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   Englandís Summer; An assessmentÖPart I
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Assesment of the first half of England's summer, 3 test series against Sri Lanka and a 5 ODI series vs Sri Lanka.
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And so, the English cricketing summer has once again ended, this time not with as much excitement as the previous summer, but nonetheless still with a certain amount of surprise and joy, with England managing to recapture some one day form and square the series against Pakistan.

While the excitement and significance of the Ashes summer of 2005 may never be beaten, nobody could say that this season was dull, both on and off the field this summer has produced moments of brilliance, despair and intrigue. We have witnessed both cricketing brilliance from the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, with his match winning 8 wicket haul at Trent Bridge, and Ian Bellís consecutive hundreds in the first three tests against Pakistan. We have also seen Englandís injury crisis worsen, with Andrew Flintoff, Liam Plunkett, James Anderson and Steve Harmison all picking up injuries throughout the summer, with the former four all being doubts for the Ashes.

Victory slips through Englandís fingers

The summer started off well enough for England, although not without major cause for concern. After enforcing the follow on in the first test at Lordís thanks to a brilliant Kevin Pietersen century, England failed to dismiss Sri Lanka the second time around, dropping seemingly endless catches and letting Sri Lanka off the hook as they managed to save the game. The dropped catches would have certainly been a worry for England, but perhaps more worrying was the fact that their captain, Andrew Flintoff, bowled 51 overs during Sri Lankaís second innings, over a quarter of the total number of overs in the innings. To put things into perspective, Monty Panesar, who was by all accounts bowling well only bowled 27 overs, indeed, Panesar bowled fewer overs than all of the other front line bowlers. Flintoff was rightly criticised for his captaincy and his under use of Panesar and indeed overuse of himself, which is something which may work against him when the captaincy for the Ashes is finally decided. It was the dropped catches, however,  which truly cost England the game.

The fielding performance was much improved by England in the second test, with England skittling Sri Lanka for just 141 on the first morning of the game, with all 5 bowlers taking wickets, and new boys Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood showing their worth, picking up three wickets and two wickets respectively, performances which showed they can both perform at the highest level, despite their early inconsistency and inexperience. Kevin Pietersen then racked up another brilliant century, including a reverse-sweep for six off of Muralitharan, however, those who live by the sword die by the sword, and Pietersen was out attempting a similarly extravagant shot almost immediately.
Pietersenís Patience
Pietersenís mentality is another concern for England, and as brilliant as Kevin Pietersen can be, he is as infuriating in equal measure. Of course, it seems silly to criticise somebody for getting out on 142 or 150, but this can be the difference between a good batsman and a great batsman-powers of concentration, and application. Often, when Pietersen passes 100, or even 50, he just does not look like getting out but seems to attempt riskier shots as he progresses. Pietersen has admitted that he often gets bored and has even said that he wished he had the patience of Alistair Cook. For me, Pietersenís patience is the difference in whether he will be known as a great batsman, or becomes one of the greats. He certainly has the talent to become the latter, but his lack of patience may stop him from fulfilling his full potential.

Nevertheless, England managed to bowl Sri Lanka out for 231 second time up, despite a Michael Vandort century, and chase down the 83 runs required for victory, eventually winning by six wickets, and Muralitharan ending up on 10 wickets once again.
Spinning both ways
The final and deciding test of the series, at Trent Bridge, was another Murali master class, and again showed Englandís weaknesses against top quality spin. Once again England bowled Sri Lanka out for a small total (231), but England could not manage to match that total, being bowled out for 229 in reply with Paul Collingwood (48) top scoring. Sri Lanka managed 330 in their second innings, setting England a tricky 325, Monty Panesar took his maiden test five wicket haul in test cricket in this innings, something which was significant indeed.
For so many years, England have lacked a match winning spinner, and, useful and hard-working a cricketer Ashley Giles may be, he is nothing more than a decent spinner at best, as is highlighted by his career average of nearly forty. In India, Monty Panesar bowled well enough without setting the world alight, taking five wickets in three matches and averaging 62. However, his control and the deliveries he bowled to take the wickets of Mohammad Kaif and Rahul Dravid in the first test showed that Panesar was a special talent indeed. It was when he took his maiden five wicket haul in tests that this talent came to fruition, and Panesar had well and truly arrived in international cricket. In the series against Pakistan later in the year, Panesar impressed even more taking 17 wickets in 4 tests at an average of just over thirty, including bowling England to victory on two occasions, at Old Trafford (8 wickets) and Headingley (6 wickets). At last England have unearthed the top class spin bowler they have been lacking for so long.
However, whilst England unearthed a top class spinner, their weakness against top class spin still seems to remain. In the previous summer, England had been torn apart by Warne, who took 40 wickets in five Ashes test matches. In this yearís series against Sri Lanka, Muralitharan took 24 wickets at 16.87, with two 10 wicket hauls and a best of 8/70, a performance almost as brilliant as Warneís last summer. However, while two world-class spinners have feasted on England, I feel that it is less a weakness against top-class spin, than England having to face the two leading wicket takers of all time. If we look at the other spinners England have faced recently then we shall get a clearer picture. During Englandís recent tour of India, Anil Kumble took 16 wickets in 3 matches at 29.25 with one five wicket haul, a solid if not blinding performance, and Harbhajan Singh took just 8 wickets at 48, with England not having much problem at all with the Indian off spinner. Likewise, England didnít have too much trouble facing Pakistanís Danish Kaneria both in Pakistan (where he took 11 wickets in 3 games at 36) and in England (13 wickets in four games at 50.). Of course England struggled against Murali and Warne, but, over their careers, a lot of sides have!
ODI Problems

The One Day International series between England and Sri Lanka turned out to be an extremely one-sided affair with England being crushed 5-0 by Sri Lanka, thanks to some wayward (at best) bowling from Englandís youngsters and some blistering batting from some of Sri Lankaís veterans. Given Englandís very poor run of form in the shorter format of the game before the series (only winning one game out of seven in India), the chances of an England win in the series were small, however the poor performance that England put in during the series could not be foreseen by even the most hardened pessimists.

England narrowly lost the first ODI, but an innings from Jamie Dalrymple, who has emerged as a promising all rounder in this form of the game, saved England from a heavier defeat (England were at one stage 138-5). Englandís bowling performance in the next ODI left a lot to be desired, with Sajid Mahmood going at 11 an over, Plunkett at 7, and Bresnan and Collingwood at 6ÖEnglandís bowlers had really squandered any chance of England winning before the batsmen had a chance. In the third ODI, Englandís batsmen set a reasonable total (261), but again, the bowlers squandered any chance of an England win with woeful bowling, and Sri Lanka won inside 43 overs. The fourth ODI was all too familiar, Sri Lanka set a big total, which England failed to chase down, save a couple of decent batting performances.

The fifth and final ODI was looked to be different after England had set a big total of 321 aided by a Trescothick century. What was to follow was what could only be described as one of the worst bowling performances from an England team in recent history. Sri Lanka (namely the two openers, Jayasuria and Tharanga) proceeded to smash every England bowler (bar Dalrymple) around and out of the park at double quick speed. Now, for me, it wasnít that England ďdidnít have a planĒ nor ďhad the wrong planĒ (as many commentators suggested) against the Sri Lankan batsman, it is just that they were terrible, and itís as simple as that. No bowler plans to bowl short and wide. No bowler plans to let the batsmen smash them at over ten an over. And no bowler plans not to take any wickets. The bowling was what cost England any chance of being competitive in the series. The batting was not woeful, but it never had much of a chance when the bowling was so poor. Now, it is no real surprise to see a bowler go for 6 or 7 an over in an ODI, and indeed it happens quite frequently, but for this to happen to more or less a whole attack, however inexperienced, throughout a whole series is a problem a captain cannot overcome.
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»Englandís Summer; An assessmentÖPart I  
Category: Cricket Articles, Posted on 3rd April 2007
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An excellent synopsis of the highs and lows of the English cricket season. Good stuff!!!!
Posted on 3rd April 2007 by Subedei
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