Bairstow, Buttler and England’s Wicket Keeping Crossroads

Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have failed to grab England's wicket keeping position with both hands

Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have failed to grab England’s wicket keeping position with both hands

Between 2009 and 2013, England enjoyed the luxury that was Matt Prior, picking the Sussex wicket keeper for almost every single test match played during those years. Prior ascended to the role of vice-captain before an achilles injury cut his career short in mid-2014, and his game changing, counter-attacking style of batting at number seven in the order enabled England to play without a genuine all-rounder during their golden era under Andy Flower. Prior averaged over 40 with the bat during his test career and his wicket keeping also improved immeasurably after he was recalled to the team in early 2009, making him one of the best if not the world’s best keeper-batsman for a time.

However times have changed, and since Prior was originally dropped during the ill-fated Ashes tour of Australia in late 2013 Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler have both donned the gloves, neither with enough success to end debate about the position in both the short and long term. Both have appealing attributes with the bat; Buttler has played a number of influential innings in the shorter formats of the game, albeit not recently, while Bairstow comfortably passed 1,000 first class runs last summer despite featuring in only half of Yorkshire’s Championship fixtures. Yet both have serious flaws with the gloves, and this has served to exaggerate criticism over their place in the team when either has suffered a barren run with bat in hand.

Both Bairstow and Buttler remain fine fielders, which makes it even more frustrating when they make the occasional mistake with the gloves on, but ultimately it is their performances with the bat that have led to England’s current wicket keeping dilemma. In 34 test innings Bairstow averages 26.40, while Buttler averages 30 after 24 knocks. As a point of comparison, over a decade ago the silk gloved James Foster mustered an average of 25.10 in his 12 test innings, while providing far better work with the gloves than the current Bairstow and Buttler combination.

This begs the question; would England be best served by returning to a specialist keeper? Perhaps the answer is yes, but the options in the county game are few and far between. Foster himself still captains Essex, but he will turn 36 before next summer begins and has played his first class cricket in division two during recent seasons. Chris Read, another excellent gloveman who never quite made the test grade with the bat, is 37 and his ship has also sailed. Younger ‘keepers of prominence include Ben Foakes of Surrey and Sam Billings of Kent, and they would appear to be the next two cabs off of the proverbial rank. Foakes has appeared on multiple England Lions tours and averages 36 in first class cricket, while Billings has been capped at ODI level by England. Billings possesses a first class average of just 31, however, and Foakes only kept wicket on a semi regular basis for Surrey in 2014 thanks to the presence of captain Gary Wilson.

Ultimately, it figures that both Bairstow and Buttler will be given at least one more opportunity each before anyone else is given a go by Trevor Bayliss, but both will be aware that with James Taylor’s emergence alongside Joe Root in the middle order that the only way either of them will find a way into the side is by assuming the gloves. England will need at least one to finally come of age in the test arena if they’re to adequately replace Prior, and in the process plug the huge gap that has emerged in the lower middle order.

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Ashes 2015 Preview

Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes clashed in the previous Ashes series in Australia

Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes clashed in the previous Ashes series in Australia

For the third time in just two years, England and Australia are set to do battle in one of the oldest contests across all professional sport. The two arch rivals last competed for the famous little urn in 2013/14 in Australia, where the hosts ran out 5-0 winners, with England triumphing 3-0 on home shores a matter of months earlier. While the Aussies are still led by former batsman Darren Lehmann, who masterminded his country’s whitewash of the “poms” 18 months ago, England have recently turned to an Australian as coach for the first time, and they’ll be hoping that the inside info Trevor Bayliss can provide will help them regain the Ashes over the coming six weeks. To find out which players you need to keep an eye on this summer in addition to a likely less than accurate prediction, just keep reading.

Key Batsman, England – Alistair Cook

Aside from 2010/11, when Cook averaged over 100 as he flayed the Australian attack to all parts, the England skipper has struggled with the bat during the Ashes throughout his career, beginning with the 2006/7 whitewash all the way through to another 5-0 reverse last time out. Cook appears to be nearing his best after a run of good scores both in the Caribbean and at home to New Zealand last month, and with his tormentor in chief Ryan Harris having retired due to his chronic knee injuries captain Cook will have the opportunity to lead from the front and give the three lions the chance to build commanding totals, something they were unable to do in Australia last year.

Key Batsman, Australia – David Warner

Steve Smith may be the number one batsman in world cricket, but it’s Warner who has the ability to take a test away from the opposition in a single session. At his best a hard-hitting force to be reckoned with, Warner made a name for himself in the last Ashes series by mercilessly targeting the England bowlers in the third and fourth innings of tests. Warner infamously swung for the golden boy of English cricket, Joe Root, the last time Australia toured the northern hemisphere, and his success at the top of the order could pave the way for the likes of Smith and Australia captain Michael Clarke to dominate from the middle of the batting line-up.

Key Bowler, England – Moeen Ali

Prior to his England test call-up Ali had always been a batsman who bowled, however that has all changed in the past twelve months as his country has asked him to shoulder the spin bowling load while batting from the lowly position of eight in the batting order. Ali remains a better batman than bowler, yet if England are to be successful they’ll need Ali to hold up an end at the very least while Cook rotates his seamers from the other end. Ali underwhelmed in the West Indies earlier this year – however he enjoyed his most success as a test bowler during the home series against India a year ago which could bode well for the man with one of cricket’s most recognisable beards.

Key Bowler, Australia – Mitchell Johnson

It couldn’t really be anyone else, could it? Fearsome Mitch troubled the England batsmen to such an extent in the previous series that he took 37 wickets, a stark contrast to his other two Ashes series when he struggled to locate his searing pace. While the wickets won’t be as fast in England as they were in Australia Johnson still has the heat to cause England serious problems, and it’ll be clear from his first prolonged spell whether or not scars remain from the 2013/14 whitewash.

Prediction

Australia enter the series as clear favourites, yet they haven’t won in England since 2001 and home advantage may well be worth a test match or two to the hosts during this series. Both teams contain world class players, including Smith, Clarke and Johnson on the visiting side and Cook, Bell and Anderson for England. Yet Australia’s depth is where they stand out; the likes of Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc are top level players, while Mark Wood and Adam Lyth are comparative novices. For England to match their opponents they’ll need to perform to their absolute best – and even then it might not be enough. Australia 3, England 2

ICC World Cup 2015 Preview

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Brendan McCullum will look to lead New Zealand to World Cup glory on home turf

It’s a matter of a few short hours before the 50-over cricket World Cup begins in Australia and New Zealand, with pundits predicting one of the most wide open tournaments in recent memory. Reigning champions India have had a torrid time over the past few months across all formats, being defeated 3-0 by Australia in a four match test series before failing to reach the final of an ODI tri-series against the same opposition – and lowly England.

Among the favourites are Australia themselves, as well as fellow hosts New Zealand and arguably the world’s best side across all three formats, South Africa. England have been tabbed as dark horses by some, although their lack of experience could come back to haunt them as the tournament progresses. Elsewhere, Pakistan are as unpredictable as ever, Sri Lanka appear heavy on batting if a little light on bowling, while the West Indies have sunk to such depths that their progression from the group stages is far but certain. To find out which of the test-playing nations to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses, just scroll on down.

Group A

England

Fun fact for the day: England are actually the number one seeds for the World Cup. Unfortunately for them, since the seeding’s were made they’ve slipped down the rankings at a precipitous rate and sacked Alistair Cook as captain, making for less than ideal preparation. Encouragement was offered in the form of two wins over India in last month’s tri-series, and a strong pace attack led by James Anderson and a rejuvenated Steven Finn should suit the fast tracks likely to be served up down under. The batting is inconsistent, however, with a well-documented weakness against short-pitched bowling resurfacing in recent matches versus their Australian hosts.

Player to Watch

Surprisingly appointed Eoin Morgan’s vice-captain for the tournament, Jos Buttler has long been touted as a future star of English cricket. Now in possession of the gloves in all three formats, Buttler’s keeping is a work in progress but his destructive batting is an asset that England would be wise to utilise higher up the order than his current number seven position. With a brittle top order in front of him it wouldn’t be a shock to see Buttler rescue his teammates with a swashbuckling inning’s during the tournament.

Prediction

Quarter-Finals

Australia

The wickets may be quick in Oz, but the Australian pace attack led by Mitchell Johnson is even quicker. Ably supported by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, Johnson is likely to rattle a few rib cages with his thunderbolts and it’ll be interesting to see which batsmen opt to take him on. A lack of a top-tier spinner is one minor flaw in this Aussie outfit, but with the quick bowlers backed up by an incredibly deep batting line-up featuring power at the top (David Warner, Aaron Finch), in the middle-order (Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith) and an elite finisher in James Faulkner, it would be a brave man who’d bet against the Australians winning their fourth World Cup in five tries.

Player to Watch

It’s looking likely that captain Michael Clarke will return to full fitness in time for the tournament, and with questions over his popularity among teammates surfacing in recent weeks the man dubbed ‘Pup’ will be looking to win over his comrades through sheer volume of runs. Clarke is capable of putting big scores on the board, no doubt about it, but with Steve Smith and George Bailey waiting in the wings as potential replacements for the skipper the heat will definitely be on the classy right hand bat.

Prediction

Semi-Finals

Sri Lanka

Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Matthews. As batting line-ups go, it doesn’t get much better than that, and as a result the Sri Lankan’s will be a team no one will want to face down under. Unfortunately the bowling attack is far less menacing, with Lasith Malinga carrying a group of underwhelming arms almost single-handedly. Chasing 300 is well within Sri Lanka’s reach; keeping teams under 320 could be their real challenge.

Player to Watch

Although he’s not the most famous of Sri Lanka’s star batsmen, Tillakaratne Dilshan might be the most important as he both opens the batting and contributes his fair share of overs with the ball. His wily off-spin will be a useful tool, but if he can help launch his team off to good starts life will be a far sight easier for the middle order, which is anchored by cricketing legends Jayawardene and Sangakkara.

Prediction

Winners

Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi’s failure to improve since they began playing test matches at the start of the millennium has been well documented, and unfortunately their chances in Australia reflect their lack of progression. Placed in the tougher of the two groups, it would be a huge surprise to see Bangladesh replace even England in the quarter-finals, but a weak bowling attack paired with a brittle batting line-up make it odds on that the Asian side will fail to make the knock-out stages – again.

Player to Watch

Shakib Al Hasan has been the one outstanding performer Bangladesh have produced over the past decade, and the all-rounder will once again attempt to carry the team on his back down under with his crafty batting and useful left-arm spin. Hasan is the only Bangladesh player ever to earn an IPL contract so the rest of the world is aware of his talent – it’s just a shame that his country has been unable to support him ably throughout his career.

Prediction

Group Stages

New Zealand

The co-host Kiwis enter the World Cup with high hopes and perhaps their best chance at 50-over glory since they reached the semi-finals on home turf back in 1992. Brendan McCullum’s captaincy has earned rave reviews and the New Zealand skipper is backed up by former captains Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori, both of whom have flashed world class ability during their careers. Factor in Kane Williamson’s exploits with the bat in recent months and wicket keeper Luke Ronchi’s ability to take games away in the late overs and the Black Caps should be one of the teams to keep an eye on over the next six weeks.

Player to Watch

For all of their weapons with the bat, it’s how New Zealand perform with the ball that could dictate how far they progress. That’s where diminutive southpaw Trent Boult comes in, and his ability to keep runs down in the final 10 overs will be key to the Black Caps hopes in the tournament. Bolt is more accomplished in test cricket than the shorter formats, so he’ll view the next few weeks as an opportunity to really announce himself on the world stage.

Prediction

Semi-Finals

Group B

South Africa

The number one ranked side in the world will finally hope to end their World Cup hoodoo and win a game in the knock out stages, an incredible drought when you consider some of the players produced by the Proteas over the past two decades. They’ll never get a better chance than over the next month and a half, with the world’s best bowler (Dale Steyn) and batsman (AB De Villiers) in their ranks. Hashim Amla isn’t too bad either, and Faf du Plessis has evolved into a top tier batsman in his own right since coming into the side.

Player to Watch

Imran Tahir has been far from consistent as South Africa’s spinner over the past couple of years, but if they’re to walk away victorious down under Tahir will need to play his part. It’s all very well having a pace attack featuring Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, but without balance that formidable threesome will lose some of its effectiveness. The large boundaries in Australia should benefit spinners and protect them from big hitters, to an extent, giving Tahir the perfect platform to perform and help his fellow South Africans to victory on cricket’s biggest stage.

Prediction

Runners-Up

India

The reigning champions enter the 2015 tournament in terrible form, having failed to win a competitive game on tour in Australia, where they’ve been since November. While the batting line-up has shown signs of life with the likes of Virat Kohli maturing into a world class performer, the bowling department is frightfully thin. Famed for their world class spinners over the years, the Indians are weak even in that department, and on the pace-friendly wickets down under they could be faced with the task of chasing 300 plus regularly.

Player to Watch

Rohit Sharma currently holds the highest list A score in history of 264, but while that score came on home turf his form in unfamiliar climes has been less impressive. With the likes of Kohli and M.S Dhoni expected to perform well no matter the batting surface, Sharma will be under pressure to score heavily at the top of the order and give his team’s bowlers a target with which they can bowl at.

Prediction

Quarter-Finals

Pakistan

As unpredictable as ever, Pakistan enter this tournament with a team poor on paper yet filled with experience. Shahid Afridi is a one day veteran of near twenty years, while Misbah Ul Haq anchors the batting line-up despite being in his late thirties. The loss of Saeed Ajmal is a huge one, but even without the number one ranked bowler in limited overs international cricket the Pakistanis are a team no one will want to face.

Player to Watch

Umar Akmal has an enormous amount of talent and has shown flashes of fulfilling his potential during his international career, but he’s yet to join the world’s elite as a batsman. If Pakistan are to succeed during this tournament Akmal will need to live up to his immense promise and support Misbah’s efforts with the bat – failure to do so will result in a fragile batting line-up falling short of the required output to challenge for the county’s first World Cup title since 1992, when the tournament was also held in Australia and New Zealand.

Prediction

Quarter-Finals

West Indies

Is there a more dysfunctional team in world cricket? Even Pakistan, famed for their volatility, are more settled than the Windies, whose players and board have been at loggerheads for what seems like a decade. Bowler Jason Holder was installed as the team’s captain just a few weeks ago, and it rather feels like Holder has been thrown to the lions as a sacrificial lamb with the rest of the team in complete disarray.

Player to Watch

Who else but Chris Gayle? Gayle may not be in the richest vein of form, yet he’s still a batsman bowlers the world over fear, with his easy power a threat to clear even the biggest boundary. For the West Indies to have any chance against the other test playing nations they’ll need Gayle to be firing on all cylinders – but even that might not be enough with the rest of the team full of holes and lacking both experience and talent.

Prediction

Quarter-Finals

Who do you think will win the 2015 ICC World Cup? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley

England v India ODI Series: 5 Things to Watch

Alex Hales looks set to make his ODI debut against India

Alex Hales looks set to make his ODI debut against India

Following England’s stirring comeback in the test series against India, the three lions will be looking to press on against the same opposition in the 50-over format with the ODI World Cup in Australia just around the corner. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the five game series gets underway:

Is Alex Hales the man for England in all three formats?

Previously viewed as just a twenty20 specialist, Alex Hales looks set to earn his first ODI cap against India and there have even been whispers a profitable series could catapult him into the frame for a test spot. Hales imperious form of late has seen him notch centuries in both four day and one day cricket, and the man himself has admitted he’s in the best form of his young career. England have often been criticised for being dull and unimaginative with their team selections; should Hales force his way into the test team as a David Warner-esque bully at the top of the order it would certainly represent a change of philosophy from the England hierarchy.

Which England all-rounder will stake a claim for the role?

The omission of Ravi Bopara from England’s 15 man squad came as a surprise; however with Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes all selected the hosts still have a range of options to choose from when it comes to all-rounders. Ali has the best record as a batsman in domestic cricket and his status as a spin bowler also factor in his favour, while Stokes’ impressive showing amongst the chaos in Australia last winter and his aggressive attitude make him an appealing option. Woakes, meanwhile, has steadily and somewhat quietly improved since his test debut at the Oval last August against Australia, adding a yard of pace and impressing as captain of the England Lions last winter. All three could have a role to play in the ODI series and with places on the plane to Australia for the World Cup up for grabs every single one of their moves will be closely monitored.

Can Virat  Kohli bounce back from a disastrous test series?

Kohli, the golden boy of Indian cricket, staggered to a batting average a shade over 13 in the five test series, failing to live up to his billing as one of crickets most exciting young players. His technique was revealed to be far from watertight against quality seam bowling, the likes of which was provided by James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Kohli also struggled with the short ball, a flaw that needs to be corrected if he’s to ever transfer his ODI form into the test arena. There is no doubting Kohli’s prowess in the shorter format, however, so don’t be surprised if he responds in a big way over the coming couple of weeks.

Who will man the number three position for England?

After Jonathan Trott departed the Ashes tour of Australia last winter, Gary Ballance laid claim to the coveted number three role in the test side and hasn’t looked back following a sterling summer in the format. It’s unclear, however, whether Ballance will get the chance to man the role in the ODI’s, or if he’ll even be selected. Ian Bell is set to move down the order to accommodate Hales at the top of the order alongside captain Cook, so the Warwickshire man is one alternative for the number three slot. Team director Peter Moores could even spring a surprise and fill the role with wicket keeper Jos Buttler, who does seem slightly wasted at number seven. Whoever gets first dibs on the position will be keen to impress, with a plethora of one day games scheduled over the winter culminating in the 2015 ODI World Cup.

Will Alistair Cook rediscover his one day touch?

Despite regaining form in the final three test matches of the summer, Alistair Cook still failed to reach three figures and a run of poor scores in the limited over games could lead to renewed questions about his position in the one day side. Cook’s once paced batting style doesn’t count in his favour at the best of times and the inclusion of Alex Hales indicates that team management want to play a more aggressive brand of cricket, as does the promotion of Jos Buttler to the test side. Cook deserves the chance to lead the side in a World Cup, but he might not make it that far if England are humiliated in this series by the current world champions, or if he himself doesn’t trouble the scorers.

Who do you think will win the ODI series between England and India? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley to have your say

 

 

England’s Re-Appointment of Moores A Familiar Tale

Peter Moores was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday

Peter Moores was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday

If conventional wisdom suggests that you should never go back, the England Cricket Board have turned their back on that old adage with their re-appointment of Peter Moores as the head coach in all three formats of the national side. Moores’ previous reign, you may remember, ended after two tumultuous years in 2009 when then-captain Kevin Pietersen (remember him?) attempted to have the former Sussex coach cast aside by the ECB. The attempted coup cost Pietersen his role as captain and Moores his position as head coach; however after the ECB sacked Pietersen earlier this year the door dramatically opened for Moores reintroduction to the national set-up.

In fairness to Moores his pedigree at county level is unmatched over the past decade, with ECB managing director Paul Downton’s assertion that he is the “outstanding coach of his generation” not too far from the mark. Moores helped secure Sussex’s first ever County Championship title in 2003 and that achievement was the main cause of his hiring as England head coach back in 2007 following Duncan Fletcher’s resignation. That changing of the guard occurred after a 5-0 reverse down under, and with Moores inheriting an equally dire situation in the present day the circumstances should feel all too familiar.

This time around it has been Moores’ success with Lancashire, whom he led to the County Championship crown in 2011, that has seen his reputation return to its previously esteemed level. The red rose county’s victory was their first in 71 years and was achieved despite a lack of marquee names and England test caps, with veteran bowler Glenn Chapple leading both the bowling attack and the side as captain. Relegation followed in 2012 but last season saw an immediate return to the top flight. Left arm spin bowler Simon Kerrigan enjoyed a fantastic campaign and although his test debut was a disaster last September it is he who stands to benefit the most from Moores’ appointment. The England team is in desperate need of a genuine wicket taking threat in the spin department following the retirement of Graeme Swann and with options thin on the ground Moores is likely to look in the direction of the man who performed reliably for him last season.

Back in 2007 a similar situation played out when Sussex wicket keeper Matt Prior was given a chance at test level by his former county coach, and following his omission from the side for the final two Ashes tests last winter Prior will be hoping to be given one last shot at a test career by his original mentor. However it shouldn’t be forgotten that Moores is also the man who persuaded the mercurial Jos Buttler to join Lancashire this past off-season, which could narrow the battle for the England wicket keeping role down to those two individuals. One near certainty is that Jonny Bairstow, who plays for Lancashire’s fierce rivals Yorkshire, is currently a distant third in the race to don the gloves come the first test match of the summer.

While originally it seemed the job was Ashley Giles’ to lose a terrible run of limited overs results, firstly in the Caribbean and then in the World T20 in Bangladesh, may have seen him do just that. A loss to the Netherlands may well have been the final straw for the ECB, who after a winter of PR nightmares would have detested being forced to defend yet another decision after the Kevin Pietersen episode. Speaking of Pietersen, its not unlikely that his removal from the international scene played a role in Downton deciding that going back to Moores was a realistic possibility. The two clearly couldn’t co-exist and following the batsman’s latest fallout with senior management perhaps Downton and his colleagues at the ECB decided Moores was treated unfairly when dismissed five years ago. Moores close relationship with Andy Flower, who was originally introduced the the England fold by Moores as his assistant, couldn’t have hurt either.

Moores’ task won’t be an easy one, quite the opposite in fact, but he brings an intimate knowledge of the county game with him to the role as well as international experience and a familiarity with many of the current squad. Don’t forget that it was Moores who gave James Anderson and Stuart Broad their first prolonged international exposure, not to mention handing a test debut to current captain Alistair Cook. If he can find some equally talented players from the county circuit then Moores may just be the right man to lead the new era, sans Kevin Pietersen, of English cricket.

 

Sacking KP A Gutless Move From the ECB

End of an era: Kevin Pietersen looks to have played his last game in an England shirt

End of an era: Kevin Pietersen looks to have played his last game in an England shirt

Cautious. Unimaginative. Scared. Spineless. All of those words could have been used to describe England’s performance in Australia over the past three months as they suffered the biggest humiliation in the history of English cricket, and all of those words could also be used to describe the English Cricket Board’s decision to sack Kevin Pietersen, England’s all-time leading run scorer across the three formats, from international cricket.

Some have praised the ECB’s new managing director Paul Downton for taking the ‘bold’ and ‘courageous’ move to ostracise the South African-born batsman from the England set up, yet they are overlooking the fact that for all of Pietersen’s apparent misdemeanors, which have yet to be revealed, his value to the team is unarguably greater than any other player save for captain Alistair Cook, another who is reported to have been in favour of axing Pietersen. An additionally perplexing aspect of the decision is the fact that Cook isn’t even England’s twenty20 captain and may not survive as the country’s one day skipper either, while the favourite for the vacant role of team director is the man who called Pietersen a “million dollar asset”, former England spinner Ashley Giles. Perhaps the decision hints at a coach other than Giles being offered the vacancy yet that would make little sense with interviews for the role yet to be held.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan, the man who brought Pietersen into the international set-up alongside then coach Duncan Fletcher, has criticised the decision and accused the ECB of taking the easy route out of a difficult situation. Simply put, he is right. It may be difficult to harness an awkward personality and integrate him into a successful team environment, but for all the talk of cricket being a team sport it is also one where individuals can find themselves mostly isolated. Ask a fielder on the fine leg boundary if his relationship with mid off is particularly relevant when he’s focusing on a potential catch, or a batsman if he’s concerned about his wicket keeper’s social habits when he’s at the crease. These players are all professionals and it is required of them to do their job to the best of their ability. If they think Kevin Pietersen is arrogant, unfriendly or whatever else it still shouldn’t affect their work. It’s not uncommon for colleagues within an office to dislike each other or not be on friendly terms. Yet until one of them crosses the line in a severe way they are forced to find a way to co-exist. England’s cricketers, from Cook to the likes of Stuart Broad, should be made to follow the same path and they should want to follow the same path if they genuinely harbour ambitions to return to the summit of world cricket following this winter’s humiliation down under.

The cricketing public deserve to know exactly what KP has done if they are to accurately form an opinion on the ECB’s decision to remove him from the international game. England supporters pay to be entertained and they pay to see a competitive on-field product. Paul Downton and co will have a hard time explaining how the axing of Kevin Pietersen, England’s one true match winning talent, won’t dilute that product over the next 24 months.

2013/14 Ashes Grades – Australia

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Australian captain and vice-captain Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin were central to the hosts 5-0 success

Following on from my slightly depressing grades for the 18 players who represented England during the Ashes tour from hell, here are my marks for the victorious Australian eleven who earned the nickname ‘The Unchangeables’ after the hosts named the same team for each of the five test matches.

Chris Rogers – B+

For a man who only last year was recalled from the international wilderness Rogers rise has been remarkable as he’s become one of the cornerstones of this Australian side. His grit and determination resemble that of Justin Langer, one of his predecessors at the top of the Australian order, and after compiling two centuries, three fifties and an average of 46.30 (all without hitting a single six) Rogers can be satisfied that he made the most of his first home Ashes series. Despite battling age (he’s 36) the left-hander looks set to tour tour South Africa this spring.

David Warner – A

After his summer swing at Joe Root Warner was described as a ‘bully’ by many members of the press, a description that aptly fitted his batting after he repeatedly mauled the England attack during the 5-0 whitewash. Not only did Warner strike two tons at a lofty average of 58.11 he did so with a strike rate of 74.39, indicating the savageness of his assaults. He may not have the tightest technique for an opening batsman but Warner’s pure aggression enables him to take advantage the minute the opposition show any sign of weakness, not in a dissimilar manner to the way Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater operated in their pomp.

Shane Watson – C+

George Bailey aside, Watson had the lowest average of the Australian top seven although he did notch one century and score at over 64 runs per hundred balls. While he wasn’t as dominant as Warner or obdurate as Rogers Watson still played his part at number three, a position which has caused the Aussies headaches since the retirement of Ricky Ponting. ‘Watto’s’ bowling was as useful and economical as ever however he was unable to bowl more than 47.4 overs during the series thanks to a number of muscular aches and pains.

Michael Clarke – A-

‘Pup’ failed to score as many runs as he’d have perhaps liked during the series but he gets a high mark for his leadership alone. Even while the Aussies were losing in India and England last year Clarke received praise for his positive captaincy and imaginative approach to bowling changes and field placings, qualities that helped the team finally win a test match in 2013 at the Gabba before going on to dominate England in the final four games of the series for good measure. Clarke’s high profile run in with James Anderson may have attracted some negative press from the English media but make no mistake about it – Clarke’s teammates love playing for him and the Australian public love the aggressive brand of cricket his team are currently playing.

Steve Smith – B-

After the summer series I stated my opinion that Smith is the heir apparent to the Australian captaincy and his exploits this winter have done nothing to change my mind. An absolutely outstanding fielder, Smith has developed with the bat to the point where he can be legitimately called a test number five. Though unorthodox his stroke play is expansive and Smith has such a wide range of shots that he’s almost impossible to tie down for long periods. Two centuries at an average of 40, including a series clinching ton in Perth, well and truly announced Smith to the world stage.

George Bailey – C-

If not for some spectacular catches taken at short leg Bailey would have earned a D, however he had such an impact in the field and was brought into play on so many occasions by the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson and sharp turn of Nathan Lyon that it was impossible to ignore Bailey’s impact under the lid. Unfortunately for Australia’s T20 captain he failed more often than not with the bat and Bailey stands a good chance of missing out on the test tour to South Africa as a result. If he is dropped at least Bailey will always have the world record equaling over off James Anderson when he crashed 28 runs including three sixes, two fours and a two.

Brad Haddin – A+

For my money the man of the series, Haddin time and time rescued Australia with the bat. In stark contrast to his opposite number Matt Prior the Australian vice-captain was able to counter attack effectively by playing a brand of simple and aggressive cricket which left the England players flustered. Although Haddin only passed three figures once he reached fifty on five other occasions and his final average of 61.62 was outstanding, particularly when you consider he was never unbeaten at the end of an innings. His glove-work was also quietly flawless and wrapped up a fine year for the ‘keeper, who recorded a world record number of victims in England during the summer series.

Mitchell Johnson – A+

Johnson came into the series with a reputation as a wayward bowler with a slingy action who couldn’t withstand pressure. He left it as arguably the worlds premier fast bowler and unarguably the world most frightening paceman. His accuracy improved, Johnson unleashed a barrage of threatening bouncers and toe crunching yorkers, taking wickets with both and sending England batsman crawling back into their shells. Statistics can often tell the story and while they help demonstrate Johnson’s dominance they don’t explain just how afraid the England batsmen were of his 90 MPH plus pace and how he got inside their heads. Mitch also averaged 27 with the bat and while he isn’t quite a genuine all-rounder he isn’t a million miles off earning that distinction.

Ryan Harris – A+

While Johnson was England’s chief tormenter Harris wasn’t far behind and the oft-injured fast bowler certainly had the measure of visiting skipper Alistair Cook. 22 wickets at 19.31 tell represent a fine haul and his unnerving accuracy was the perfect compliment to Johnson’s hostility. If, and it remains a big if, Harris can stay fit he has a chance to become the best bowler in the world over the next twelve months.

Peter Siddle – B+

Siddle didn’t quite rack up the same amount of wickets as Johnson or even Harris but he had a profound impact on the series nonetheless by continuing to take Kevin Pietersen’s wicket. Additionally Siddle had the best economy rate of any Australian bowler, helping to maintain pressure on the English batsmen even when he wasn’t taking wickets. An underrated an valuable part of the set-up, Siddle promises to remain integral to Darren Lehmann’s plans going forward.

Nathan Lyon – B

He may be no Shane Warne but Lyon is probably the best spinner Australia have had since the famous leggie retired from test cricket in 2007. Lyon gained surprising levels of turn and bounce on relatively unresponsive surfaces and his 19 wickets complimented the pace attack nicely. He also went the entire series without being dismissed, putting the England batsmen to shame as he withstood more than a few short pitched assaults from the visiting attack.

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