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Please don’t blame me for jinxing anything, but it appears as though England may just be on the road to recovery. However, that’s a big may.

We all know about the series loss over in the West Indies (not our finest hour) and needless to say, it wasn’t the best start for our World T20 campaign.

Then to top it all of a defeat in our first official T20 game versus New Zealand, really want to cover it up and blame it on the Duckworth Lewis method, but the scorecard just goes to show our batting had seen no sight of improvement over the winter.

So you can imagine my surprise, shock, amazement at the spectacular show we saw today. Less hiding behind the sofa, more me staring open-mouthed at the television screen.

Alex Hales. Need I say more, just when England wanted a boost they certainly got one.

With Sri Lanka posing a somewhat tricky target of 189-4, I hope I’m not the only one to say that the thought of Malinga, Mendis et al against our batting line up was not a pretty one.

Who knew that what we would witness would be a power-hitting master class from Hales, smashing 116 of just 64, yes 64 balls.

I’m still in shock this very second as to how he could pull off such a show, England’s first international T20 century and an incredible one at that.

Hales not only created the innings of the tournament so far (if I say so myself), but in alliance with Morgan helped push England to reach their highest successful run chase in T20 history.

Now come on, if this isn’t a glimmer of hope I don’t know what is.

A victory to England’s name at last, now me and every fan alike definitely won’t mind seeing the same performance next match, pretty please.

In two days’ time South Africa will be next in line for England, now if Sri Lanka can be beaten, surely we can beat these guys too, right? Fingers crossed.

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After a long wait, I’ve finally written another blog post, I’ve had trouble finding the time to write them at the moment; but there has been so much drama on and off the field I decided to give a quick overview of all the jubilations and tribulations England have faced along the way. I suppose you could say a roundup of the latter half of England’s summer cricket campaign, bar the seven matches left in the season.

First up we have the Australian ODI series, yes I know it feels like years ago now, but finishing back on the 10th July I had to give it a mention seeing as we thrashed the Aussies 4-0, it always feels good to get a win over them! With only one rain abandoned match (yes it just happened to be the one I went to), England proved to be the superior team in both batting and bowling abilities, to take the NatWest trophy. Let’s hope the Ashes series next year goes in our favour also!

Then came the South African Test series, a battle for top spot, as South Africa resided in second place in the world rankings. Losing the first test at The Oval by an innings and 12 runs proved to be a shock to the system, whereby a steady 115 from Cook in the 1st innings could not match the abundance of skill that was reflected by the South Africans. Smith, Amla and Kallis between them notched up 637-2 (dec.) in what can only be classed as a show of sheer determination; Amla the star man with an amazing score of 311* breaking many records in the process.

Keen to battle on, England stepped up their game in the second test, a KP 149 secured a decent 1st innings score that only just rivalled that of South Africa’s. Despite it being a high scoring game in the 1st innings for both sides, the match fizzled out to be a draw, leaving the last test of the series vital for England. Only a win could save them from losing that much sought after number one spot in test cricket.

The “all or nothing” game soon approached at Lord’s on the 16th August, and it certainly was a nail-biting match as it was left to the final day to decide the outcome. If it wasn’t for Amla’s heroics with another century to secure a steady 2nd innings total, the result may have been very different. Then again if England’s batting line up had not collapsed, namely Strauss, Cook, Bell and Taylor scoring only 12 runs between them, then England would have been able to secure victory. Unfortunately for them, all out for 294 and trailing by 51 runs left the England team and fans devastated, as the Number One World Test ranking was handed over to the touring party, South Africa.

And if that wasn’t a lot for England to contend with, during the middle of the series itself other drama was beginning to unfold. If I mentioned the Kevin Pietersen fiasco, I think you know what I’m about talking about. To cut a long story short, it was discovered that KP sent certain text messages to members of the South African team that could be deemed offensive towards Andrew Strauss, fellow team mates and management. Causing a huge rift between him and the team it was no surprise to see Pietersen dropped from the side in the final test, making way for debutant James Taylor (so happy he has finally been given a chance). Pietersen’s actions quickly reached the attention of the public, and soon it was released that KP, despite coming out of retirement to play in all forms of the game, did not make it into the T20 World Cup squad.

To say cricket isn’t eventful is definitely wrong, in the space of two months anything can happen. From England losing their number one spot, to a senior cricketing star making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. As I said there has been drama on and off the field, but for now I think it is clear that England must focus on the rest of their ODIs and T20s versus South Africa to keep their ODI top spot, and look towards retaining their title as T20 World Cup holders next month!

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A series win under their belts after a 9-wicket victory, England have just one Test remaining, to secure a 3-0 success over their West Indian counterparts. It was great to see England wrap up another Test late on day 4, in doing so cementing their title as the World Number One Test side. Trent Bridge witnessed some great performances yet again, and it is fair to say that both sides saw varying levels of success… but England reigned supreme as they became dominant late on day 3 to reduce the West Indies to 61-6, certainly the turning point in the match. But, who do I feel were the stand out performers this time around… let me know if you agree!

  • Andrew Strauss – Excelled once again with another superb century, his 22nd in fact, showing once again that he definitely is not ready to put an end to his cricketing career. Along with KP (80), Strauss’ 141 steadied England’s 1st innings, and despite a batting collapse, took England past the West Indies 370. With some perfectly timed cover drives, Strauss highlighted how he has had such a prolific career, and in tandem with his captaincy, he surely was one of the keys to England’s success.
  • Tim Bresnan – For Bresnan the stats speak for themselves, 4 wickets apiece in each innings, along with a much-needed 39 runs in the first innings. Bresnan secured his 13th Test win for England in the same number of games, also taking the Man of the Match; he has continued to excel in every Test. It was in the 2nd innings where Bresnan shined and put England in prime position over the West Indies, as they were taken from 31-3 to 61-6, as Bres showed off his impressive reverse swing skills.
  • Darren Sammy – Just a seriously nice guy, the West Indies’ captain takes the result in his stride. Although disappointed overall, he undoubtedly should not be dissatisfied with his own personal milestone. After 26 Tests, Sammy finally recorded his maiden Test century, notching up 106 in a 204-run partnership with Samuels (117), enabling his side to put 370 on the board. Despite not capitalising on England’s collapse from 267-3 to 363-7, Sammy would be confident in knowing he put up a good fight to give his side a respectable 1st innings score.

So, it’s onwards and upwards for England, and as aforementioned, the final test to be played commences on 7thJune at the mighty Edgbaston. I am sure the West Indies will try to make the series 2-1, but hopefully the England boys will increase their series win, before taking them on in the following limited overs series. England will also be now starting to focus on the big challenge that faces them this summer, as they will face their competition in the World Test rankings, South Africa. With Steyn and Morkel, the batting line-up will for sure have to improve if they are not to collapse yet again; however, I’m sure England will have this covered!

Photo Credit: Getty Images (espncricinfo.com)

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Rest assured everyone, as you may know by now England have secured their position at the top of the table after finally winning a Test match this winter. A thrilling 8-wicket victory saw many twist and turns, as England fought hard for their title, with wonderful results. As both Strauss and Jayawardene made their way to the middle, every expectant fan held their hopes high, and as Sri Lanka chose to bat, they soon looked to trouble England.

It wasn’t a very easy-ride for the Lankans initially though, losing Thirimanne and the experienced Dilshan and Sangakkara for a collective 22 runs, showcased Anderson’s sheer talent with the new ball. Three down for 30 would have worried any captain, Mahela however, is not your ordinary captain. Along with Samaraweera and Mathews, in two fantastic partnerships of 124 and 62 respectively, Jayawardene struck his way to his third century of the series and propelled Sri Lanka to 216 before his dismissal. His wicket was a timely one although reviewing the decision, Jayawardene was unable to reverse the LBW appeal, which saw Swann straightening one to hit smack on the knee roll. The turning point had been made, and no longer could Sri Lanka depend upon their captain for stability, as they slipped from 216-5 to 275 all out, an addition of just 59 runs, Swann walking away with figures of 4-75.

Switch-hit causes controversy as KP ton outshines Jayawardene’s

England’s innings was not without its glitches either. A better start could not have been made, with the captain and vice-captain leading the way with a 122-run partnership, 61 and 94 respectively, Cook narrowly missing out on a century of his own.  With the foundations already set, it paved the way for Trott and Pietersen to edge England closer to Sri Lanka’s first innings total with England on only 62 runs behind.  A steady 64 from Trott enabled fans to witness KP at his best, playing his natural game. A blistering 151 runs were scored in just 165 balls nearly a run a ball (in a Test match), along with an astonishing 100 runs accomplished in boundaries. I honestly don’t think I could say I have seen Pietersen play a better innings than we saw on Day 2 of this Test match, he himself not letting up on the celebrations after breaking that 100 mark.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Pietersen though, as the infamous switch-hit made a return – in glorious style I must add – but not to Dilshan’s approval. Pulling up mid run-up in two successive balls, Dilshan wanted to prevent this notorious shot from recurring, annoyance from the England crowd spread quickly as KP’s innings was momentarily halted. Landing himself with a warning from the umpires you could see Pietersen was clearly unimpressed. Yet this only seemed to spur him on as he raced to the 150 mark before being dismissed one run later after an unsuccessful appeal to reverse a Herath LBW. At 411-6 at the time of KP’s dismissal, England managed 460 all out, with a comprehensive lead of 185.

Swann sends Sri Lanka into a spin

So, with Sri Lanka needing something special to enable them a match-winning total, they somehow did not predict the damage England’s number one spinner would induce. Decent scores from Jayawardene (64), Samaraweera (47) and Mathews (46) yet again, the Sri Lankan batsmen were unable to conjure up that much-needed contribution. Swann tore through the Lankans’ line up snaring the prized wickets of the experienced Dilshan, Sangakkara and captain Jayawardene all caught, at slip, behind to the ‘keeper, and short leg respectively. Whilst Samaraweera, Randiv and Prasanna Jayawardene were all superbly bowled, as Swann beat the bat on all three occasions, his raw bowling talent truly highlighted. Along with Finn, Anderson and Patel, Sri Lanka were dismissed for 278, which meant for England they only had a mere 94 runs to chase in order to secure a test match win. As Swann reaped match figures of 10-181, he was the key bowler who helped England to edge closer to victory.

All that was needed now was 94 runs, and we could all delight in finally seeing England defeat the subcontinent conditions. With Jayawardene opening with 2 spinners, Strauss and Trott fell early for 0 and 5 respectively, leaving it up to Cook and KP to take their team over the line. For Cook, he struck his way to 49 setting the foundations up for KP to once again supremely strike the ball over the boundary rope for 2 magnificent sixes, powering England to a sweet and long awaited victory. In a thrilling show of pure cricketing talent, either side showed off their particular talents, but as England came out on top, they didn’t just level the series, but also saved themselves from humiliation. Luckily, England managed to stay at the top of the International Test rankings, which would have seen them fall to second below South Africa; fortunately, this was not the case.

We must wait until May until the England lads are in action again, until then we can all relax and enjoy the peaceful County Championship! :D

Photo Credit: Getty Images (espncricinfo.com)

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So sorry about not posting anything sooner, but there has been so much to do over the past few weeks, let alone Christmas approaching. This is just a little something before the end of the year, especially as there hasn’t been much cricket to report on.

It was the Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) last night, and this is definitely worth mentioning. Firstly Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss were up for the main award – and so they should be! – not forgetting the whole of the England team hoping for a collective prize. So as the awards, and most probably the alcohol, started flowing we discovered that it was to be our very own Andy Flower who won Coach of the Year which was fully deserved. To be fair Flower has had an incredible past 12 months, the hard work and dedication he has put into the team throughout his run so far has been phenomenal… I mean look where they are now! So with one award in the bag, the final surprise of the evening was that the England team were awarded the Team of the Year… honestly (and no I’m not being biased) but just look at the achievements of the boys this year. Retaining the Ashes in Australia after 24 years of pain, whitewashing the Indians 4-0 and finally reaching that wonderful number one spot in the Test World Ranking s – it couldn’t have gone much better. On the whole these two awards really showcase what an excellent set-up we have in this country, and unfortunately even though neither Strauss nor Cook  claimed top prize (this went to cyclist Mark Cavendish), England cricket was well and truly on top!

With a great 2011 cricket wise coming to an end, the January tests are soon approaching and oh how excited I am, not only will we see England in prime form once again, but also the County season will just be around the corner! I will be back in 2012 to report on all the action as always, and what a year it will be with Pakistan and Sri Lanka firstly, as well as the West Indies, South Africa and not to mention Australia waiting in the wings. Roll on 2012!

Thank you for all the support, and to all those who have visited, read, recommended and took part in discussions in my first complete cricket season on Caught At Slip. I hope you have all enjoyed reading my work and look forward to seeing you and many others (fingers crossed) next year for an exciting cricket-filled summer. Thanks again, and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, but for me this is 2011 over and out!

Photo Credit: BBC Sport

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Seeing the end of the English cricketing summer got me thinking, no Test cricket was going to be played over the winter, and the next time we would see the men in white would be January. Now surely you must agree that Test cricket is the best format of the game, well if not I’m telling you now I don’t know what I would do without it – it is at the heart of the English game. Especially know as we have become World Number One (as if you didn’t know, but I just had to make myself feel better!) I think that this format will definitely be pushed more into the limelight. Young cricketers and young fans alike will hopefully be begging their parents next year to see the mighty South Africans and West Indians, they will soon be experienced at this art I’ll assure you now! But my message would be take them, anything we can do to encourage their interest is vital, I mean several venues are now lowering their child ticket prices even to a pound at the mighty Edgbaston ;) Oh and don’t worry I have already done the persuading part now I just need to buy the tickets, as yes I am already gearing myself up for some glorious Test cricket next year, and no I don’t think it is too early at all.

But I’ll get to the point now after all my waffling which is – what is the future of Test cricket going to be like? Well to be honest I really am not certain, but what can be seen is that T20 whether International or on the County scene is without sounding too dramatic, taking over the cricketing world. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love T20 cricket, but with the children of today being brought up in a slogging, ‘hit it as far as you can’ type of world then what are we to expect, they aren’t necessarily learning the fundamentals of the longer formats. So is that what needs to be done, start at education level to teach children both sides to this wonderful game? I think so, that way we can encourage fresh, bright, young talent who will be both able to sustain their place at the crease, whilst also be able to stand their ground and hit it out of the park – sort of like Kieron Pollard style! As long as the basics are there then we can’t go wrong.

Tests used to be and still are the pinnacle of the game, but probably more less so for certain countries with the emphasis being on the shorter formats. This unfortunately has seen a decline in the talent of both countries and players and Test level, this in itself isn’t going to inspire young cricketers when they see lacklustre performances from International stars and icons. Not necessarily in England’s game however, as we do excel at Tests and boast huge amounts of talent of which are either in the team now or waiting in the wings ready to burst onto the scene. This does have to be looked at on a world scale as however much time England spends on improving the County and International skill at Test level; it isn’t going to solve the problem arising elsewhere. So it can’t be a problem that is solved easily and it is probably a case of – excuse me for saying this –but all for and one for all, clichéd I know.

Well if you’re sat there and I have managed to get you thinking ‘well what can I do?’ which I hope I have, then there is something you can do right now that may be of help. There has recently been a new campaign created for the preservation and protection of Test and First Class cricket around the world, known under the name of Testing Times. They are aiming primarily in the future to persuade the ICC to abolish the two-match Test series, as well as re-establish the Test Championship that has been withdrawn from the 2013 schedule. Firstly however Testing Times are trying to focus on issues closer to home, by implementing an extra clash between the top two teams in Test cricket, England and South Africa next year whilst reducing the ODI series to three games. This intention cannot be achieved just on their own and they need all the help they can get, so this is where I am calling all you Test cricket enthusiasts. You can find Testing Times on Twitter at TestingTimesXI, and Facebook so get following for all the up-to-date news. Also you can sign a petition, as they are trying to find 28,000 people to support their cause before they take it further, so you can get signing here http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/testingtimes . You really would be mad not to, as this petition could save the game we treasure most.

We can’t be sure what Test cricket will be like in the future, but anything we can do now to try and save the game is surely worth it, and hopefully in many years to come I will still be getting just a little too excited about the release of England’s International fixtures. So get supporting in any way that you can, even if it means actually going to see some cricket, I know it may just come to that :) I hope you enjoyed this recent blog post and don’t forget to tell me what you think as always, thank you!

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I don’t even know how to put it into words, but I’m going to give it a go. Please just be aware that my emotions may get the better of me (as I am a massive fan of the England boys) and I may just rant a little about England’s pitiful performance. Apart from that I will try and tell you just how we suffered a 5-0 whitewash when we were in the best of positions to actually win a game. I am still in shock to how bad the batting collapse turned out to be, why England, why? Okay, right I must stop whining about how poor we were… but I just can’t help it! Surely this time I can be right in saying that in the T20, the format in which we are number one, we can get a victory. Despite all I’m putting here, I just want England to know that I still love them regardless, and they have my full backing and support!

This time around we bowled first, and once the Indians reached 80 for no loss I thought here we go again… but then to my surprise three wickets were lost with no runs being added. Now you can expect my delight at these scenes, well less delight it was more like elation. It was Finn who made the breakthrough, beautifully bowling Gambhir with an inside edge, Kohli was the next man in and 45 balls later he too suffered at the hands of Finny who removes his off stump. The next breakthrough came in the next over to Bresnan, who removes Rahane due to a stunning catch from Kieswetter who’s ‘keeping has improved through the series. This short spell of fantastic bowling here really set up the foundations for England; I was truly amazed and knew they could take advantage of the situation. Meaker earned his second International wicket off Tiwary caught behind for 24, whilst one of the danger men Raina was later run-out splendidly by Bopara to leave India on 162-5. With this score after 37 overs England were really dominating and looked to be in a fantastic position.  Jadeja was the next man to go once India had reached the 200 mark, to be Patel’s first wicket down to a great catch by Bell (KP had a fractured thumb so was left out of the side, and Bell finally got a go). Once India were 215-7 after 45.4 overs it seemed like a nice total to chase if we kept the scoring down. This wasn’t to happen as the great player that is Dhoni went on a boundary rampage to help India finish on 271-8, with 56 runs added in the remaining 4 overs which is nothing less than incredible! Unfortunately for us it did take the game out of our hands for yet another time in the series.

So with another great score by the Indians England needed to get off to a flier, and for once this is exactly what they did. Both openers played amazingly well, they scored above the rate and hit boundaries galore taking England to 129 for no loss, this was by far their best start in the series and was a joy to see for a change. But as I usually seem to jinx the team both Cook and Kieswetter fell within an over of each other, Cook for 60 then moments later Kiesy for 63. 134-2 was not a problem as we had the rest of our experienced batting line-up to come, I say experienced… once you bring on part-time spin they just crumble. Basically Bell, Trott, Bairstow, Bopara and Bresnan who were supposed to take England all the way collapsed at the sight of a spinning ball as England lost these 5 wickets for only 33 runs, it really is unbelievable! I stared aimlessly at the action unfolding and this was the time that I had to tell myself that yes, we were going to suffer a whitewash, as hard as it was it was going to be true. Meaker and Finn were the last two to go and it wasn’t their fault it should have been completed by the batsmen within the team, 176 all out and that was that. Disbelief is all that can explain how I felt. How it happened again, a batting collapse I mean, was astonishing as England definitely had it in the bag, in fact we were coasting to a win it really is as simple as that.

So with the series wrapped up MS Dhoni took the MOTS and it was truly deserved as he was not-out for the whole series, which really is a great feat in itself as well as captaining the side, and on several occasions taking them to a victory. England now look forward to the T20 that awaits them and hopefully we can take a victory back with us, there were positives such as the outstanding bowling of Steven Finn throughout the series, as well as the impressive starts to their careers made by Meaker and Borthwick! So fingers crossed that it is onwards and upwards for England, as don’t forget we still remain World Test Number One and T20 Champions, as well as whitewashing the Indians in the summer. Our talent is still there we just haven’t managed to show it in this series, just wait and we’ll see it return quickly I’m sure!

Just quickly in other news the England women have whitewashed the South Africans 3-0, after winning their final game today by 5 wickets. Bowling the South Africans out cheaply for 181, the women made short work of the total after suffering on 42-5, with great innings from Greenway and Knight with 63 and 55 respectively to take the England women to victory. They too also have T20’s coming up, and have definitely showed the England men how to win games in style!

The T20 is on Saturday so tune in and hopefully we may witness England’s first victory in India this year. It is unfortunately England’s last game of this year, and we will see them return in January next year much more refreshed and relaxed I hope, until Saturday I’ll see you then… in a victorious mood – fingers crossed.

Photo Credit: AFP (espncricinfo.com)

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