Ashes Preview

It is merely a couple of weeks away from the biggest showdown in world cricket. Australia and England are set to do battle yet again in what will surely be one of the most intriguing Ashes series in a long time. England come into it unsurprisingly as underdogs, as many fancy Australia’s strong top order, and destructive pace battery. However, with England the current holders of the urn, they will no doubt be more focused than ever on retaining it.

England Preview-

England come into this Ashes series with a major setback. They will be without arguably the best all round cricketer in the world right now in Ben Stokes unless something drastic changes with his police case. Still, without Stokes they remain a definite threat to the Aussies with a strong squad. Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman seem to complement each other well as opening partners, with Cook grinding his innings out, whereas Stoneman is seen as the dasher, quite similar in a way to Australia’s opening pairing of Warner and Renshaw. Joe Root will be captaining England for the first time in an Ashes series, and he will of course be expected to lead from the front with his batting. If there is one thing that can be criticised about Root’s game, it is that he has a definite problem with converting his 50’s into 100’s. This issue will need to be urgently ironed out for this series if England want to win, as Root is by far and away England’s best batsman, and has the capability to take apart and completely demoralise opposition bowling attacks once he starts finding rhythm as the crease.

England’s middle order is going to be very hard to predict for the first game at the Gabba. Without Stokes, who has cemented his place at number 6 in recent years, they find themselves in need of a player who can come in and perform as well as he has. They have many options in their squad, with the likes of Gary Ballance, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan and possibly even Craig Overton being possibilities for that role. The scrutiny will definitely however be on James Vince. He is almost certain to bat at 3 in the first test, and in all honestly, won’t even have to perform that well if he is to better his first part of his England test career. He failed to pass 50 in every one of the 7 tests that he played back in the summer of 2016, and was subsequently dropped for the subcontinent tours. Despite a very mediocre county season, averaging in the mid 30’s for Hampshire, Vince was called up as a replacement for the dropped Tom Westley for the Ashes. Many ex professionals including Shane Warne had called for his inclusion, based on the fact that he appears to have a technique that is a lot more suited for Australian conditions than English ones, which in other words means, he prefers to bat on flat tracks as opposed to ones that do a bit.

England’s bowlers have notoriously struggled in Australia, with the same style bowler going out there and getting the same results- right arm medium fast bowlers who can’t move the Kookaburra ball getting hammered by the Aussie batsmen. They perhaps have a better chance this year, with maiden away Ashes series for Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and Jake Ball. I personally think that Craig Overton should be given a go. He has the ability to bowl for long sessions and bowl fast and accurately. Overton would be a difficult customer for the Aussies to deal with, and couple that with his ability to come in and score quick runs with the bat, he is a definite contender for a debut in Brisbane. Should Moeen Ali not pass his fitness test and be ruled out for the first test, then England will be forced to choose whether to go with an all out pace attack, or to include the spin of Mason Crane. Crane has impressed in his short international career so far, albeit in the shortest format, but the potential is definitely there for everyone to see. He has experience bowling in Australia as he made his Shield debut for New South Wales last year, and picked up a 5-fer at the SCG.

Overall, England’s team has the potential to be a very strong outfit, but there are a few players who need to solidify their positions and make them their own. The players inexperience in Australian conditions and an Ashes series might play a factor, with only Cook, Root, Anderson, Finn and Broad a part of the England squad that got mauled by the Aussies in 2013.

Predicted Line up for the first Test at the Gabba:

Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root (c), Ballance, Bairstow (wk), Moeen, Woakes, Overton, Broad, Anderson

 

Australia Preview-

Australia come into the series lacking test match practise you could say. Since the India tour in February, they have only had one test series against Bangladesh which finished 1-1. They look to have a more settled team than England do, with question marks only really raised over the number 6 role and the wicket keeping position. At the top of the order, Warner will be relied on heavily to score big as he always does at home, and will look to get on top of the England bowlers right from the off. Matt Renshaw is a stark contrast to Warner as a batsman and the partnership is reminiscent of the Warner-Rogers partnership which dominated world cricket for a few years. Steve Smith will be the man to watch as always, with his test average reaching 60 this year, something that the great Ricky Ponting once achieved in his career at one stage as well.

Australia’s middle order has the potential to be very dangerous. Peter Handscomb comes in at 4 with a test average of over 50, and a lot of cricket played for him in more challenging conditions than what he is likely to face at home. The Aussies have the ability to play both Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright in that middle order to follow Handscomb- something which England might find to difficult to manage. Maxwell is destructive, a brutal yet innovative player who refuses to die wandering even in the longest form of the game. Hilton Cartwright is more of a reliable batsman, if not a bit less entertaining than Maxi. Cartwright averages 50 in first class and has only really just begun his international career. He is also a more than handy bowler, as Steve Smith can surely attest to, as Cartwright dismissed his skipper in the New South Wales vs Western Australia shield game a few days ago. They do have other options as well as these two, with Shaun Marsh always a reliable batsman wherever he plays in the order, and with his brother Mitchell looking in supreme form domestically, we could potentially see the Marsh brothers at 5 and 6 for Australia. The main issue for the Aussies however, is the wicket keeping position. It has been an issue that has plagued them ever since the retirement of Adam Gilchrist, and is currently at it’s worst point. Matthew Wade has demonstrated time and again in his turbulent international career that he is not reliable with the gloves, and doesn’t score the amount of runs to potentially ignore his wicket keeping flaws. There is no real challenge from anyone else on the domestic scene though, with there being no full time keepers who boast good enough batting stats. It will come down to Wade vs Peter Nevill for the role, and all signs point to Wade at the moment, but this is a area in which Australia will be concerned.

The Aussie bowling unit is probably the best bowling attack going around at the moment. They have a ridiculous amount of world class fast bowlers, so much so that not all of them can get a game, and have to be satisfied with carrying drinks, or not even selected at all! Their main threats are of course Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. Starc is looking absolutely lethal with the ball right now, and will definitely fancy himself against the technically flawed Gary Ballance if he plays. Starc has just taken a career best 8 wicket innings haul for New South Wales, and then followed it up next game with a hat trick against Western Australia. Hazlewood is a top 5 bowler right now, with his outstanding ability to hit the perfect line and length every ball with great pace earning him rightful comparisons with Glenn McGrath. Cummins is the quickest of the lot, and whilst his international debut against South Africa feels so long ago, he is still very young, and has plenty of time to improve. If Cummins can consistently hit 150kph plus, then England’s batsmen might start to panic, and have flashbacks to Mitchell Johnson’s pace barrage 4 years back. This is all without mentioning their leading wicket taker in Tests this year Nathan Lyon, who is probably right now the best spinner in the world across all conditions. Lyon has spun Australia to numerous victories this year, and will enjoy bowling to an England line up that has shown an inability to cope with the turning ball at times recently.

Overall, it really is hard to look past Australia at the moment with the way their squad lines up. Their batsmen have such incredible records, and ability to score the big hundreds, and once that is coupled with the fact that their bowling attack can take out any top team in the world, it makes them perhaps too hot to handle.

Predicted line up for the First Test at the Gabba:

Warner, Renshaw, Smith (c), Handscomb, Cartwright/Khawaja, Maxwell, Wade (wk), Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Lyon

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Why Conor McGregor should vacate the UFC Lightweight Title

Conor McGregor has been holding the UFC Lightweight Division in limbo for over a year now. His last fight was in November 2016 where he miraculously defeated Eddie Alvarez to become the first person to hold two belts at one time. Since then, McGregor has gone off chasing the big money fights, and competed in his first professional boxing match in 2017 where he was defeated by Floyd Mayweather Jr. In his absence, the UFC Lightweight division has become one of the best and most stacked divisions talent wise, that we have seen in a long time.

The fight that everyone wants to see right now is Khabib Nurmagomedov against the interim champion Tony Ferguson. Nurmagomedov is 25-0 in his professional career and Ferguson currently has the longest winning streak in the history of the lightweight division. Both are on unstoppable runs as of late and a match-up between the two of them has been made and fallen through a numerous amount of times now. The most recent one was in early 2017 when Nurmagomedov had to pull out due to a botched weight cut, and this left fans wondering if we would ever see Khabib vs Ferguson.

Tony Ferguson won the interim belt against Kevin Lee at UFC 216, and continued to call out McGregor to defend his title against him. Ferguson certainly felt as though he had done enough to earn a title shot now that he was the interim champion and the only people that didn’t agree with him were McGregor and Dana White.

Khabib’s most recent fight came at the end of 2017 at UFC 219 where he produced one of the most dominant displays over 3 rounds the Lightweight division has ever seen. Khabib mauled Edson Barboza who many predicted would be a tough match up for the Dagestani. Nurmagomedov won the unanimous decision including one score from the judges that read 30-24. Khabib has called out McGregor previously, after his mauling of Michael Johnson, he called out the Irish star and referred to him as a chicken. The problem with Khabib has been his weight cutting difficulty, but that problem seems to have been ironed out now and he is even talking about moving down to the 145 division to make a potential super fight with Hawaiian Max Holloway after he has won the Lightweight belt.

This is not the first time that McGregor has held a division hostage. After winning his Lightweight belt in 2016, he still held the featherweight belt despite not having any intentions to have any more fights at 145 pounds. This left guys like Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar and the current champion Max Holloway without any ability to get that belt, as McGregor would not vacate and Dana White would not strip him of it quickly enough.

As we are in 2018 now, and as both Khabib and Tony Ferguson have huge momentum behind them, it is only fitting that we see this fight made for the actual belt and not the interim belt. No-one should have to defend an interim belt, especially if the champion is fit and healthy.

The UFC cannot even use the excuse that Conor holding the belt is good for the company financially, because the belt doesn’t enhance McGregor’s stocks more than they already are. Without the belt, Conor could make just as much money for the UFC in a fight against anyone else, because of who he is. There has even been rumours about a super fight between McGregor and one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time Georges St.Pierre, which would probably be the biggest selling pay-per view of all time.

India vs South Africa 1st Test Review

The first test of one of the most highly anticipated series in a long time definitely lived up to the hype. The two top ranked teams were very difficult to separate before the series began, and with a stacked batting and bowling line up, the match promised to be exciting.

The pitch was as expected- it had grass, and gave a lot of movement for the seam bowlers. India began very brightly with the ball and had South Africa 12-3 after just 5 overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar showed why he is one of the best fast bowlers going around by getting rid of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla in his opening spell. This brought AB de Villiers to the crease in his first Test match since 2016, and there was some pressure on him to perform again given his long absence. During his innings however, it was like he’d never been away. With the pressure firmly on South Africa after the three early wickets, de Villiers counter attacked and put the pressure right back on the other foot. He ended up with 65 from just 84 deliveries before he was dismissed by a good ball from Jasprit Bumrah who claimed de Villiers as his first scalp in Test cricket. De Villiers was joined in his efforts by the skipper Faf du Plessis, who made 62 alongside his star batsman. South Africa were eventually all out for 286 in 73 overs, and many people were heaping praise on the Indian bowling performance and thought that India had put themselves in a great position to get ahead in the game.

When India did bat, it turned out that they struggled heavily with the ferocious South African bowling. For the first time, we saw the quartet of fast bowlers play together. Dale Steyn picked up his first test wicket since 2016 and looked unplayable before another injury cut his game and his series short. Morne Morkel picked up from where he left off against Zimbabwe, and claimed the big wicket of the Indian captain Virat Kohli for just 5. Vernon Philander was perfect with his line and length bowling and finished the innings with figures of 14.3-8-33-3. The most impressive bowler was undoubtedly Kagiso Rabada. The 22 year old quick has now become the number 1 ranked Test bowler in the world-usurping James Anderson. Rabada is the youngest person to achieve this ranking, and his performance in this game showed why he is so good. He took 3-34 at an economy of a little over 2, and just looked like he was always in control of the game. The Indian players looked nervous against him, and ultimately couldn’t assert any dominance over him. India finished on 209 all out, and to be honest, that score flattered them. They were 92-7 at one point, and looked like they would be conceding a very considerable lead after the first innings. India were rescued by Hardik Pandya who is developing into one of the best allrounders in the world of present. He scored 93 off 95 and was very unlucky not to reach his second Test century.

South Africa had a 77 run lead going into their second innings, and were looking to bat India out of the game with a lot of time left in the match. They had a strong opening stand between Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar, but both men fell just before the end of Day 2. The following day was a complete washout, and this left two days in the match for the teams to get a result. On the beginning of Day 4, South Africa were given the same treatment as India during their first innings, as their batsmen were blown away by high quality seam bowling. The wickets were shared very evenly between Mohammed Shami, Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya, as the number 1 ranked spinner in the world Ravichandran Ashwin only bowled 1 over in the innings. AB de Villiers top scored again for South Africa with 35 and was the last man out, trying to score quick runs after he had run out of competent batting partners. South Africa were bowled out for 130 leaving India a very chaseable target of 208.

The wickets continued to fall at Newlands on Day 4, as India fared no better than South Africa in the final innings of the match. Despite not having Dale Steyn, South Africa were able to bowl India out for 135 and win the match fairly comfortably in the end. Not one batsman in the Indian team looked like they were capable of staying in and making a big score in the innings, and captain Kohli was dismissed cheaply again. The star of the show for South Africa was Vernon Philander who was absolutely brilliant with the ball in hand. Philander finished with 6-42 in the innings and it looked like he had the ball on a string at times. Ravi Ashwin was India’s top scorer in their run chase with 37, and this will serve as a wake up call for the Indian batsman that they need to step up for the next game if they are to get a positive result out of it.

All in all, it was a fantastic start to what promises to be a wonderful series. South Africa showed why they are rated so highly in the bowling department, and India also showed that their fast bowlers are more than capable of holding their own on assisted pitches.

England vs Australia 5th Test Preview

The end of a gruelling series for England is finally in sight. All of the optimism and excitement for England’s chances before the series started has evaporated with dismal performances in the first 3 matches. They may have stopped the whitewash with a draw in the Boxing Day Test, albeit on one of the flattest and slowest pitches I have ever seen, but the fact that England haven’t managed a single win has been the most apparent concern.

England have selected the 20 year old leg spinner Mason Crane for this match in place of the injured Chris Woakes, and time will tell whether the youngster is up for the challenge of Test cricket. Crane averages a less than impressive 44 in first class cricket, however you do have to take into consideration the fact that he has played in difficult conditions in England. He will have an extremely tough initiation with David Warner and Steve Smith coming into the game in supreme form, having both scored centuries in the previous game. He will take confidence from the fact that the rest of the Aussie batting lineup has not looked so intimidating. Cameron Bancroft has really struggled since his debut, and the chances surely must be running out for Usman Khawaja who has looked incredibly poor throughout this series. The key for Crane is really just to enjoy himself as this match is a dead rubber, and there isn’t really any pressure on him for his debut which is unusual, but could be a blessing.

Whilst there isn’t any pressure on Crane, there will be pressure felt by James Vince in the England top order. Vince hasn’t backed up the selectors faith in him with any valuable performances, and is averaging less than 30 in the series so far. He surely needs a big hundred to cement his place on the New Zealand tour later on in the year, as there are plenty of players waiting to take his place. Mark Stoneman will also be looking to follow in his opening partner Alastair Cook’s footsteps from the MCG Test by making a big hundred, as he has had a few fifties, but not gone on to convert any of his scores. The same can be said for Joe Root, who threw away yet another century opportunity when he holed out to deep midwicket for 61 in the fourth Test. At this point, it is evidently a mental problem for Root not a technical issue, and surely he has to come good with a hundred in this match.

Australia are looking impressive, but not without weakness. It still could be said that they have an over reliance in their batting on Smith and Warner, but their bowling has not failed to live up to the hype this series. They were without Mitchell Starc for the last game, but he will be back out there at the SCG, no doubt eager to get at the England batsmen. Josh Hazlewood has probably been the best bowler in the series, hitting great lines and lengths with high pace. Pat Cummins has demonstrated great ability to bowl long spells economically, and has shown great prowess with the bat as well, that could potentially see him being moved up the order. A top class spinner has been one of the noticeable differences between the two sides, and Nathan Lyon has far outperformed Moeen Ali in that department, but will now be up against Mason Crane as his opposing spinner.

Overall, the series has been very bleak for England, but they can salvage something out of this game, with a good performance that sees good innings or good bowling from any of their under pressure players or youngsters coming through. I do think, however, that Australia will be too good for England yet again and will seal the series 4-0.

Ashes 3rd Test Preview

It really is now or never for England in terms of retaining the Ashes, as they face Australia in Perth for the last ever Test match at the legendary WACA stadium. Obviously, Australia go into this match with full confidence, having dominated England in the first Test, and beaten them fairly convincingly in the Second match at Adelaide. Their bowling attack is on fire right now and if England are finding it hard to deal with Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins on slow pitches, then the WACA pitch will surely do them no favours. The only question mark that lingers over Australia is the position in the side of Peter Handscomb, and the early suggestions are that he will be replaced by Mitchell Marsh in the middle order. Australia will be hoping to wrap up the series in this match, and will definitely fancy their chances against a fragile England batting line up that is yet to register a century- something that was very familiar by this point in the series 4 years ago. The Aussies will find conditions suit them a lot better at the WACA, with their batsmen more suited to the faster, bouncier pitches, and their bowlers definitely even more of a threat on such wickets.

England are in real danger of being seriously humiliated for the second consecutive Ashes series down under. Their batting has been spineless- not one player has shown the desire to grind and work for a big innings to help the team. Their number 3 is averaging 20.93 in Test cricket and is looking increasingly susceptible to nicking off after every innings. The main problem for England with their batting is their squad selection. People were incredulous after Vince was included in the squad, and barring the first innings at Adelaide, he has looked the same exact player that struggled so much during his first run at international cricket. Joe Root yet again failed to convert a half century to three figures, and at this point it is just becoming laughable, as well as monumentally frustrating and tiresome. Jonny Bairstow is wasted at number 7 and must bat higher up the order in this test. A guy that averages 47 in first class, and who scored almost 1500 runs in Tests last year cannot be batting at 7 and wasted trying to bat with the tail end. Dawid Malan has shown so far that he is not a poor Test batsman, but an incredibly mediocre one. In the one day format, Malan can be very effective, with a big hitting capability, and a free scoring mentality. However, he approaches things so differently in the longer format, and almost every innings puts so much pressure on himself with his refusal to try and score runs. There is a difference between grinding out a long innings, and just blocking. Malan seems to have about 2 scoring shots, and against Australia, you simply cannot allow them to get on top of you like that. He is a solid player of spin, and could maybe look to put some pressure on Nathan Lyon by trying to take the game to him. If not Malan, then someone needs to try and stop Nathan Lyon. The pressure that he has been exerting on England during the middle overs has been far too evident and has such an effect on their innings, that England’s batsmen need to find a way- like Australia do with Moeen Ali, to try and nullify his economic spells.

Overall, as an England fan, I would not recommend staying up during the night to watch them play, especially going off what we have already seen this series. The only positive England can really take into this game is that their bowling at times has been impressive, and has exposed some weaknesses in the Aussies batting. Despite this, the flaws in their batting remain too big of an issue to be swept under the carpet, and I expect Australia to come out all guns blazing against England in this match, and sadly at this stage, I cannot predict anything other than Australia being 3-0 up at the end of the series, and with the Ashes back in their hands.

New Zealand vs West Indies Series Preview

For what feels like the first time in an eternity, New Zealand are finally playing a Test Match. They are back to their home conditions after an away One Day series that was closely contested against India. It has been a long time coming for New Zealand, who have found themselves starved of cricket compared to other nations in recent times. Their opponents come into this series with reasonable optimism, as they have been performing well, and growing considerably as a team over the past year. It began with a shock victory over England at Headingley, and then translated into their series against Zimbabwe, which they dominated. They now head to New Zealand and will compete in what could well be a very close series.

New Zealand find themselves the 4th best Test team in the world on rankings right now, despite their lack of match time. Their domestic scene has thrown forward a lot of talented players who definitely have the potential to make it at the top level, but need to be afforded the opportunity. One of those players is Tom Blundell, who will be making his Test debut this match, standing in for wicketkeeper BJ Watling, and will be keen to make a lasting impression. Blundell is one of many players who has shone in the domestic set up, as well as developmental sides for New Zealand over the past few years. They also have the experienced heads who they have relied on for many years to get the job done for them. Although Kane Williamson is the same age as Blundell, he eclipses him in terms of international experience, and the Blackcaps skipper will be pivotal as always in securing the win for his side. Williamson has been New Zealand’s best player for a number of years now, and is regarded by almost every fan and pundit alike as one of the best batsmen in the world. Until only recently, he was on top of the ICC Test batting rankings, but has had to concede that position to Steven Smith. Williamson knows his game inside out now, and is potentially entering the prime period of his career. Playing against a West Indies bowling attack that has shown in the past that they can come off the rails if things don’t go their way quickly, Williamson will be looking to cash in and score big runs batting at number 3 for his side. The veteran batsman Ross Taylor will strengthen that middle order as always, as he looks to regain the form that he showed in the 2015-16 season. New Zealand will be without Tim Southee for the First Test, but they have a lot of depth in their bowling and Southee’s absence will allow Matt Henry to make his return to the Test team. Overall, it looks a solid New Zealand line up who will be looking to pounce upon any West Indian weakness, and seize control of the series from the outset.

West Indies have been buoyed of late by their upswing in form, and by the standout performances of one of the best young talents in the world in Shai Hope. Hope was the reason for the incredible victory against England earlier this year, scoring two hundreds in the same game to seal that memorable win for the Windies. He followed that up with a good series in Zimbabwe on slow batting tracks, and has already began this tour well with a hundred in the warm up game just a few days ago. Batting at 4, Hope will be the crucial man in that lineup and might have to rein in his attacking instincts somewhat, on what can be very bowler friendly conditions in New Zealand. Whilst the Windies do lack their big star names who are off playing T20 cricket, their Test team has remained relatively unchanged for the last season, and this has no doubt led to an increase in team morale and confidence. The skipper Jason Holder is a very useful player, as his bowling is very suited to the greentops in New Zealand, and his batting has come on leaps and bounds since he made his debut. At the top of the order, keep an eye out for Kraigg Brathwaite who has been in solid form as of late, and is making his claim to becoming one of the best openers in the world. West Indies come into this series with a nicely, well rounded team, and are definitely not a team to sleep on, as England found out!

Prediction: New Zealand win series 1-0

Leading run scorer- Tom Latham

Leading wicket taker- Trent Boult

Australia outclass England -Ashes 1st Test Review

And so concluded the first Test of what now looks to be a very long and difficult Ashes tour for England. They were outplayed by a much better, stronger Australian team who capitalised at the most important times and had that conviction that England lacked. It will take incredible character for England to bounce back so quickly from what was, in the end a crushing loss. While conditions in the Day-night test in Adelaide may suit their bowlers a bit more, the psychological damage from losing the first test in disappointing fashion will remain for the players.

It had started relatively well for England, who were grinding out their first innings by playing proper old school test cricket. Barely scoring at more than 2.5 an over, England were wearing down the Australian bowling attack who were struggling to make as much of an impact with their pace on such a docile pitch. In the morning of the second day, it was looking very encouraging for England who found themselves at 240-4 with Malan and Moeen set at the crease and looking like making big scores. They had been boosted by the impressive Mark Stoneman with his 53 and James Vince making a very attractive 83 before being run out by a superb bit of fielding from Nathan Lyon. However, as they have done previously, England failed against short bowling, and succumbed to bouncers and the leg side field trap. Dawid Malan, after looking so solid for his first 50 runs could not help himself going after the short pull, and top edged one from Starc to Marsh in the deep, kick starting the infamous England collapse. Bairstow, Broad and Jake Ball all fell to the short ball after the tactic had been employed by Steve Smith, and England were swiftly all out for 302 after looking set to make in excess of 400.

Despite the setback towards the end of their innings, England came out firing in the field. Stuart Broad dismissed Cameron Bancroft for 5 on debut, and he and Jimmy Anderson were by far the best bowlers, hitting the right lines and lengths constantly, tying down the Australian batsmen in the process. Usman Khawaja was out cheaply against spin yet again, exposing flaws in his technique that have troubled him so much in the subcontinent. David Warner could never really get going in the innings due to good bowling and field placements from Joe Root, and he was out for 26 caught at short mid-wicket. Root made a good impression as captain, setting unusual but effective field placements for different batsman, and being very pro-active during the innings. It certainly felt like a breath of fresh air for an England captain to be so inventive as previous captains such as Cook and Strauss definitely would not have taken that approach. When Anderson had Peter Handscomb trapped lbw, Australia were 76-4 and in danger of conceding a considerable deficit of runs at the end of the innings. However, the captain Steve Smith exemplified just why he is the number one ranked Test batsman in the world, playing a very patient innings throughout, and showing England how to bat against the short ball. He left the ball fantastically, and picked when to take the bowlers on. He had help from the other end in Shaun Marsh first of all who scored a defiant 50, and surprisingly Pat Cummins who made 40 off 120 balls to support his captain in getting his century. When Cummins came to the crease, England had their tail up, and the Aussies were 200-7 with Starc having just been caught and bowled by Stuart Broad. England however, let the game slip away. The frustrating partnership between the two New South Wales players just could not be broken, and the bowling from Chris Woakes and Jake Ball looked so ineffective and easy for the batsmen to play. This was a common theme throughout, with only Stuart Broad and James Anderson looking like the bowlers who could actually take wickets. The partnership allowed Smith to reach his 21st Test century in just his 57th match and saw him take his batting average in Tests to a ridiculous 61. Smith finished 141 not out and Australia were all out for 328 giving them a 26 run lead going into England’s second innings.

The last session of day three proved to be very tough for England’s batsmen. Ideally, they would have seen off Starc and Hazlewood with the new ball and batted sensibly to the close of play, setting them up to set Australia a huge target on Day Five. In reality, it was much different. Alastair Cook was out to the short ball, caught on the fine leg boundary for 7, and James Vince soon followed, edging behind to the slips, giving Josh Hazlewood his second wicket, and Australia the start they desired. Mark Stoneman and Joe Root saw England through to the close, but showed huge weaknesses against the short ball, with Stoneman being peppered with bouncers from Pat Cummins, and Joe Root getting smacked on the helmet from a vicious bumper from Mitchell Starc. Going into the fourth day, England needed to not lose their heads and get all out cheaply. It started brightly, with Stoneman and Root looking stable against the fast bowling, but the ever impressive Nathan Lyon bagged the wicket of Stoneman for 27, and England looked up against it. Lyon followed this up with the wicket of Dawid Malan for 4, and the dismissal summed up England’s problems with the bat. Whilst Australia took the attack to Moeen Ali, England were so defensive against Lyon, and allowed him to get on top of them right from the start. It could be argued that Lyon did bowl very well, making it harder for England to attack, but this could have been avoided if they had got after him early, and not allowed him to settle. Root carried on bravely and reached his half century. But that is where it ended for Root and perhaps England’s chances of winning the Test. Hazlewood pinned Root lbw, the dismissal a replica of Root’s first innings failure as well. The dismissal has been more and more common for Root in the past year, with bowlers going slightly wider of the crease and bowling it full at his pads, getting him lbw. After Root, the hopes rested on Bairstow and Moeen Ali, but just as every batsman had done in the Test for England, they got starts and couldn’t capitalise on it. Moeen was out for 40 in controversial circumstances and Bairstow was out for 42 yet again to the short ball. England were in tatters and the tail was exposed against Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. As expected, the tail did not wag, and England were all out for 195, setting Australia 170 to win against a nonthreatening bowling attack.

When Australia came out to bat, the damage to England had already been done. Mentally they were shot, and they lacked any penetration with the ball, allowing Warner and Bancroft to score freely up until the close of play, leaving Australia 110-0 at the end of Day 4. Leading into the final day, there was newspaper reports of an off field incident involving Jonny Bairstow, who is alleged to have headbutted Cameron Bancroft, giving England even more problems. Australia romped home to a 10 wicket victory, and England must have been thoroughly disappointed with their performance in this match. No player stood up and made a big hundred, or made an impact with the ball enough to turn the game in their favour. Whilst Australia had Steven Smith and Nathan Lyon, England didn’t have anyone. The absence of Ben Stokes is even more apparent now, with every Englishman wishing they had the all rounder’s services in this match and series.

England now go onto Adelaide where the pitch will more than likely be quicker, and play into the bowlers hands a bit more. This could be taken as a positive for their bowlers, who will be encouraged by more movement and pace, or it could be taken as a severe worry for the batsman, who looked in real trouble against short bowling on a slow pitch, and who will have to face a barrage of short bowling from the Aussie quicks. I do think that England’s batting relies on how well they play Nathan Lyon. He is a fantastic bowler, and may well be the best spinner across all conditions in Tests, but England have to find a way to counter attack, and put the pressure on him, to really exploit the fact that the Aussies will more than likely only have four bowlers to use. The next Test will probably decide England’s fate in the series. If they win, they have a huge chance of pouncing on the Aussie’s mentality, and look to finish them off, but if they lose, then it will be an almost impossible challenge for them to get anything out of the series.

Ashes Preview- England

England are going into this series as the underdogs and therefore will be playing with slightly less pressure than they would if they were playing at home. England have brought a relatively inexperienced squad, especially when you consider that only Root, Cook, Bairstow, Anderson and Broad have played in Australia.  As a test side they have had a packed summer of cricket in which they have experienced highs and lows. Beating South Africa at home was an incredible success for England, given the history between the two nations, and especially given South Africa’s status in world cricket. However, they suffered an embarrassing home defeat to the West Indies at Headingley which exposed weaknesses in their lineup. The constant uncertainty of who is batting at number 3 for England has plagued them all summer, with neither Gary Ballance or Tom Westley making enough of a case to cement their roles there. They still are a work in progress as a team, and whilst this is obviously not ideal for an Ashes series, it does give them that slight factor of unpredictability that could work in their favour.

England’s batting will be their main concern going into the first test at the Gabba. For years now, they have struggled to find an opener to accompany the indomitable Alastair Cook at the top of the order. In Mark Stoneman they may have found that, and he has certainly hit the ground running in Australia so far, making at least 50 in every game on the tour so far. Joe Root will know that he has to score big runs in order to keep England in the contest with Australia, and he will have to enforce more discipline when he gets to 60,70 and 80 to make sure that he does get the triple figures. England’s middle order looks fairly solid, but does lack that imposing figure in Ben Stokes to dominate the bowling in the middle overs. James Vince will have to prove a lot of doubters wrong, and if he does then he has surely solidified his position as England’s number 3 for the foreseeable future. England do have a lot of depth in their batting lineup, and go as far down the order to Chris Woakes in their reliable players with the bat. The only concern will be their traditional collapses and being able to deter such occurrences.

The bowling attack looks strong for England, and they have a lot of experience especially in Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson has had fairly limited success in Australia so far and will be looking to greatly improve on his admittedly mediocre record. Broad was public enemy number one for the Ashes last time out due to the infamous incident where he did not walk after edging it, but it only seemed to spur him on. England will be hoping that Broad has the same fire and desire inside him this time as well to put the Aussies on the back foot. Australia is also a notoriously difficult for spin bowlers to prosper, barring of course the great Shane Warne. As such, it will be very difficult for Moeen Ali to spin England to victory, but he does have the ability to tie down one end economically, and this could be vital for England against such an imposing batting lineup. It will be intriguing to see how Jake Ball gets on, as he doesn’t have many games under his belt at international level yet, and has certainly never experienced anything as hostile or competitive as the Ashes down under. I personally would love to see Craig Overton given a go at some stage during the series, as I think he epitomises many classic Australian qualities in his hostility and aggression, and these are key attributes and characteristics for a winning side.

It will be a fascinating series for so many reasons, and although England are the underdogs, they will certainly feel as if they have a chance, and that they they can exploit the Australian team.

The Ashes 1st Test Preview- Australia

The greatest series in cricket is almost upon us yet again. No other series holds as much meaning historically, or comes close contest wise as the Ashes. This series is one of the more fascinating as it really is quite difficult to predict which way the series will go. The safe money will be on Australia as they are the home team, and it is true to say that they have a formidable team. However, they are not without their weaknesses, and England are one of the worlds best teams when they play to their full potential. We have seen the usual pre series trash talking from both sides, with Aussie off spinner Nathan Lyon coming out earlier this week saying that the Australians are looking to end careers and he even went as far to say that they are looking to get Joe Root dropped from the England side- good luck with that! Lyon can say these things with confidence however as only Rangana Herath (51) and Kagiso Rabada (54) have taken more Test wickets than Lyon (46) this year. Many including myself see the pre match verbals as only adding to the intensity of the series as a whole.

Australia go into the first test off the back of a very confusing squad selection. They have given an astonishing recall to Tim Paine, who hasn’t scored a first class century since 2007 and is far from being the best gloveman in Australia. They have also decided to recall Shaun Marsh for what feels like the 100th time. Marsh is a quality player, and I have always loved watching him bat, his cover drives are up there with Kumar Sangakkara as the most aesthetically pleasing in the game. Despite this, he simply hasn’t shown the consistency required at the international level to prove to anyone that he belongs in the team. It is also quite a U-turn on their supposed switch to focus on bringing in more youth players which started after their battering by South Africa at home last year. They have dropped Matthew Renshaw, and perhaps this was warranted due to his poor domestic form, however it does send a very confusing message to the players trying to make their way in to the team when they go back to 34 year old Shaun Marsh. One player that will feel aggrieved is Glenn Maxwell. The Victorian star decided to take it upon himself to bat at 3 for his domestic side in a bid to prove to selectors that he is capable of playing in the Ashes as a batsman for Australia. He has backed up his decision with runs aplenty and at a very impressive and unsurprising strike rate. Despite the surprise inclusions and omissions, Australia are still a very good team. They of course have the explosive David Warner opening the batting in very good form, and he will be accompanied by Cameron Bancroft who will be making his Test debut at the biggest stage. Bancroft has been knocking quietly yet constantly on the selectors door for a number of years, but he has been positively banging it down in the past few weeks, scoring 228 not out for Western Australia in the most recent game, whilst Renshaw couldn’t buy a run for Queensland. Warner and Bancroft will complement each other well, as Warner’s fast scoring should make it easier for Bancroft to settle in. The current number 1 batsman in the world also lines up for Australia, as Steve Smith looks set to continue breaking records as his phenomenal career reaches new heights every time he comes out to bat. He was the leading run scorer in the 2015 Ashes in England, and is the definite favourite to be just that come the end of this series also. They have the class of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb who have both established themselves as solid middle order players who can score big runs when the situation presents itself.

The bowling attack is what is being talked about the least after the recent squad announcement. This is simply because their is no real fault with their bowling as it stands. Whilst they struggle with their wicket keeping selections and their number 6, their 8,9,10 and 11 are all becoming key players in building a world beating side. Mitchell Starc is the spearhead, and is the most feared. A left arm very, very fast with unmatched aggression, Starc is deadly accurate with his yorkers, and has been terrorising domestic players in the Sheffield Shield, taking two hat-tricks in one game against Queensland, most of the dismissals seeing the middle stump ripped out of the ground with the batsman shrugging and understanding that he’d been done by a top class bowler. However, Starc is probably not the best bowler in the team. One of the other comments that Nathan Lyon came out with earlier this week was to call Josh Hazlewood the best bowler in the world, and his record is certainly doing him no harm in justifying that statement. Hazlewood has 118 Test wickets at an average of 25, and has the ability to hit the same perfect line and length almost every ball, earning him comparisons to Glenn McGrath. With Hazlewood’s control from one end, and Starc’s aggression from the other, England will undoubtedly have to be on top form to keep them at bay. They have the quickest bowler in the world currently at their disposal as well. Pat Cummins burst onto the scene at 18 years old, ripping through South Africa’s legendary batting line up, then consisting of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers. He had raw pace and accuracy, and was being talked up as the next big thing. However, injuries have kept him out of the game and out of the Test team for far too long. But, he made his comeback earlier this year against India, impressing with his ability to bowl long spells at a great pace. At 24 years old now, he has been injury free for a while, and is back up to bowling 90+ mph which is bad news for England’s batsmen. Their other bowler is of course Nathan Lyon, but he has done so much talking in the last few days, that maybe he can talk about how great of a player he is himself.

As we await the first ball to be bowled, Australia certainly look strong. Their engimatic squad selection relating to their wicket keeper and batsman have caught a few people off guard, but their top players might be too strong on their own for England to handle.

Predicted Line Up:

Warner, Bancroft, Smith(c), Khawaja, Handscomb, Marsh, Paine(wk), Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon

World Cup 2018- Germany

Germany are the current holders of the World Cup having beaten Argentina 1-0 in the final back in 2014. They were a force to be reckoned with then, and are still as dangerous today. Germany have seen some of their ageing players fade out of the international scene in the past few years, and have seen the introduction of many exciting young talents who have been given playing time in the Bundesliga.

Germany have an incredibly well rounded team and it is only really their striking options that lack depth. They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer and have Barcelona’s number one choice goalkeeper in Marc-Andre Ter Stegen as a back up. Germany’s defence is incredibly solid, and is well renowned for being difficult to penetrate. They have the Bayern Munich centre back pairing of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, and whilst they perhaps miss the experience and class of Phillip Lahm at right back they have perhaps found his replacement in Joshua Kimmich who is one of the most versatile players going around at the moment. In the midfield Germany have a vast array of options. They have one of the most exciting young midfielders going around at the moment in Schalke player Leon Goretzka who is subject to interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool. Alongside him they of course have the world class Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Emre Can, Sami Khedira and Ilkay Gundogan. That is a ridiculous choice of midfielders to use, and will surely benefit Germany going into the World Cup next year. Their wide players are not exactly lacking in quality either- with Leroy Sane one of the most exciting and talented players on the planet, and enjoying great form for Manchester City. They also have a number of options in Julian Brandt, Amin Younes and Andre Schurrle to play on the flanks. It is the striking options which have left Germany short for the past couple of years, with Miroslav Klose retiring, and Thomas Muller not really being an out and out striker meaning they have had to experiment with different formations. However, this looks to have now changed with Leipzig striker Timo Werner looking like the real deal for the Germans. The 21 year old bagged 21 goals in 31 games last year in the Bundesliga and has scored 6 goals in his first 9 international appearances. Werner has qualities which German strikers have not exactly been blessed with in recent times. Instead of a tall, strong target man, he is a rapid forward who likes to get in behind the defences and can bury most chances he is given. With the striking position now looking to be sorted, Germany look as threatening as they have ever been once again.

In terms of the 2018 World Cup, they find themselves up against many other quality opponents whom I will preview also, but I believe the Germans are, and probably always will be one of the main favourites to lift the trophy at the end.

Jacques Kallis- Underrated?

When it comes to discussing the greatest batsmen of generation just gone by, you always hear the same names crop up- Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting, Lara, Sangakkara, but one name that is not frequently mentioned is Jacques Kallis. For me, Kallis is the greatest cricketer of all time. An incredible performer in every format of the game, playing to the highest level consistently throughout his illustrious career.

When comparing Kallis as a batsman to the other greats of his generation, his numbers are not only on a par with, they actually surpass the others, with only Kumar Sangakkara having a higher overall batting average in Tests. Kallis racked up 13,000 Test runs at an astonishing average of 55.37 with 45 centuries and 58 fifties. These are astonishing numbers as a batsman alone, and would cement him legendary status. But what you also have with Kallis is the fact that he also took 292 Test wickets at a bowling average of 32. It is almost beyond belief that a player can have such an incredible record as a batsman, and also have such impressive bowling statistics as well. The argument always used against Kallis being the greatest all rounder in history, is that Garfield Sobers was a superior player, and while I wasn’t alive to watch Sobers play, I think that it is highely unlikely that any player has ever been at the level that Kallis has as an all round cricketer.

Jacques Kallis was a grinder. He would bat long, long periods of time; wearing down the opposition bowlers, and cashing in when they bowled the bad balls- the traditional way of batting. He would make it look so effortless, and I would rather watch very few batsmen in full flow than Kallis. His straight drive was impeccable, his cover drive imperious, and his ability to flick the ball off of middle stump or leg stump with ease through midwicket ensured that there were very few places you could bowl to Kallis and get away with it. Kallis had a fantastic conversion rate, and once he was in, you were certain that he was going to make a big score. One thing that did haunt him for a long time in his career, was his failure to make a double hundred until he finally broke his streak, and made his maiden Test double hundred against India in 2011. For someone with such an incredible conversion rate, it was very surprising that he had not gotten there sooner, but everyone knew that he was too good of a player to never reach the landmark. Kallis was the rock in South Africa’s batting line up, and I don’t think there are many who valued there wicket as highly as he did.

As a bowler, Kallis was never at the frontline for the Proteas, and that is understandable, as he played in teams that included the likes of Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald and Vernon Philander. He was often the first change bowler, and would extract good movement and bounce off pitches that provided assistance. Kallis was very effective in his accuracy, and it must have been a nightmare for batsmen knowing that after they whether the formidable opening bowlers, they get no respite when Kallis comes on to bowl.

Kallis also excelled at the shorter form of the game. Yet again, his One Day International statistics match up very well against the other legendary players. 11,000 runs at an average of 44, and 273 wickets at an average of 31 are fantastic numbers, especially in the shorter version of the game. Kallis was often the number 3 bat in ODI’s for South Africa, and this was a perfect position for him. He would come in often when a wicket had been lost early, and would play the anchor role wonderfully- rotating the strike, and ensuring that they would always have one player that got the runs necessary. He was never going to be the supreme One Day player in the sense that he wouldn’t score 20 ball fifties or 40 ball hundreds with sixes galore, but he knew his role, and he executed it. It’s also a testament to Kallis fitness and commitment to the sport that he managed a combined total of over 500 international games for his country, and was able to perform year after year.

It will be a long time before we see another player of the calibre of Jacques Kallis, and when we do, we have to appreciate it, because talent like that is so crucial and essential to the growth and enjoyment of cricket.