What a belter! Strauss”s England are a big hit in an incredible year for cricket
It has been an incredible year for cricket and England will start 2012 on top of the world in the Test and Twenty20 formats. Can they stay there And what were the best bits of 2011
We asked our panel of experts, former England captain, Sportsmail columnist and Sky Sports commentator Nasser Hussain, former England coach, Sportsmail columnist and Sky pundit David Lloyd and Wisden editor Lawrence Booth. Cricket Correspondent Paul Newman was in the chair…
Paul Newman: Gentlemen, there have been few better years than 2011 for the England team. What are your highlights
David Lloyd: Let”s go right back to the start and the fifth Test in Sydney. Jimmy Anderson and Tim Bresnan”s wonderful bowling and the total domination of England with hundreds from Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Matt Prior. They absolutely trounced Australia.
What a feeling! England captain Andrew Strauss with the Ashes
Nasser Hussain: We”ve turned up at Sydney with the Ashes long gone down the years and to see the SCG turned into Little Britain on the final day, with barely an Australian supporter in the place, was highly satisfying for all of us. It was great to see England finish them off in such style.
Lawrence Booth: It has been a fantastic year for England at Test level throughout. India arrived in the summer as the world”s No 1 and England just blew them away with a disciplined brand of cricket that Andy Flower has them playing. The excellence of England made up for the disappointment of India”s performances.
Hussain: I expected England to get runs against all opponents because they have such a strong batting order but what amazed me was how good the bowling was. India have some truly great players and look at the way England consistently kept them below 300 on good pitches. And that followed their success with the Kookaburra ball in Australia. What most impresses me about the attack is that they”re not one-trick ponies. England have pace, bounce, swing, reverse-swing and spin. They have adapted to all conditions so far and what they have to do now is climb the final hurdle – Asia.
Lloyd: I also enjoyed Kevin Pietersen”s double hundred at Lord”s, the emergence of Jonny Bairstow at Cardiff and, as a bit of fun, how about Rahul Dravid”s international Twenty20 debut He promptly retired from that form of the game afterwards! Newman: Let”s talk specifically about Test cricket. Are we right to be concerned about the health of the greatest form of the game
Good times! England”s Matt Prior (left), Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann (right) celebrate victory over India
Booth: This is one of those moments in time when everyone is fretting about Test cricket, and with good reason. Never before has Twenty20 played such a big part in the world game. Australia v South Africa cried out for a decider but the two boards both have a stake in the Champions League and that competition ate into the time available for what should have been a longer Test series. The boards keep on saying Test cricket is the primary form, but then it has to make way for Twenty20. There is a discrepancy between what they say and do.
Lloyd: There is some fantastic Test cricket being played around the world. The days of sides playing for a draw, going along at two runs an over, and then having a dig if they have a chance of victory are long gone. It”s not just England. Look at Australia v South Africa, Australia v New Zealand and India v West Indies. I don”t get all the doom and gloom. It”s people”s prerogative if they don”t go to watch live but that doesn”t mean they”re not interested. Cricket is peculiar in that so many people follow it on TV and radio. People work. They haven”t got the time to sit there for five days. They dip in and out. I never go to watch the Premier League live but that doesn”t mean I”m not interested. I love it. I”ve got a big telly and central heating and I watch it all!
Newman: Who were the stars of 2011
Booth: Cook is utterly remarkable and embodies the “daddy” hundred ethos that Graham Gooch has drummed into them. But for me there was no better-looking century than Ian Bell”s at Trent Bridge. It was a shame that the run-out controversy overshadowed how good that 159 was. The most heartening bowling for me came from Stuart Broad against India. David Saker likes his bowlers to pitch the ball within six to eight metres of the stumps and against Sri Lanka Broad was nearer to eight. Against India he moved it up to six and got it spot on.
Good job: England are No1 in Test and Twenty20 formats
Newman: I still maintain India did nothing wrong in running out Bell at Nottingham. In my opinion, Bell was lucky to be called back.
Booth: But what they did was for the good of the game. The moment Bell came back down those steps at Trent Bridge after tea and the whole ground stood to applaud what India had done sent a tingle down my spine. At that moment I felt quite proud of my sport.
Hussain: If you are looking for the man of the year you can”t look beyond Cook. If you think back to where he was against Pakistan at The Oval in 2010, a position where we might not have seen him in the Ashes if he had failed, to where he is now – then he has been simply phenomenal. He”s a run-machine. He scored 294 at Edgbaston and was still disappointed! We have asked for big runs from England”s batsmen for years and he more than anyone has provided them. I still think he”s got work to do as a captain, at times he”s been a bit regimented and formulaic, but we said the same about Michael Vaughan when he first took charge and he went on to be a brilliant captain. The one thing that we know about Cook is that he rises to a challenge and he will get better and better as a leader.
Lloyd: Yes, we have to highlight Cook but there have been so many stars. Dravid was outstanding for India and MS Dhoni was great when England went to India for the one-day series. KP looked back to his best and England have a bowling attack to die for. We”ve got fast bowlers coming out of our ears. Steven Finn has really announced himself now to add to the others.
Top man: England coach Andy Flower
Newman: Let”s talk about the one blot on England”s landscape. Why have they not been able to crack 50-over cricket It”s a mystery.
Hussain: A lot of England”s success has come from grinding down the opposition and staying in the game. Theynever let up and over five days have proved themselves the best around.But it is all about flair in 50 overs and perhaps they just have to remember to see ball, hit ball. Look at Virender Sehwag hitting a doublehundred against West Indies. He didn”t look as if he”d score 200 runs if he had batted all year in England, but put him on a flat pitch in India in a 50-over game and watch him go. Suresh Raina is the same.
Booth: England are fine at home in 50-over cricket but they are just too tentative away and become afraid of getting out. In Twenty20 they are forced to just go for it. The one-day international format is one that has never really captured the English supporters” imagination as much as Test cricket, and perhaps that”s part of the problem. Graeme Swann calling for 50-over cricket to be phased out typifies that attitude.
Hussain: I didn”t enjoy Swann saying that, actually. That”s not the way to think. One-day cricket seems here to stay and what England have to do is see it as a final challenge for them – not demean the format. England really missed Eoin Morgan in India. Anything good about their one-day cricket in recent times has usually revolved around him. People say it”s unhelpful that our counties do not play 50 overs but I don”t think that has anything to do with it. It”s just that we don”t play the type of 50-over cricket that is being played in the rest of the world. If we want the domestic game to help England then one-day cricket should be played on flat pitches, no green tinge, and in mid-summer when hopefully the sun is shining.
Lloyd: Fifty-over cricket is a conundrum. We just seem to have an inability to find the boundary and work the ball around. The one thing we do know is that Andy Flower will be addressing it.
Star man: England”s Alastair Cook
Newman: What is your biggest wish for 2012
Lloyd: I will continue to bang on about getting on with the game. There are too many interruptions to a day”s play. Don”t tell me the game has changed. It hasn”t. Stop all this wandering on and off. And I would like the players to show a bit more respect to umpires too. One final wish. I would like to see the decision-review system used by whichever team want to use it. If opponents don”t want it, then fine. There”s no reason why one team shouldn”t use the DRS in the same game when the other doesn”t.
Newman: I still don”t like the DRS. I just think it is taking the human element out of decision-making. Umpires are undermined. Their decision is no longer final. It wouldn”t be so bad if it was taken out of the hands of the players and left to a TV umpire to tell his colleague if he has made a howler. That system was the only good thing to come out of the Stanford debacle. There is nothing worse than that special moment when a wicket falls turning into the anti-climax of a review.
Lloyd: Well, I”m on the ICC umpires committee and I can tell you that you get a higher percentage of correct decisions with DRS than without it. That”s the bottom line and umpires accept that.
Newman: Umpiring standards are pretty high among the elite panel. Is it a big increase in correct decisions
Lloyd: It goes up from 95 per cent correct to 97 with the DRS, and I think that is a significant increase.
Booth: My wish for 2012 is for Test grounds to be filled up around the world. There are just too many where the atmosphere looks terrible and that doesn”t do any good for the reputation of Test cricket. Administrators have to find a way of getting people in.
Newman: What are we most looking forward to in 2012
Hussain: England”s Test series against South Africa. It”s a real match-up. A mouth-watering prospect. South Africa have some exciting players but I think England will win at home. South Africa will rely heavily on Dale Steyn. If he gets injured they could be in trouble.
Newman: I just wish the series didn”t clash with the London Olympics. I still find it extraordinary that England are playing the Aussies in a five-match one-day series at the one time of the summer when cricket may muscle its way into the wider public eye. Why are we playing them again in a non-Ashes year The Test at Headingley might well be the most significant cricket match of the summer and it is slap bang in the middle of the biggest sporting event that will ever be held in England. Madness.
Lloyd: There are some terrific challenges coming up. Next up are Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It will be difficult in Asian conditions. Yes, it”s a shame the England v South Africa series is not longer, but it is what it is. Everyone will be gunning for England now, so they will have to show they really are the best.
Booth: South Africa really should be a four-Test series but the three-match one will still be the highlight of the summer. Looking ahead, if England can avoid defeat in India next autumn they will consider it a triumph, and it will be a bonus if they successfully defend their World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka. It”s too random a format for anyone to be favourites.
Hussain: I know England have started talking about a legacy, and becoming one of the best teams of all time, but I just want them to be the best that they can be. I don”t like comparing teams from different eras. Just carry on playing the way they are. They are good lads and everyone enjoys watching them. I hope they stay that way, stay grounded. I don”t want them to change because the game has a habit of jumping up and biting you if you think you have cracked it. I”m sure Andy Flower will keep their feet on the ground.
Newman: Flower is still absolutely key, isn”t he Am I the only one concerned at the way he”s been talking recently That he can”t see himself still doing this job long term
Lloyd: Andy will be thinking about his young family growing up. He may feel he”s done all he can. The modern way is to rest up for a while before taking on a new challenge. It”s important to know your shelf life too.
Booth: Yes, every coach has a shelf life, as we saw with Duncan Fletcher. That isn”t to say Flower has reached the end of his – far from it. But even if he leaves in 2014 England would have had five hopefully good years with him and the lessons he imparted ought to have been soaked up by whoever succeeds him. If the shelf life these days is getting shorter, blame the administrators.
Hussain: It is a concern if Andy is thinking in terms of the end because he has turned it all around with Andrew Strauss. I just hope it”s because he has had some rare time at home and he can probably see all this cricket ahead of him and wants to set an end goal for him and his family. In a year”s time he may well be rejuvenated. England have to try to hold on to him for as long as possible, and in the meantime make sure they have a succession plan in place.
Newman: And we should mention Lancashire”s Championship victory after all those years!
Lloyd: Yes, it was a thrilling end to the Championship season and, while I felt sympathy for Warwickshire, I was obviously thrilled Lancashire finally did it. It came at the end of a difficult year when the very future of the county was in the balance, but hopefully they are on the up now. Food for thought. How about the worth of outgrounds They served Lancashire well last summer.
Booth: My biggest worry about domestic cricket is that England players appear for their counties so irregularly that standards have fallen and it”s hard to see, with a cluttered fixture list, how that can change.
Newman: Talking of county cricket, if I may bring up an old chestnut -Somerset have just signed Vernon Philander for next April and May and it seems to me that they are providing him with perfect practice in English conditions for when South Africa visit later in the summer.
Booth: I”m fairly relaxed about it. He looks an English-type seamer anyway. England won”t lose to South Africa because Vernon Philander had a bit more time to acclimatise.
Lloyd: I haven”t got any strong feelings about it, but it does seem like “dead” money being paid out by Somerset to me. There will be a salary, house and a car but what return will they get
Lloyd: The Championship provided a quote that made me smile. It came from Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves when he was talking about relegation. “Our players say they couldn”t get results at Headingley,” said Graves. “Well, the opposition didn”t seem to have too many problems…”
Newman: On that note let”s end by hoping that the very busy cricketing year of 2012 is a very happy one!