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Old 10th September 2008, 16:18   #121
Baron von Death
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Central contracts originally had a clear purpose. To give England control of key players where their ability to be managed effectively and for the best interests of the national side could not be guaranteed by the counties. It made sense to manage the workload of fast bowlers to ensure that they were not overused or forced to play through injuries by taking part in meaningless, bottom of the table fixtures in late season, or charging from a Test match venue in London, to a limited overs game in Durham. Similarly, England had often been stung when senior batsmen had to withdraw from a Test after a broken finger sustained in a forgettable and unnecessary county fixture. A small number of central contracts were reserved for the elite, the most important, and those whose place in the Test side was virtually guaranteed. But what we have now is the other extreme.

Batsmen like Vaughan, Strauss and possibly Collingwood are visibly some way past their best but are being clung on to, despite not delivering Test runs consistently for as long as two years. The award to Michael Vaughan is similar to the golden handshakes given to Ashley Giles and Simon Jones in 2006 and seems based on sentiment rather than merit. While all three might possibly play for England again, such speculative contracting based on the faint possibility that they might once again deliver in the future, dismisses any notion of competitive merit in the system. Aspiring players who have delivered the runs that they are able to within the restrictions applied, still find themselves left on the fringe with the likelihood that the selectors will be less willing to look outside of the fully contracted players. What is the point, for example, of giving Owais Shah an incremental contract when there is clearly no intention of ever selecting him ahead of fully contracted players?

The same applies to the bowlers. Steve Harmison has, despite some exceptional early performances, been a long term disappointment. He was finally dropped - though still continued to be paid handsomely as a contracted player - following numerous last chances, quickly recalled in desperation after some reasonable county performances and immediately guaranteed another highly lucrative year simply for agreeing to stop sulking and get on the park. Nice work if you can get it Steve. Not bad for 180 overs a year. What does he learn - England need him more than he needs them. And to carry on as if nothing has ever happened.

Others, like Broad and Anderson, are very promising but have hardly cemented a place in the side. Many would argue that at present, they need more exposure to first class cricket rather than being wrapped up in the cotton wool world that is the England cricket team. Ryan Sidebottom has emerged from the last year with a lot of credit and would normally merit a contract. But his recent injuries and apparent loss of form have left some wondering if there wasn't a certain element of truth in Duncan Fletcher's assessment that he didn't have quite enough to sustain a lengthy Test career. Sidebottom may well deserve selection in the future. But not a guaranteed, performance proof cushion for the next year at a time when he needs to reassert his worth for the long term.

Compare all this with the Australian system where fringe players who are lucky enough to get their hands on a central contract simply don't last beyond a year if they fail to establish themselves and win a regular place in the Test or ODI sides. And we wonder why our cricket is so often soft, uninspired and flabby. Life and professional sport in particular, is a continual competition, that is, except when you are a favoured name in English cricket.

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Old 10th September 2008, 18:09   #122
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Well, there are grains of truth in what Death says above, but I don't agree with the overall conclusion that it is the cause of English cricket being "soft, uninspired and flabby" and that the English set-up is based on favouritism rather than merit-based.

That is not to say that improvements to the English central contracts approach could not be developed - there are clearly some drawbacks and questions to be asked. In particular, long-term injury situations highlight the weaknesses in having only 12 central contracts available.

Still, the intention has been to bring a measure of stability in place of the revolving door methods that preceded the inception of the central contracts. Stability is good when you have a team playing at it's perceived peak of performance, as in the lead up to the Ashes of 2005. Stability is a challenge when you have players who are perceived to be on the wrong side of their peak abilities viz. Vaughan, Strauss, Hoggard and maybe Collingwood.
However, by taking away a central contract, established stars are going from hero to zero, and the end of their England career in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

The biggest problem here is that the next tier of talent has not yet pushed its way through - Bopara, Shah, a wicketkeeper - all might have made a cast iron case for being given a central contract, thereby shoving Vaughan and/or Strauss aside, but have so far failed to do so. Broad, on the other hand, established himself in ODIs and is on the cusp for Test cricket, and so Hoggard had to be dropped from a central contract.

Given the current state of England Test and ODI candidates, 12 central contracts - 6 for batsmen, 5 for bowlers and 1 for Freddie - looks about right to me.
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Old 10th September 2008, 19:18   #123
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But the batsmen of the second tier aren't being allowed to prove themselves in test matches a la Broad because of the endless chances being afforded to Vaughan and Strauss (to name the two closest to the firing line). Hoggard has gone from hero to zero, no questions and few tears (from the administration). Why should it be any different for the batsmen?
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Old 10th September 2008, 19:23   #124
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But the batsmen of the second tier aren't being allowed to prove themselves in test matches a la Broad because of the endless chances being afforded to Vaughan and Strauss (to name the two closest to the firing line). Hoggard has gone from hero to zero, no questions and few tears (from the administration). Why should it be any different for the batsmen?
They have had quite a few opportunities in ODIs though, haven't they, with some modest success but not quite setting the world alight so far, as can be assessed from their ODI batting rankings positions.
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Old 10th September 2008, 19:26   #125
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The biggest problem here is that the next tier of talent has not yet pushed its way through - Bopara, Shah, a wicketkeeper - all might have made a cast iron case for being given a central contract, thereby shoving Vaughan and/or Strauss aside, but have so far failed to do so. Broad, on the other hand, established himself in ODIs and is on the cusp for Test cricket, and so Hoggard had to be dropped from a central contract.
But the most visible reason for Broad having come through and not e.g. Shah is that the decision was taken to jettison Hoggard suddenly and, it seems, permanently, but not Strauss, when there was perhaps just of much of a good argument to be made for doing the same with him at the same point. Broad hasn't really justified his test elevation with the ball yet, and yet is now centrally contracted. I wouldn't say he has pushed his way through at all; he has been let through. If all the batters who are in the test team but are failing are still picked every match, there simply is no way into the team for any other batters, no matter how much better they might be than the present incumbents, and no matter how many county or ODI runs they might score. Vaughan dropped himself, which might have opened a space for a new batter, but the space was immediately closed by changing the shape of the team and fitting one of the old guard back in instead. It is a closed shop except for those who are allowed in; and it is not clear that when the door opens it does so for respectable reasons.

Addendum: Zebra just said this above, quicker...
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Old 10th September 2008, 19:30   #126
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But the most visible reason for Broad having come through and not e.g. Shah is that the decision was taken to jettison Hoggard suddenly and, it seems, permanently, but not Strauss, when there was perhaps just of much of a good argument to be made for doing the same with him at the same point. Broad hasn't really justified his test elevation with the ball yet, and yet is now centrally contracted. I wouldn't say he has pushed his way through at all; he has been let through. If all the batters who are in the test team but are failing are still picked every match, there simply is no way into the team for any other batters, no matter how much better they might be than the present incumbents, and no matter how many county or ODI runs they might score. Vaughan dropped himself, which might have opened a space for a new batter, but the space was immediately closed by changing the shape of the team and fitting one of the old guard back in instead. It is a closed shop except for those who are allowed in; and it is not clear that when the door opens it does so for respectable reasons.
Broad is #4 in the ODI bowling rankings, so I think he has clearly earned his elevation. It seems clear that the way into the squad for most players is first through ODI opportunities. Even Bell and Pietersen only got a chance in tests once Thorpe finished his England career.
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Old 10th September 2008, 19:31   #127
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They have had quite a few opportunities in ODIs though, haven't they, with some modest success but not quite setting the world alight so far, as can be assessed from their ODI batting rankings positions.
Well that could have a lot to do about where they bat in ODIs. Shah and Bops (the two who can be deemed to be closest) have often batted down the order so have not really, perhaps, had the chances to set the world alight. In the last series Shah had two dodgy innings, one no show and a fine effort at number three, the first time (I think) he has batted there in ODIs and more of a chance to show what he can do.

That aside I still think that you're shielding these two too much. Hoggy was dropped. Hero to Zero and a non-fixture. Shame, but it's happened and luckily we've had Jimmy and Broad come in and do the job. Who's to say Shah or Bopara with that kind of backing couldn't do the same thing? The shame is that we don't seem to want to find out.
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Old 10th September 2008, 20:02   #128
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Broad is #4 in the ODI bowling rankings, so I think he has clearly earned his elevation. It seems clear that the way into the squad for most players is first through ODI opportunities. Even Bell and Pietersen only got a chance in tests once Thorpe finished his England career.
Yes but Thorpe was a masterful player, and he wasn't clinging to his place by his fingernails; if they treated Vaughan and Strauss like they treated Thorpe, those two would be gone now.

Broad may be ODI #4 now (according to some ranking scheme) but I bet he wasn't at the point when they dropped H & H and stuck him in the test team for many matches on the trot even though his first test performance a month or two previously had been rather unconvincing.

I think you're right that that's how it works: a few senior players will retire from ODIs so the young guns can have a go there at advertising themselves for the proper game. But isn't championship cricket a better place to show test credentials? It should be. ODIs are a different game -- the main advantage they have is that once the player is in an England squad of some kind, the powers that be (including the senior pros) can decide whether or not they like the cut of his jib and whether or not he will play yes sir no sir properly.
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Old 10th September 2008, 20:49   #129
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Yes but Thorpe was a masterful player, and he wasn't clinging to his place by his fingernails; if they treated Vaughan and Strauss like they treated Thorpe, those two would be gone now.

Broad may be ODI #4 now (according to some ranking scheme) but I bet he wasn't at the point when they dropped H & H and stuck him in the test team for many matches on the trot even though his first test performance a month or two previously had been rather unconvincing.

I think you're right that that's how it works: a few senior players will retire from ODIs so the young guns can have a go there at advertising themselves for the proper game. But isn't championship cricket a better place to show test credentials? It should be. ODIs are a different game -- the main advantage they have is that once the player is in an England squad of some kind, the powers that be (including the senior pros) can decide whether or not they like the cut of his jib and whether or not he will play yes sir no sir properly.
You are quite correct that Broad got a chance before becoming highly ranked as an ODI bowler. In fact, he got slaughtered by Yuvraj in the 20/20 Fest!

However, it is a question of timing really - the central contracts are done in September - and Broad has grabbed his opportunity in a timely fashion.

If there was a Bell and Pietersen in county cricket who would be assured of Test success, there is a high probability that one of Vaughan or Strauss might have been given a nudge. That's the point. Neither Shah nor Bopara, whom many see as the next cabs off the rank, have done quite enough to hurry Vaughan and Strauss into retirement. BTW, Shah is currently around #40 in the ODI rankings and Bopara around #90.
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Old 10th September 2008, 22:23   #130
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You are quite correct that Broad got a chance before becoming highly ranked as an ODI bowler. In fact, he got slaughtered by Yuvraj in the 20/20 Fest!

However, it is a question of timing really - the central contracts are done in September - and Broad has grabbed his opportunity in a timely fashion.

If there was a Bell and Pietersen in county cricket who would be assured of Test success, there is a high probability that one of Vaughan or Strauss might have been given a nudge. That's the point. Neither Shah nor Bopara, whom many see as the next cabs off the rank, have done quite enough to hurry Vaughan and Strauss into retirement. BTW, Shah is currently around #40 in the ODI rankings and Bopara around #90.
I'm posting as someone who would have dropped Collingwood for Bopara before the end of the England NZ series; didn't want Strauss recalled; wouldn't pick him ahead of Key and would jettison Vaughan altogether but I still agree with stevie. Bopara had a chance to force the selectors to keep him. Yes, he didn't get all the goes he might have done but he wasn't exactly dropped after one game either. Shah has been even more unlucky but again, he had a shot at convincing at Lords against WI in 2007, albeit that he was getting dropped anyway, and failed. The selectors aren't entirely having a laugh sticking with players who have good overall test records over nearly totally unproven ones. It's not the call I'd make but choosing between Strauss and Vaughan to open with Cook doesn't fill me with dread.
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Old 10th September 2008, 22:33   #131
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Removing a players contract should happen if they haven't deserved the contract over a certain period. There should be no sentimentality or feeling sorry for the player, if they don't deserve the contract they shouldn't have it, no matter how good they used to be. If that means they then lose the motivation then that says alot about the player and to be honest i wouldn't want them back in the set up. I think most players would accept the loss and be determined to work harder to win it back.
Continuing to give players a contract because we feel sorry for them as they were once quite good smacks of Englishness. We need to get some ruthlessness and force our players to continually work at their game, not allow them to slip into a comfortable state and reward mediocrity, which is exactly what we have done with our central contracted players and exactly why our performances have been dire since The Ashes 2005.
Which bit of my post implied that I wanted players to get contracts because I felt sorry for them?

It's not exactly complicated psychology to realise that if someone is on a contract and it's removed from him, he will feel unwanted and his performance will probably suffer. This is fine if you actually don't want him anymore, poor management if you do.

Ruthlessly dropping players for poor performance is a recipe for a selectorial merry go round and failure of the sort that obtained in the England cricket side before Fletcher, which was rather worse than the sort of failure we've seen recently. There needs to be a balance and I don't think we've currently got it right either but "ruthlessly forcing players to work at their games" sounds a bit unconvincing to me. What are you suggesting? Lashes if they've not corrected a technical flaw in the nets?
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Old 10th September 2008, 22:40   #132
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[quote=sanskritsimon;227447]But the most visible reason for Broad having come through and not e.g. Shah is that the decision was taken to jettison Hoggard suddenly and, it seems, permanently, but not Strauss, when there was perhaps just of much of a good argument to be made for doing the same with him at the same point. Broad hasn't really justified his test elevation with the ball yet, and yet is now centrally contracted. I wouldn't say he has pushed his way through at all; he has been let through. If all the batters who are in the test team but are failing are still picked every match, there simply is no way into the team for any other batters, no matter how much better they might be than the present incumbents, and no matter how many county or ODI runs they might score. Vaughan dropped himself, which might have opened a space for a new batter, but the space was immediately closed by changing the shape of the team and fitting one of the old guard back in instead. It is a closed shop except for those who are allowed in; and it is not clear that when the door opens it does so for respectable reasons.




There does appear to be a double standard between batting and bowling. England seem most reluctant to let go of over the hill batsmen; Stewart, Atherton, Hussain and Vaughan have all had to drop themselves. But my main concern is a lack of progression in the side. Consistency of selection is fine. And a proven batsman of real class should certainly be allowed two or three quiet series before his place is questioned, especially in a settled side that is performing reasonably well. The two bad matches and you're out days of the 1980s and early 1990s were truly ridiculous and counter productive. But that isn't what is happening. Andrew Strauss has had a terrific career but one that started to dip in 2005. He has had good matches since but rarely, if ever, a really dominating series. His performances over the last 18 months/2 years have been consistently poor and haven't looked like improving. He was dropped and then re-instated, without merit, looked awful against a pathetically weak NZ, but then rescued his career with a century and a real opportunity to progress the side by selecting a younger player, Key or Shah (or whoever) was missed.

Michael Vaughan has not justified his place for some time in my view. He gets out bowled early on far too often in my view for a Test batsman and has not shown consistently dominating form for years. He eventually drops himself from ODIs (and not before time), then Test matches, does precisely nothing in county cricket, then is handed another contract with the suggestion that he's a shoe in for next years Ashes. Why?

Paul Collingwood, in his thirties like Vaughan and in abysmal form for some time, is rightly dropped from an already weak batting line up that can't afford any more passengers. He is inexplicably re-instated after one match and rescues his career with an admittedly gritty performance that deserves respect and demonstrates the fighting qualities he has shown in better days. But why was he able to deliver two scores then and nothing before for yonks? If his omission concentrated his mind then good.

Matthew Hoggard on the other hand, an able and willing servant over several years, comes back from injury, looks poor, is dropped, apparently loses his nip, and it's thank you and goodbye. I've no problem with that decision if Hoggard genuinely has lost something. It's precisely the sort of hard, ruthless, but necessary decision that I would like England to make more often. And it's seen two promising players, Anderson and Broad, start to emerge from the ranks of the also rans. However, neither has made themselves a cast iron certainty and it's difficult to see why they are contracted. If I was Matthew Hoggard I'd have a few choice words for Vaughan when I saw him back at Headingley.

England need to make decisions about several players. Are Vaughan, Strauss and Collingwood ever likely to regain their best form and if so, do they have a future beyond the next year? My belief is that the answer to both these questions is no. However, dropping all three at once would be problematic and therefore I would suggest retaining Collingwood for the immediate future as he appears the most deserving and contributes more in other areas.

Is there a timetable for Ian Bell? He's clearly talented, has contributed well on many occasions, yet nagging doubts remain about his ability to contribute the required weight of runs often enough. England need a commanding number three, the position that reportedly he covets. Well it's his now and it's take it or leave it time. I'd give him this winter and next summer. If he retreats into his shell then that's it for me. He doesn't have the nerve for the job.

The next question is what to do with Steve Harmison if he backslides? Again I would be harsh. Two consecutive bad performances (quiet but economical is OK) and any sense that he is moping and it's thank you Steve and goodnight. You certainly don't frighten the Aussies any more and England owe you nothing. You're either up for it or not. End of. My guess is he'll drift off again after he's filled his boots in the Stanford game.

Is Matt Prior ever going to be a Test class wicketkeeper or not? Has he improved significantly since his poor tour of Sri Lanka and can he now catch balls that are angled across him? Is he now a better wicketkeeper than Tim Ambrose? If the answer is no he shouldn't be anywhere near the Test side until a proper wicketkeeper is fully established and secure in their place. Otherwise there will always be the temptation to chop and change every time England fail to make enough runs. My guess? You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And there's nothing silky about Prior's wicketkeeping.

That's enough for now. The selectors have shown themselves to be incapable of making the necessary decisions so don't expect anything to change until after another drubbing next year. Then there'll be more anguish, another review, lots of hand wringing, before a "same but different" group of mediocrities carry on down the same road to nowhere.

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Old 10th September 2008, 22:57   #133
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These are all good points indeed. I certainly agree that a batting order of Vaughan, Strauss and Collingwood plus a couple of others would hardly have anyone shaking in their Boots. Realistically, two of these only would play with Cook, KP and Bell - I'd pick Colly and then neither of Vaughan or Strauss - Shah ought to be given his LONG overdue chance.

Prior - needs an extended run - his wkt keeping has definitely improved and his batting is peerless (as a wickie), he might just develop into an Alec Stewart

Hoggy is a bloody disgrace the way he has been treated. Harmison - would not have been brought back - he's done OK, but not enough
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Old 10th September 2008, 22:57   #134
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The alternative batsmen appear to be only Bopara or Shah; Shah or Bopara. As has been said, both have had chances and not convinced. If Vaughan and Strauss are hanging on to their places and contracts because the selectors have no faith in B & S why don't they try some others? It can't do any harm. If they feel that Bopara and Shah are eventually going to make it, they should give them more opportunities. What's the point of keeping the old hands in the side and thus not giving these two batsmen a proper go? Fair enough, other players, e.g. Cook, have stepped in in an emergency and impressed enough to be given a permanent place. Shah and Bopara have yet to make convincing cases for themselves but they are still hovering around, neither in the side nor out in the cold and meanwhile none of the selectors are coming up with any alternatives.

I suggest giving the two lads a proper run in the side (both together or one at a time) and finding out if they are up to it. But this can't be done unless somebody else gets left out.
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Old 10th September 2008, 23:00   #135
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These are all good points indeed. I certainly agree that a batting order of Vaughan, Strauss and Collingwood plus a couple of others would hardly have anyone shaking in their Boots. Realistically, two of these only would play with Cook, KP and Bell - I'd pick Colly and then neither of Vaughan or Strauss - Shah ought to be given his LONG overdue chance.

Prior - needs an extended run - his wkt keeping has definitely improved and his batting is peerless (as a wickie), he might just develop into an Alec Stewart

Hoggy is a bloody disgrace the way he has been treated. Harmison - would not have been brought back - he's done OK, but not enough
Come on, you can hardly complain that Harmison hasn't been worth his place since he returned. You might not have supported his recall but he did earn consideration with his county efforts and he's certainly done enough since recall to be stuck with. Again, you face the problem that if you take his central contract away, you might as well ditch him entirely when that isn't what you want.
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Old 10th September 2008, 23:08   #136
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The alternative batsmen appear to be only Bopara or Shah; Shah or Bopara. As has been said, both have had chances and not convinced. If Vaughan and Strauss are hanging on to their places and contracts because the selectors have no faith in B & S why don't they try some others? It can't do any harm. If they feel that Bopara and Shah are eventually going to make it, they should give them more opportunities. What's the point of keeping the old hands in the side and thus not giving these two batsmen a proper go? Fair enough, other players, e.g. Cook, have stepped in in an emergency and impressed enough to be given a permanent place. Shah and Bopara have yet to make convincing cases for themselves but they are still hovering around, neither in the side nor out in the cold and meanwhile none of the selectors are coming up with any alternatives.
It's not the selectors' job to come up with alternatives as if they're producing rabbits out of hats. If there are players there in county cricket making a case for selection then the selectors have to weigh their merits versus the established but in this case unconvincing batsmen. If there aren't really players making a case in county cricket then it's rather harder to replace underperformers, isn't it? Bopara is one of the outstanding division 2 county batsmen this season so it's hardly as if there are several better alternatives. In division 1, the only outstanding English talent not already in the side (Pietersen), over the hill (Ramps, Butcher) or retired (Tres) is Prior. Shah, of course, has had a bad season, as has Key.

Oh and trying someone else could very easily do some harm, what with the danger that he might score no runs.

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I suggest giving the two lads a proper run in the side (both together or one at a time) and finding out if they are up to it. But this can't be done unless somebody else gets left out.
There's a plausible enough case for this but there is a problem: neither is an opener and that's where the putative empty slot is for Strauss and Vaughan to fight over. You could move Bell up to open. Would that be a good move? I'm not convinced it would be.
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Old 10th September 2008, 23:08   #137
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He's probably done just enough, but it's not the Harmison of 2004. The wickets have suited him on the whole, and although he is the man in possession, I agree a couple of poor performances are probably all he needs to be derailed for a while.
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Old 10th September 2008, 23:10   #138
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Originally Posted by savva0122 View Post
He's probably done just enough, but it's not the Harmison of 2004. The wickets have suited him on the whole, and although he is the man in possession, I agree a couple of poor performances are probably all he needs to be derailed for a while.
Now that I entirely agree with and if he's dropped again for not performing, I wouldn't consider a further recall. As it is, I felt recalling him at the Oval was marginal, given that he's done well before in county cricket and then bowled like a drain in tests.
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Old 10th September 2008, 23:10   #139
Michelle Fivefer
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Originally Posted by Fatslogger View Post
Come on, you can hardly complain that Harmison hasn't been worth his place since he returned. You might not have supported his recall but he did earn consideration with his county efforts and he's certainly done enough since recall to be stuck with. Again, you face the problem that if you take his central contract away, you might as well ditch him entirely when that isn't what you want.
Harmison has had only one test match since his recall but it was a mightily impressive one. I thought he made much more impact in that one match than Flintoff's return, which was OK but unspectacular apart from that one devastating spell after the rain at Edgbaston. Flintoff got back to his best during the ODIs with bat and ball and Harmy was pretty good in most of the ODIs. I think he certainly deserves a contract: you can hardly deny him one on the grounds that he might not sustain the level of achievement - on that basis nobody would get one.

It'll be interesting to see how Harmison does over the winter and in the lead up to the Ashes.
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Old 10th September 2008, 23:12   #140
Baron von Death
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Originally Posted by Michelle Fivefer View Post
The alternative batsmen appear to be only Bopara or Shah; Shah or Bopara. As has been said, both have had chances and not convinced. If Vaughan and Strauss are hanging on to their places and contracts because the selectors have no faith in B & S why don't they try some others? It can't do any harm. If they feel that Bopara and Shah are eventually going to make it, they should give them more opportunities. What's the point of keeping the old hands in the side and thus not giving these two batsmen a proper go? Fair enough, other players, e.g. Cook, have stepped in in an emergency and impressed enough to be given a permanent place. Shah and Bopara have yet to make convincing cases for themselves but they are still hovering around, neither in the side nor out in the cold and meanwhile none of the selectors are coming up with any alternatives.

I suggest giving the two lads a proper run in the side (both together or one at a time) and finding out if they are up to it. But this can't be done unless somebody else gets left out.
Agree entirely. I don't believe either Vaughan or Strauss will contribute significantly again. sure they'll make the odd score. But that's not enough. Bopara and Shah have neither seized their opportunity nor let themselves down since neither has had a run and Shah has at least put in a terrific performance in India, only to be dropped. Are they (plus possibly Key) likely to achieve less than the people they replace? Unlikely in my view if you bring them in now. But that requires forward planning and a sense of purpose and direction. But it ain't there. The selectors wait until their hands are forced.
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