A sterner Test?

Today's match between England and Australia will tell us more in 100 overs than the Commonwealth Bank series did in 000's.

It was Imran Khan who uttered those immortal words 'Cornered Tigers' (or something like that - lion, tiger, lynx, crested hyena...) and Australia, today, will be the embodiment of that very sentiment.

Reeling from two huge series defeats in the space of just two months, Ricky Ponting's team have much to prove not only to themselves, but to the world's media. Doubts about commitment, stamina and age have surfaced and even their own players have gone on record as suggesting as much:

"It's not a nice feeling. It's a demoralising loss and probably as low as we've
been." The Huss, AKA Mr Cricket, AKA Don't hassle the huss AKA Mike

For the first time in (my own) living memory, Australia are a genuinely beatable team. The current lack of disparity between the top 8 nations means that Australia's position as 2-1 favourite for this World Cup has never looked more suspect.

In today's 'Warm-up' game, there will precious few rivalries to resurrect from the last 24 months sparring between the two sides. Retirements, injuries and the blooding of new talent on both sides makes this game different in both feel and balance.

A year ago, you could have named both sides before putting a shrimp on the barbie. However in the current cricketing climate, one would struggle to name half the players guaranteed a place in the starting XI's. What it means though, is that today's match is a chance for those on the periphery - Bopara, Hodge, Tait and Mahmood et al to cement those places which currently hang by a proverbial coat of varnish.

This will be much more than a friendly, and at its conclusion, should provide further evidence for, or against, Australia's backing as the team to beat in the WC2007.


Shock: Vaughan only fit enough for 25% participation in the world cup...

More 'great' news emerged from the England camp today as it was announced that Michael Vaughan is only fit enough to captain England for up to 30 overs at a time.

Taking the maths to another level, Vaughan bats on average for 34 balls per innings in ODI's. This means that he's on the pitch for 11% of the batting. 30 overs fielding means 60% of the bowling and a total of 40.5% of the total game involved with it...

Is this the first time an international team will have an official co-captain? The World Cup is a 50-over format, meaning that 40% of the time Vaughan won't be captaining England on the field. With Strauss being resigned to becoming the Justin Langer of the England set-up, and
let's not for one minute believe that Flintoff's relative success in the triangular series was anything more than a gruelling, luck-ridden fluke against a half-hearted and hugely dispirited Australian side lacking in drive, commitment and 1st XI players. He is not the man to co-captain England to a World Cup success.

England need to get this side of their tactics completely nailed before they step onto the pitch against New Zealand on the 16th of March. Will Vaughan lead from the dressing room or will the stand-in be in charge of events? Will there be a compromise between the two?

Cricket is a game, undoubtedly centred around instinct and reacting to pressure situations - something Vaughan has proved incredible at. But if he is off the field in the 43rd over and England need to take two wickets and not concede more than 50 runs... Who makes that snap decision? Because they can't take 5 minutes out of the game to ask, but then again isn't that what the 12th man has always been for?


Group Stage betting... Waste of time and money?

Looking at the group stages leaves me slightly short of breath. It makes me wonder as a fan why things couldn't have been a little more 'edgy'.

The ICC has effectively cleared a path for the top 8 teams to sail through to next phase of the competition, by grouping the two strong teams with two of the world's so-called minnows.

Politics and frustration aside, what position does this leave the humble gambler in?

Well, let's face it it's not great, but I've singled out a few bets which might bring some smiles to everyone's faces in the group stages. Prices are as of 7/3/07.

1) South Africa to win group A @ 5/4.

Australia head the betting at a stingy 4/7, but with all their recent turmoil one would have to plump for the Africans here

2) Holland to Beat Scotland in the group game

Holland have shown themselves to be a none-too-shabby batting side over recent years. Even when Sri Lanka posted the highest even one day score against them, they still scored heavily and quickly. Scotland have shown poor form coming into the Cup, and even on their day, will struggle to beat a keen Dutch side.

3) Spread Bet: Sri Lanka and/or India to put 400+ past the Bahamas

Only one man in the Bahamian team managed to contain the English batsmen, so with the extended talent of India and Sri Lanka, one would fear for the averages of the small nation's bowlers.

4) Ireland to beat Zimbabwe in the group game

The Irish without a hint of luck nearly embarassed the Proteas yesterday, and with Zimbabwe's crushing defeat at the hands of Australia, an Irish win, and a good price should be well on the cards.

As something of an addendum to this post, I just saw that Mike Hussey is the best part of 30/1 to be leading runscorer with Paddy Power. For a man who averages close to 80 in ODI's, and is commonly regarded as the best finisher in world cricket this has to be one of the bets of the year.

"Punter's" laying not backing this time...

Today's shock statement by Ricky Ponting regarding the state of his team's bowling attack, should worry those who have taken the ridiculously short price on the Aussies lifting the trophy:

"If we are not convinced on what our best XI is, then we may have to give six or seven bowlers seven or eight overs each," - Ricky Ponting

It seems like the debacle of the Hadlee/Chappell trophy has caused more than a short term bruise to the egos of the one-time Brits.

At the moment, Australia can be got from anything between 2-1 with Ladbrokes and 9-4 with Stan James on the outright result of the tournament. This, to me is money burnt. India at 8-1 and Sri Lanka wavering at 7's are the big bets of the competition, especially for those seeking each-way value.

With Australian confidence at a 20 year low, now is the time to lay the Ozzies and back the Asian nations.

Leverock 'n' roll....

Ah the Bahamian brutaliser. He's a bobby by day and a cricketer by err day/night. Hitherto unheard of by us ordinary folk, Dwayne Leverock was the one West Indian to shine in the third heaviest defeat in One Day Internationals EVER.

Making a fool of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, the 35 year old slow left armer proved a destroyer of both reputations and stereotypes in England's resounding success.

Resembling more of a sunday club cricketer, Leverock, a genial jailor (how I wish he was from Jamaica) took 2-32 off 10 overs in the World Cup warm-up game on March 5th.

He has though, sparked something of a debate amongst the game's media about the physicalities needed for a sport such as cricket. It shows, that any size, shape, or indeed width can play the game of cricket. This surely accounts for the worldwide popularity of a sport which can be taken as gently or as energetically as one would wish...
On the BBC's website, Leverock was quoted as saying:
"This shows you that you can compete at any level, and keep your mind at a place where you can say 'I am a person' and believe in yourself and your ability..."
I wonder who'd win in a race between him and Inzy for a nice cream tea?