England boldly enter the post-Flintoff age

Viscount Crouchback Roar Rookie

By Viscount Crouchback, Viscount Crouchback is a Roar Rookie

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    England's Andrew Flintoff, on his knees, is congratulated by teammates after bowling the wicket of Australia's Peter Siddle. AAP Images

    England's Andrew Flintoff, on his knees, is congratulated by teammates after bowling the wicket of Australia's Peter Siddle. AAP Images

    It is not often that the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards – an annual cringe-fest, replete with leaden gags and squirming athletes – provides much insight into the inner workings of a sporting team, but such a moment occurred on Sunday.

    A seemingly well-oiled Andrew Flintoff shuffled to the podium to collect the award for Team of the Year on behalf of the England cricket team, who watched on from Johannesburg via satellite link on the big screen behind him.

    It was an arresting sight: the team clad in pristine white polo shirts and congregated around their captain like eager school-children at morning assembly; Flintoff, on the other hand, appeared louche and unshaven and sounded suspiciously garrulous.

    There was a brief moment of embarrassment as the host, Gary Lineker, asked Flintoff’s opinion of his ex-captain, Andrew Strauss. The two men are known to dislike one another and the big screen briefly captured Strauss’s discomfort as Flintoff made reference to “Strauss having wanted the captaincy for a long time” – a reference to the Ashes tour of 06/07 – but the moment passed and Flintoff uttered only a few more banalities to the relief of all concerned.

    Freddie might remain loved by the general sporting public, but the impression conveyed over the satellite link is that the team has moved on.

    Flintoff’s retirement from Test cricket presents England with both an opportunity and a problem. The problem is how to balance the team.

    The English press is full of arguments and counter-arguments as to who should play where.

    The general consensus is that Strauss, Andy Flower and Ashley Giles (the third selector) should opt to attack and select five bowlers. This would mean either Luke Wright or Stuart Broad batting at 7.

    The enthusiastic Wright has his supporters, but some question whether his “bits and pieces” cricketing style is good enough for Test cricket. Broad batted well at 8 during the Ashes, but most observers – Andy Flower included – doubt that he is yet good enough to bat at 7.

    It may be, therefore, that the selectors opt to play Ian Bell and select only four bowlers.

    This carries its own risks since there are injury worries over both James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom and there must be doubts that both will last the five days of a Test match.

    But if the first Test track is as green as reported, then expect England to line up as follows: Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior, Broad, Swann, Sidebottom, Anderson.

    Positive mood music is commonplace in international sport nowadays, but the vibes emanating from the England camp are unusually gung ho.

    It may be mere coincidence but since Flintoff’s retirement from Test cricket, the team has never seemed more united. Giles observes that he has never seen a more hard-working or athletic England squad. Matt Prior suggests that this England team is, at last, concerned more with team performance than with individual performances.

    The team is well led by Strauss and Flower, and it seems fair to remark that, for the first time in a long time, the England cricket team is more than the sum of its parts.

    The South Africans, on the other hand, seem vulnerable. Graeme Smith and Micky Arthur began the one-day series in full, trash talking mode, but so far their ability at mind games seems to be more Keeganesque than Fergusonesque.

    A 2-1 series defeat in the ODIs made them rather more humble and both men have seemed downbeat in recent press conferences. Smith’s aggressive style has not always been popular with his team-mates, and it remains to be seen whether his continuing verbal jabs at Kevin Pietersen – most recently describing him as a “loner” – will go down well with players like Dale Steyn, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis, all of whom are friendly with Pietersen.

    The fact remains, however, that this Proteas line-up is formidable. Smith, de Villiers, Kallis and Steyn would walk into the England team.

    Neither bowling attack appears to have the depth required to take twenty wickets consistently, and so it could be that both teams spend many hours in the field. On paper, the South Africans probably edge it.

    But the series will be fought on grass, and the greater synergy of this England team might just enable them to repeat their 2-1 victory of 2004/5.

    Either way, it should be a cracking contest.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • December 16th 2009 @ 6:46am
      Justin said | December 16th 2009 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      Nice write up VC, I am really looking forward to this series to see where SA are at and also if England’s Ashes victory can catapult them up the rankings.

      The betting would indicate that SA are far superior (2.20 v 4.40) however I dont think there is that much between them. Sidebottom would have been a great inclusion with his swing at Centurion but it look like Onions will get the nod. Parnell has been left out for SA which surprised me as he could be anything.

      I favour the home side but I think they will trade higher at some point in the match so will wait for an opportunity to pounce 🙂

      Either way I dont see a draw coming in this match.

    • Roar Guru

      December 16th 2009 @ 6:53am
      Vinay Verma said | December 16th 2009 @ 6:53am | ! Report

      Viscount, it will be a competitive series and a lot will depend on the starts provided by Strauss and Cook. For Pietersen to flourish, the top three,includding Trott,have to lay the foundation. I am expecting Strauss to have a good series as his form has been good over the last two years. Cook has to convert his promise into solid runs. He has the talent but needs to concentrate for long periods. He seems to give it away after doing the hard work initially. Bell has been much maligned by the Aussies but showed admirable steel in the last Ashes Test. He was well shielded by Strauss and this is where Strauss’s strength as a captain comes through. He is thinking about his team.

      South Africa have more match winners than England in De Villiers,Duminy,Steyn and Parnell. I am expecting Wayne Parnell to be a stand out and his partnership with Steyn will go a long way in determining the outcome of the series.

      In the final analysis the one clear edge SAF have is in their fielding and catching.Smith, Kallis,Amla,De Villiers and Duminy will pouch everything between first slip and covers. Apart from Collingwood England look pedestrian in this regard.

      I hope that England can build on the success of their deserved Ashes win and believe they can win. All the prematch bravado is for naught if they cannot produce on the field. Anderson and Broad have to set the tone and Sidebottom has to keep it tight. I would like to see Rashid play ahead of Swann as he can be a match winner .I haven’t heard him come into calculations. It is time England blooded a young cricketer. Why is it that only Pakistan has the courage to give a young man with talent a chance?

    • Roar Guru

      December 16th 2009 @ 7:11am
      Vinay Verma said | December 16th 2009 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      Viscount,apparently Parnell is out and Ntini in. I think Ntini is past his best and Parnell offers more potency.

    • December 16th 2009 @ 8:05am
      Brett McKay said | December 16th 2009 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      It’s interesting, for sure, that despite the presence of Pietersen that observations about unity, team performances and work ethic are now being made from inside and outside the team. Strauss reminds me of Mark Taylor – a solid but not spectacular bat, but with an uncanny knack of bringing a bunch of blokes together and bringing out their best.

      The old adage that “a strong England is good for Test cricket” still holds true..

      • Roar Guru

        December 16th 2009 @ 8:53am
        Vinay Verma said | December 16th 2009 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        And going further ,Brett..a strong West Indies,Sri Lanka,Bangladesh,et al . Memo to ICC strengthen what you have before looking at new frontiers.

    • December 16th 2009 @ 11:51am
      Fisher Price said | December 16th 2009 @ 11:51am | ! Report

      I’d expect Onions to play ahead of Sidebottom.

      Rashid for Swann? No way. Too inexperienced. Swann’s underrated.

      Ntini’s been retained out of sentiment – this’ll be his 100th Test.

      South Africa look better on paper but Strauss’s looks to be the most popular leadership, what with many South Africans not happy with the Smith-Arthur axis.

      England will no doubt fancy their chances against Ntini and Morne Morkel, but likewise wil be crossing their fingers Anderson and Broad can produce away from home.

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