Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Kevin Pietersen Saga Contd...How to Make a Bad Situation Worse

If Andrew Strauss & the ECB thought they were drawing a line under the Kevin Petersen story that has haunted the England cricket team for over a year, they could not have been more wrong. In an approach that reminded me of the team's planning for the disastrous world cup this past winter, they had a plan A, but no plan B, and against all obvious logic, when circumstances changed Strauss simply executed his Plan A.

He had decided, with some justification, to draw a line under the KP debacle once and for all, because it was hanging over England like a cloud. Timing seemed good - new England management and KP himself hadn't been scoring runs at Surrey, and was looking like his best days were over and therefore his claim on a place int he Eng;and side looked weak.

A meeting with Strauss was therefore scheduled after KP's last game for Surrey before he headed to India to fulfill his IPL contract. Not a bad plan, except that Kevin threw a mighty hammer in the works - or rather 355 hammers! - by playing the innings of his life that very day - it was Pietersen at his arrogant, commanding best: bars emptied, football was shoved off the back pages and cricket fans rejoiced in a performance the likes of which the combined England batting line-up haven't managed in over a year. KP was back, and with the Ashes looming large, fans foresaw a possibility our lack luster team might have a chance with our Kev at his best battering games away from the opposition.

Despite this massive change in the situation, Strauss executed Plan A and worse, he raked up his own personal animosity for Pietersen with his "trust issues" statement - well its been a PR disaster - once again Kevin's anguish has stolen the headlines eclipsing anything else Strauss might want to say at the start of his reign; we hear that potential coaches touted as favorites to replace Moores are now having second thoughts and if England do not dominate New Zealand over the next few weeks, the name Pietersen will echo around the cricket media and in the stands - expect to hear more chants of "Are You Watching Andrew Strauss?".

In fact there was an obvious, and logical Plan B and the only reason I can find for it not being executed was Strauss's personal feelings for Pietersen caused him to act out of spite and anger.
All Strauss had to say was that while the 355 not out had impressed the selectors, and made them think again about selecting KP, currently the England middle order of Ballance, Root and Bell was settled and the most successful part of the England team - there is simply no vacancy for KP at the moment. Additionally he could have added that even if selected, Pietersen at 34 would have been used as short term filler for this summer's Ashes, but at his age he wouldn't feature much further ahead in England's plans - at his age and with injuries catching up with him, Kevin is not going to take part in the next World Cup or the 2019 Ashes series. 

Even as a huge KP supporter I see the logic in this and so would the media and public, because regardless of Pietersen's  form, who would get dropped from the England team to make space for KP?  if he were an opener it might be different. 

This approach would have allowed Pietersen to save face and restore some pride, without actually re-entering the dressing room. It would have also left the selectors with the possibility of recalling Pietersen at any point this summer if injury or lack of form creates a space in the middle order - a possibility that would no doubt worry Australia!

Personal feelings and pride were clearly at the forefront of this new mishandling of KP. The
whole debacle was caused before, during and after  the infamous 'firing,  by poor man-management of 'talent' and Strauss's first performance as Director of England Cricket hasn't exactly given us confidence that lessons have been learned. No wonder Jason Gillespie's enthusiasm for the England coaching job has dimmed - who'd take on a losing side, low on confidence who despite that  just turned down the best player available because of "trust issues" ? Really??? 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Not Picking Kevin Pietersen is Absurd

Here's why the ECB have no choice, but to end the Pietersen farce, swallow their pride and select him to play for England:

On the day, when he's in form (and my God is he ever in form at the moment) he's the best mid order batsman in the world, bar none. England have a difficult New Zealand series followed by the mighty Aussies, and KP in this form could help blow NZ away, leaving England with confidence and feeling like winners ahead of the Ashes. We know that along with Anderson,  he's one of the few England players that Australia fear.

Yesterday he scored 326 not out first class runs - only a moron can ignore that, especially given England's poor overall form! The job of Strauss and the selectors is to pick the best available team, and on that alone KP gets in on merit ahead of almost anyone. Lets remember that at the time of his 'firing' after the disastrous Ashes tour, KP had the best batting average on that tour (and he was not in good form) - well he's not out of form anymore!

How dare they not pick him? Will we have to listen to interminable interviews at the end of the summer when Strauss and co explain why we didn't win the Ashes and begin another period of "rebuilding"? Lets say it now - if the ECB doesn't pick KP and then fails to win the Ashes, the reason starts there. Their job is to pick a winning side - they get paid a lot of money to do that and they cannot say that the best man available is not selectable -  They can not !

Now is it true KP is a bit if an asshole? yes probably - manage him, thats your job. if Cook doesn't want to skipper him, get a new skipper who can! If Australia kicked out their egotistical, arrogant assholes, I doubt they'd have been able to field a single winning team for the past 30 years! and looking back Botham and Boycott, to name but two, would not be household names under this ECB !

KP needs to be picked because he's on fire and England lack that; because in this form we know he can take a game away from any opposition - he is capable of demoralizing even the mighty Aussie bowling unit; pick him,  because he empties bars and few others do; pick him because when he bats big, kids want to be him and that's great for the game; pick him because he does ruffle feathers around him and the comfy "we're all great mates" England dressing room has failed miserably; most of all pick him because the best team must be available to play - how dare we even contemplate the idea of not fielding our best in an Ashes's series!

Monday, May 4, 2015

England Need More Wins & That Means No More Moores

England have drawn the series against the West Indies, but lets be honest - it feels like a loss. A full strength, young England side, played a Windies on the decline in recent years, weakened by years of politics, poor results and players choosing the IPL over this series and yet all England could do was draw one, win one and lose one badly.Imagine what the Australians would have done to this Windies fact you  don't have to imagine anything, because they're coming to the West Indies later this month - prepare for big Aussie wins.

England can once again point fingers at individuals, wring our hands over the lack of a front line spinner and unsettled openers but the real issue must come down to the coach and captain.

Peter Moores - England Coach
You can feel the unimaginative thought processes of Peter Moores and Cook in the final team selections: Colin Graves and his selectors chose Adil Rashid as an exciting young spin prospect, but its clear that for Moores/Cook this was to risky and Rashid ended up spending six weeks carrying drinks, when he should have been bowling, if not for England then Yorkshire. With Rashid on the squad, Moores still decided he needed Moeen Ali, who was flown out. Ali is a great little cricketer, and should be in the squad as a middle order batsman because despite the hype, he's not a front line spinner, and in this test we finally saw what should have been obvious to the coach and skipper,  as a bowler he's at best a second or third choice. Once the ball started turning in Grenada this week, we saw his bowling is little better than Joe Root's, who is an acknowledged part time spinner. Rashid on the other hand is a wicket taker, with the potential to present a danger to batsman as he proved with Yorkshire last year - yes he gets hit but he gets scalps too (and Moeen went for 2-112..not exactly cheap!). The selectors saw Rashid's exciting potential, Moores and Cook clearly didn't see it, so Rashid twiddled his thumbs, Yorkshire fumed and England lost.

The same lack of imagination was shown at the top of the batting order: Jonathan Trott has been a superb number 3 in the past before his emotional issues ended his grip of that role in 2013, and the #3 is now held firmly by Ballance. The selectors clearly thought 27 year old Adam Lyth - another Yorkshireman - was worth trying as opener, but Moores & Cook looked backwards at 34 year old
Adam Lyth celebrates one of many centuries opening for Yorkshire 
Trott and went with him in a position he isn't used to and it failed, almost certainly ending his England career. Meanwhile Lyth carried bats and gloves to the center. Conservative view may have been "lets try Trott for a couple of tests and if it doesn't work, slip Lyth in for Grenada", the unimaginative view is "we are sticking with Trott...the boy will come good... Lyth can enjoy the good for the lad" . 

Cook is a conservative captain, and clearly lacks some tactical skills - that area of his captaincy needs to be developed by a coach who has those skills from his playing days, the experience and the ability to encourage Cook to view the game differently. Moores is not that man - he never was, and his return has proven how limited he is - he's never played at this level, never mind captained and he just compounds Cook's weaknesses. Worse Moores / Cook clearly aren't buying into the philosophy of the selectors, who give them squads with room to experiment, but they choose not to. 

Had Cook not started to show form I'd be baying for his head, but time in the middle on flat slow W.Indies  pitches has payed off and he appears to be returning to the dashing batsman of old, ensuring he will retain the captaincy, so lets find him a decent coach! We've failed at all forms of the game under Moores - he brings little to the table and nobody can see things improving with another Ashes debacle on the horizon. In an ideal world, he'd fall on his sword as soon as he arrives back in the UK, but if he doesn't the Selectors and ECB must do the deed, even before the New Zealand series. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Moeen Ali - Wrist Band Politics & Why His Wrists Should be Slapped!

Moeen Ali's actions yesterday, wearing   "free Gaza" and "Free Palestine" wristbands was completely wrong on several levels - its really that simple, & it shouldn't need explaining. he shouldn't have done it, and after the wrist bands are removed, his wrists need to be slapped and here's why:

1. Keep it out of cricket - whether its pro-life or pro-abortion, Labour or Tory, Pakistan v India (conflicts not cricket!) - unless the ECB have approved a statement - for example wearing a poppy or Children in Need badge, no players should wear political statements whilst representing their country - not the place! I'm an England supporter - I'm English, Jewish and an Israeli citizen. I hold different views to Moeen and I will argue those differences everywhere, but please, please, don't make me do it on a cricket pitch. It is the one place where we put all differences aside except those that concern the game and team selection! Moeen made me feel very uncomfortable and divided yesterday, and thats not what cricket should bring to it's fans - and let me be clear if he plays for England, I am Moeen's fan and I want him to respect that. If these divisions are allowed to enter the game, it will ruin the game. That simple. And what if someone in the dressing room had felt the opposite? What then to team cohesion? A poor decision by a very junior player in the England squad.

2. Moeen Ali's statement is disturbing on other more important levels than cricket  (yes they do exist!): Whether he likes it or not, Ali represents moderate inclusive Britain - a  religious British Muslim, born to Pakistani immigrants,  a sportsman who wears his faith with pride alongside the Three Lions of England, and for that I feel huge respect for him and the country. However his divisive "Free Gaza" support shows that he has failed to understand that fact. Essentially it means "leave Hamas alone" - the two cannot be separated as long as Hamas is the government of Gaza. So we have a supposedly moderate, very English Muslim, representing his country in front of millions, totally comfortable with essentially advocating and supporting a Jihadist terror organization - because the campaign is about making Israel withdraw, leaving Hamas in chare of Gaza once more. Hamas are  part of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have ruled Gaza with a Taliban style rod of iron for 10 years, stealing billions of dollars of aid money from Palestinians & diverting it into buying sophisticated rockets, and building a massive network of terror tunnels using the concrete and metal they begged Israel to allow in to Gaza 2 years ago for building projects. Supporting Hamas is not supporting Gaza, any more than the British Jihadists fighting in Syria are supporting that country or it's people. "Free Gaza" is therefore an expression of extremism that will condemn Gazan Palestinians & Southern israeli residents to years more suffering under Hamas & cycles of violence such as we are witnessing now. A young man of Ali's obvious education, intelligence and supposed moderacy should be able to recognize this - He should also recognize that extremism is the cancer of Islam and British Islam in particular and that as a role model, he needs to think, learn, question and deeply understand any issue before he slaps on a wristband in public.
I invite Moeen to visit Israel - I can help organize hsi trip. He can sit down with people from all sides of this conflict, visit the places most affected, perhaps inspire some Palestinian and Jewish kids through some cricket outreach, and then be able to make intelligent meaningful statements about a complex situation. Oh and for the record - wristbands are not intelligent, meaningful statements, but foolish propaganda that have absolutely no place on the wrist of an English cricketer as he takes strike for his country.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cook's Captaincy: England's Tough Decision is No Decision At All.

The knives are out for Alistair Cook  - whether due to bias like Shane Warne's never ending nastiness toward Cook or the general muttering from the Boycotts and others. However if you Google the blogs and pundits on Cook you'll see something interesting and telling: although many agree he should go, not one even touches on who should come next - and there's a reason for that - there isn't anyone! As far as Cook goes, the experts do have some validity - England  was whitewashed by the Australians this past winter and now loses to Sri Lanka and some of the blame should be placed on Cook's captaincy. However, lets also be fair to Cook - in Australia the team was undone by one man: Mitchel Johnson - his bowling speed, accuracy & aggression is something that we haven't seen for decades and the batsman had no answer to him. had it not been for him, few believe there would have been such a destruction of England, or subsequent rebuilding.  The psychological damage to the team was obvious and it was followed by a culling of coaching staff and players on the scale of a South American coup d'├ętat! So against the gritty battlers that are Sri Lanka, England fielded a number of debutantes and much  good came from the series despite the loss - maiden centuries, good bowling and determined batting from unexpected quarters - great test cricket in fact, and rubbish teams don't produce that. Anderson's emotion after the 2nd Test loss, and his heroics with the bat, show the passion and dedication the team has.

There is legitimate criticism of Cook's ability to adapt plans - Boycott summed it up (without mentioning either his mum or a stick of rhubarb) by saying Cook had a "plan A and when that failed he had Plan A and if that didn't work he still had plan A". Again, not sure there was any possible plan for Johnson, but this criticism pre-dates the Ashes series. Perhaps more importantly, Cook's batting has fallen apart - 12 tests without a significant contribution, or century - if he weren't skipper, I doubt he'd be selected. Back to the county he would go to get his head together and remind himself how good he is, and how much he loves to bat. Cook opens for England and was someone that could be relied on to put runs on the board more often than not. If your openers can add 150-200 runs collectively, it allows the middle order to bat more freely and places huge pressure on the opposition bowlers. Cook's 20s combined with rotating partners over the past 18 months just don't cut it - this has placed huge pressure on the middle order and lowered England's scores - how long did they go without a significant innings total, even in wins? 

So we have a captain  who even during happier days was criticized for one dimensional fielding and bowling
calls, and who now presides over a team that can't win at bingo never mind cricket, and who's own loss of form is reaching biblical proportions. Ok -  so fire him - take the pressure off him and let him recover his batting form!!! Ah but this is the problem that no cricket great is addressing - if you do, then what? Who will captain England? Ian Bell seems disinterested and those who know and respect him say he isn't captain material. Prior? Well he is a leader but is at the twilight of his England career; Broad at one time seemed the obvious choice, but bowlers rarely captain for good reasons - they are often injured and out the team, and they face the difficult choice of when to bowl themselves. He also hasn't been especially successful as one day skipper! Were Trott well and in the team then maybe, but he's out and even if he returns, the last thing he's going to need is the pressure of captaincy. So there's no one.

What are we left with? Alistair Cook - captain of England because there is nobody else. Can't be dropped and allowed to return to form because...there's nobody else. ECB could replace the coach, even KP, despite being one of the great batsman playing today, but not the captain. Its not ideal to have a captain by default but it is reality - its why these former cricket greats criticize Cook, piling on the pressure, without ever offering an alternative...there isn't one.