. Seeing the ball sail over the rope, as has become the tradition since the inception of T20, was for the first time in years missing from a red ball contest. The night session may have even (and I say this regretfully) brought an element of attritional Cricket back into the game since its absence in the early 2000’s.

“The first ever day/night test left us with more questions than answers.”

So, where does Test Cricket’s future lie? Will it become the games most lucrative format once again? It’s quite possible that the first ever day/night test left us with more questions than answers. As facetious as this article may sound towards the day/ night test in Adelaide, something had to be done about the soulless atmosphere of the GABBA at the start of the summer. If the pink ball is to become the norm’, the only ‘test’ for the ICC and its associates is finding a healthy balance between Test cricket and T20. This must somehow be achieved without fans choking on franchise cricket that’s being shoved down their throats with diplomatic negligence.