Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ashes players' ratings

Now that the dust has settled and the Oval wicket has dried out and been hosed down hopefully, it's time to reflect on which players brought what to the occasion. Starting with England.

Alastair Cook, 3/10
Having been part of the selection process for a rookie opener alongside him, Cook needed to lead from the front and he failed to do so averaging a miserable 27.7. He was also outshone by Michael Clarke in the field and looked a long way short of the batsman that dominated Australia last time around. Much room for improvement.

Joe Root, 4/10
Tough to judge Root as his huge score at Lords distorted his numbers hugely. Nevertheless he did achieve that one big ton but failed abjectly otherwise. His batting position will give the selectors much thought.

Jonathan Trott, 4/10
Another English batsmen that failed to average even 30. Trott had cemented himself previously as one of the most reliable No3s in test cricket. He quickly needs to re-find his form for England down under if they are to prevail.

Kevin Pietersen, 6/10
A 'nearly' series for KP who often threatened to take over proceedings but somehow kept falling a little short. He remains the batsman that frightens the opposition the most and at times showed a new found maturity. Looked close to 'clicking' again.

Ian Bell, 9/10
Most pundits' man of the series with an average in excess of 62 dominating a Summer of low-ish scoring. Bell played with authority and class and most importantly did it when it mattered. A high class series.

Johnny Bairstow, 2/10
A fairly hopeless effort from a player that England have such high hopes for. He was horribly bogged down in the main and looked like a man just waiting to get out. Faces an anxious wait before the touring squad is named.

Matthew Prior, 3/10
Abject performance with the bat from the Wisden cricketer of the year. Glove work was patchy at times and some over zealousness with the DRS system also. Prior needs to get his head down and regain his form quickly.

Stuart Broad, 8/10
A little inconsistent at times but Broad is a match winner and provides good support with the bat also. Will be key for England in the return series.

Tim Bresnan, 7/10
Didn't have a huge opportunity to shine but did what was required when asked of him. Always a good honest performer who never hides.

Graeme Swann, 8/10
26 wickets for England's premier spinner. Spin remains the one true area where England can claim to hold a trump card over Australia in the shape of Swann. England need to keep him fit.

James Anderson, 7/10
Patchy series from Anderson who started well and finished well but looked a little low on energy levels in between. He remains a potent weapon however and England will be sure to make sure he is well rested before heading to Brisbane.

And now for the chaps in the baggy greens.

Chris Rogers, 8/10
An excellent series for Rogers who offered stability and calm at the top of the order. Rogers has come to test cricket late in life but he definitely made up for lost time.

David Warner, 4/10
Tough to call Warner as his pugilist exploits left him out of the opening matches but nevertheless it was his own fault he couldn't contribute. Definitely added to the team on his return and will be an important player in the series to come, disappointing average however.

Shane Watson, 6/10
Finished the series with a wonderful ton but unfortunately in an effectively meaningless match. Watson's economy rate with the ball and sheer number of maidens were important in frustrating the opposition batsmen. A genuine all rounder.

Usman Kawaja, 3/10
Doesn't look to have the authority or the class to solve Australia's No3 conundrum.

Phil Hughes, 4/10
Another player tough to mark properly as he was jettisoned after just two tests.

Michael Clarke, 7/10
An average of just over 47 but it almost felt like a case of 'what if' as one was left feeling that he could have scored many more runs. Clarke was also hugely positive in the field coaxing the very best out of his bowlers. Defnitely has the captaincy edge over Alastair Cook. A good series.

Steve Smith, 6/10
Seemed to grow in stature throughout the series and will look to contribute fully from the start down under. Not always the most aesthetically pleasing but a good competitor and finished with a wonderful hundred.

Brad Haddin, 7/10
A solid performance from Haddin. His average of just under 23 didn't reflect some selfless batting trying to push the score on. Excellent glove work saw him comfortably outshine Matt Prior.

Peter Siddle, 6/10
Plenty of heart and effort as usual from Siddle but found it hard at times to make a real impact. Will however be a shoe in for the return series.

Ryan Harris, 8.5/10
Missed out on the first test but was Australia's stand out performer thereafter with a constant stream of wickets. Managed runs with the bat also. Australia will be hoping that hamstring injury heals quickly. Challenged Bell for man of the series.

Mitchell Starc, 6/10
In and out of the team and showed glimpses of his talent but needs more consistency.

Nathan Lyon, 7/10
Bizarrely left out initially, Lyon came back into the series firmly. Whilst Lyon will never be a prolific wicket taker he asked plenty of questions and bowled with control. He needs to be played from the outset in the return series.

James Pattinson, 6/10
Only two tests and didn't do a lot wrong. Like Starc he would possibly benefit from a longer run in the team.

Ashton Agar, 5/10
His famous 98 with the bat aside, Agar's contribution with the ball - what he is there for - was lacking and he needs much more work before he can be considered a true test bowler.

2 huge rivalries, 2 lengthy disparities

Spurs and Liverpool are two famous clubs with history laiden with silverware and famous names such as Glenn Hoddle, Jimmy Greaves, Paul Gascgoine, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Kevin Keegan. Both also still enjoy huge worldwide support.

Both clubs however have fallen on harder times since the inception of the Premiership and the rise of other clubs around them. Whilst Spurs had flattered to deceive for a long time and oft been referred to as a 'cup team' only, Liverpool have long been supplanted by ManU as the dominant force domestically.

Both teams however have suffered equally in comparison with their fiercest of rivals. The rivalry between Liverpool and ManU bares comparison with that of Real and Barca in terms of intensity and the relative success of the clubs involved. The North London rivalry is more parochial possibly but no less intense.

Liverpool in reality have not been a force in the Premiership for some time now with only occasional credible title challenges in the past twenty or so years. Ferguson's famously commented about 'knocking Liverpool off their perch' but few would have thought that it would have been so prophetic and that the dominance would have lasted so long.

Whilst ManU have embraced the new financial age completing the building of the now enormous Old Trafford and taking merchandising and branding to another level, Liverpool have stagnated with an inadequate and antiquated stadium meaning that their income bears no resemblance to that of their fierce rivals from along the M62.

That current disparity looks impossible to bridge right now and Liverpool's team in the absence of great home grown talent such as Carragher, Owen, Fowler, McManaman and the ageing Gerrard will find it tough to compete in the medium to long term given the financial handicap.

All of that being said, Liverpool finally appear to be attempting a concerted change in philosophy and to be embracing the long term plans of Brendan Rodgers who has the appearance of a man in for the long haul - which is exactly what they need.

At the same time as Liverpool attempt to right the many wrongs inflicted by the previous regime, ManU have of course lost Sir Alex Ferguson, the primary driver for their two decades of colossal success. Davie Moyes appears to be a chip off the old block but they are big shoes to fill and he is relatively inexperienced at the very highest level.

Whilst the gulf between the clubs still looks huge, there are suspicions that the dominance of ManU could finally be coming to an end with the retirement of Ferguson. Nothing lasts forever after all.

Whilst Liverpool will not challenge for the title for possibly a few seasons still, a return to the Champions League is a priority to give them the financial spring board they so badly require. An early season win against their biggest rivals to build on their early bright start would be a huge fillip for the Koppites whilst putting some doubt in Moyes' mind about his tactics in the big games.

For Spurs, it has been the same story since Bruce Rioch departed Arsenal, that of looking up - far more closely in the past few seasons - at Arsenal. Arsenal like ManU have built a huge amphitheatre to play in with bulging match day revenues whilst Spurs struggle to get by with the hopelessly redundant White Hart Lane.

Arsenal however have long since departed from their position as the credible and regular challenger to ManU. Whether it be the cost of building the Emirates, the departure of David Dein or the stubbornness of Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's intransigence in the transfer market has seen them go backwards with them almost becoming a 'feeder club' to the very highest echelon.

Whilst Wenger carries on apparently listening to no one, Spurs have taken several steps forward with the country's most impressive chairman in Daniel Levy and a hugely bright manager in Andre Villas Boas.

The loss of Gareth Bale may look a backward step but the stratospheric price they look set to achieve has allowed them to strengthen all areas of the team rather than relying on the sometimes injury prone Bale.

Spurs have gone horribly close to Champions League qualification the past two seasons and whilst they will feel hard done by, the blame lies with themselves with their almost pathological obsession with Arsenal seeing them fail to finish above them despite being offered an open door to do so two seasons in a row.

Two seasons ago, Spurs would point to Chelsea's unlikely CL victory but Spurs imploded against Arsenal to fail to finish above them yet again when third place was there for the taking. Luck had little to do with it which Levy realised and subsequently jettisoned the hugely overrated Harry Redknapp.

Whilst they again came up short last season, AVB suffers no ghosts and demons regarding Arsenal and has a team full of new players similarly without a haunted past.

The bigger gap in the relative teams appeared to be between United and Liverpool but Liverpool are of course at home where they love to play them. They are however without Luis Suarez. It is unlikely that Moyes will be as positive in his first Anfield fixture as ManU boss as Ferguson was traditionally so we'll go for the draw.

Spurs take the short journey to the Emirates and certainly have their tails up. Arsenal have fought back after their opening day debacle against Villa but are shorn of many players through injury. We still however take them to win at home. Both should be cracking games with the prospect of goals in both matches - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sub plots to the fore as Mourinho comes to Old Trafford

It is only 3 points that are up for grabs on Monday night for ManU and Chelsea. Much of the talk however will invariably centre around a few choice individuals as the current champions face up to the newly restored pretenders.

Jose Mourinho is back in the dugout at Stamford Bridge and whilst in many ways it might feel like nothing has changed. The reality is that nearly everything has changed including the adversary in the Reds' dugout - but has Mourinho changed?

Mourinho has talked of a new maturity coming with age since his return to the Premiership, of setting an example to the younger managers in the league. At the outset it sounds a hugely benevolent gesture but one suspects as ever with Jose that there is something far more machiavellian at the heart of it.

Paul Lambert was the first victim on Wednesday night where he was damned with feint praise by Mourinho who talked of what a fine young manager he was and how he too was angry and misled at Lambert's age and level of inexperience. Jose Mourinho is 50 years old and Lambert is 44 we would point out.

Next in the cross hairs on Friday was Spurs and AVB. The Willian transfer hijack appealed to Mourinho hugely even if Chelsea don't really need the player. Mourinho could barely hide his glee at the ire of Spurs and a wise crack about the player's medical was met with much mirth by all.

Mourinho was very smart first time around in England. He knew that taking on Sir Alex Ferguson head on was akin to suicide. Instead Mourinho introduced a policy of being deferential publicly at every opportunity to Ferguson whilst talking up their great friendship.

At the same time, Mourinho did pick fights with the two managers Ferguson had the biggest issues with, Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger. The mind games were unleashed on two of Chelsea's biggest rivals whilst remaining safe for the main part from the gunsights of Ferguson.

Mourinho has also talked about other managers that have worked for him such as Brendan Rodgers, AVB (although their relationship has broken down) and Steve Clarke and how it is great to see them progressing in their own managerial careers having flown the nest.

Mourinho it seems is attempting to set himself up as the 'overlord' of managers in the Premiership - Steve Bruce was nearly wetting himself fawning over Mourinho in his post match interviews last weekend - and it is the smart play.

Arsene Wenger will of course ignore him as he seems to ignore most of the other managers and one can't imagine Manuel Pellegrini getting too excited either. The most interesting reaction however is going to come from a Glasgwegian again.

Davie Moyes has it all to do it seems following Britain's greatest ever domestic manager. He has not ever won a trophy, his squad is allegedly poor and only won the league so easily because of the implosion of their rivals and the immense skill and drive of Ferguson.

ManU have done nothing fresh in the transfer market after integrating the previously bought Wilfred Zaha. Rumours of big names have floated around and Moyes has even managed to upset his previously employers Everton along the way.

In the midst of this however, ManU routinely won the Charity Shield (against poor opposition yes) and then went to Swansea - far from an easy place to go - and thumped the home side 4-1 with normal service apparently very much resumed.

Moyes and Ferguson share much more than a thick accent and a lurking sense of physical violence, they are both shrewd, highly intelligent football men who enjoy the mind games as much as anyone. Moyes always stood up to Ferguson and he will undoubtedly do the same with Mourinho.

Moyes has already engaged Mourinho through the press stating how much he likes him and how he is looking forward to seeing him again at Old Trafford. He hardly sounds like a man who is in anyway intimidated.

Where Moyes will have to learn fast is tactically at the top level. His team are undoubtedly good enough to win every week against most clubs in the league but Europe - where Moyes is a relative novice - and top of the table clashes are going to be new to him. Mourinho's record at Old Trafford is excellent but Moyes' record against Chelsea isn't too bad either one should note.

The other huge sub plot is of course that of Wayne Rooney and intriguingly the possibility of Juan Mata moving in the opposite direction.

Moyes has stated that he is looking to play Rooney from the start against Chelsea and it would be indeed a strong signal that 'he is our player'. There is none of the injury nonsense we have seen from Gareth Bale or signs of the nervous breakdown that seems to be afflicting Johan Cabaye.

The Rooney transfer is in many ways more about Mourinho and Moyes than it is about Wayne Rooney himself. It's unlikely that Mourinho would have hatched this bid had Ferguson still been at the helm unless Rooney had issued a formal transfer request.

Mourinho is clearly trying to establish himself as the top dog in the league and Moyes must be feeling that he has to see the matter off to his own satisfaction.

It may well be that ManU would feel that Mata (a younger and statistically more effective player than Rooney) plus cash and Rooney's wages off the books would be a fine deal and it would be hard to argue with that but the bigger issue may be that it is Chelsea who are the predator here.

Arsenal on the face of it got by the far the better end of the William Gallas plus cash deal for Ashley Cole but we can all see the directions the clubs have taken since then.

Mourinho has been at pains to tell everyone that Chelsea will not make a third bid for Rooney until after the game which is the same as bidding for the player before the game except we're just not quite sure that the price is yet.

With Moyes and Mourinho both starting fresh at two clubs that will undoubtedly challenge for the next few years, the jostling for position at the outset is paramount as it is going to set the tone for the many clashes that are sure to come.

In amongst all of this, there will be 90 minutes of football to be played of course. A draw we reckon - No Nonsense.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A big call - Australia will regain the Ashes down under.

It is possibly hugely typical of a sports fan who has for so long followed English cricket and Scottish football that pessimism is not just endemic, it's automatic. Losing was always a national pastime and therefore it becomes highly confusing and contrarian when your team is winning.

Having lived through the years of Allan Border, David Boon, the Waugh brothers, Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, Warne, McGrath (we could go on indefinitely it feels) battering England almost at will, one should be rejoicing unceremoniously in winning three straight Ashes series and four out of the last five.

Whilst I felt confident about this Ashes series given the dominance that England exerted in Australia the last time around there has still been a huge amount of nail biting and gnashing of teeth leading to strange betting behaviour by way of emotional hedges. Winning it seems is expensive.

Even England's victory down under seemed surreal rather than glorious. The Gabba was split equally between horrendous pain and then a combination of utter disbelief and then relief as England rallied. Adelaide was fantastic before believing that normal service had been resumed at the WACA as Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris tore England to pieces.

The scenes that followed firstly at the MCG and then the SCG felt like out of body experiences with joy being some way down the list in terms of the emotions being experienced. Bemusement is probably the most appropriate adjective.

Now it may just be that someone hailing from the North East of Scotland is simply born with this kind of built in sporting pessimism in your DNA. For this reason there is some inward skepticism at the realisation that I have come to that Australia will win the next Ashes. Having said that, I will attempt to offer some kind of rationale for this belief.

At the time of writing, England sit 3-0 up but having endured a tough day at the office on the first day at the Oval, not assisting themselves it must be said with a strange team selection.

On the face of it, England have beaten Australia comfortably and are by most experts' opinion, far the better team. They have also beaten Australia whilst being far from at the their best and this is clearly not a vintage baggie green eleven.

Having said all that, Australia have in the main been competitive in England and on balance have probably won most of the sessions, England have more pertinently won the important ones however.

Through the debris of this tour following on from the debacle of the India tour there are some green shoots of recovery from this Australian side not least in a healthy looking seam attack.

England's batting is the main issue at hand with their attack still capable of ripping through teams when the mood takes them. Those failings look unlikely to be addressed before November and with Johnny Bairstow being discarded for the Oval there is clearly going to be either one rookie or hopelessly nervous batsmen at least in their batting order at the Gabba.

England may well have decided to restore Compton at opener and drop Root back down the order but neither instills confidence. Cook and Trott look shaky at best right now although Pietersen and Bell in particular have been solid. Matt Prior needs to put away his Wisden almanac and get cracking also.

A hostile first day crowd at the Gabba is not where you want to have an ounce of self doubt. England looked a far more solid batting unit in 2010 and yet they were on the ropes after two days last time around, they do not want to be in the same place again this time.

Given the professionalism of the modern game, if I were at the helm of the ACB I would have moved Perth to the second or even the first test such has been Australia's domination at the WACA. Having England one or maybe two down after two tests and there would be no way back. It obviously won't happen, tickets and hotel rooms have been sourced but it is food for thought for future series.

Another reason I feel Australia can win is there is just such a huge difference in the conditions and the psychology of playing down under. England mastered those conditions last time around but they had an unbelievable platform of runs from Cook, Trott and Pietersen to give their bowlers the license to win the games.

Bowlers win matches so says Geoffrey Boycott but it is batsmen that take the pressure off them to allow them to do so. The series in England has generally been a low scoring one and whilst England have passed 300 often they have not looked like amassing the 500s they did last time around. At the one low scoring match at the WACA, England were hammered.

India thrashed Australia in the tests that preceded this Ashes series. Now granted Autralia had lost Ponting and Hussey in the interim but it must be remembered that Australia at home did the same to India in 2011, it is not quite so long ago.

Now no one is suggesting that England travel as badly as Indian test batsmen do nowadays but it does show the strength that Australia can garner at home in front of their own crowds. Having watched England three times personally at the WACA you can see them almost visibly wilt in the conditions, it is the harshest of environments.

Sitting next to a colleague at the Gabba on the opening day last time, I remarked to him that England had to find a way by hook or by crook to get a result in Brisbane. If they could avoid going one down from the off they had a real chance in the series, especially given that Adelaide usually offers them some hope.

The problem is at the moment that without the assistance of weather, not one of these matches has remotely looked like being drawn as the totals have been generally sub standard. Whilst we have now have drop in pitches, no one has yet found a way to drop in Old Trafford weather.

If we therefore work on the assumption that their will be a victor at the Gabba, I could not honestly say I expect it to be England. If you also work on the assumption that England will lose in Perth then you could reach a point where you could reasonably expect Australia to win two of the first three tests.

The ex Manchester United player and huge cricket fan Gary Neville said that he has 'come to trust' this England team, believing that should one or two fail, another will step up and perform and so far he has been right. England's record in tests has generally been excellent - other than against Pakistan and South Africa - and they probably do deserve more credit and more belief on my part.

Having said that, whilst England have won the series, I couldn't honestly say that other than Lords and in the sessions where England have actually won a game that it has been entirely enjoyable. Exciting yes but you have never felt the ability to 'lord it' over the opposition in the way that Australia destroyed England 5-0 a few series back.

One other key point may be the captains. Both are superlative test batsmen but for me, it is Clarke who is the better leader in the field. He captains far more aggressively and seems more in tune with his bowlers. Cook is far more defensive, much to the chagrin of Shane Warne.

Cook also appears to simply trust his bowlers knowing their ability whereas Clarke looks more to work as a unit and to a plan, his leadership has been superb. Looking at the second part of that equation however, I would take Andy Flower over the newly boorish Darren Lehmann any day of the week.

I may be - and I hope I am - utterly wrong and England will come to Australia and pick up where they left off last time. Somehow however like Han Solo used to utter so poignantly 'I've got a bad feeling about this.....' - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

So much more than a dead rubber

England have a pretty decent record against Australia at the Oval, they also have a pretty good record against Australia in dead rubbers. The only difference this time is they are not the ones bringing up the rear.

Non cricket lovers would question the need for a further 5 full days of sport given the series is already decided and usually other than the opportunity to make money they would be quite correct. This time however there is much still to play for.

This Ashes series will always be different from any other that went before because of the immediacy of the one that follows. Granted that whilst nothing that happens in London later this week will physically affect how a ball is bowled in Brisbane, the effect on the psychology of the players going into the next series could be huge.

Everyone seems united in the assumption that England are by far the better team - we're not quite so sure it's that clear cut - and if they go on to win the series 4-0 then it is of course an almighty pasting and will give a clear statement of intent before heading down under.

Should however Australia manage to conjure a win from somewhere - they were extremely close at Old Trafford -then they can afford to feel some optimism if not outright confidence going into the series to come at home.

It could be expected that England may choose to rest some battered bodies but given the context of the upcoming series they will surely wish to drive another point home. Graeme Swann's fitness has been questionable for some years now and Jimmy Anderson has looked listless in the last two tests. A full house at the Oval and Australia in their sights will be too much temptation however and both will play.

For Alastair Cook it will also be an interesting test. There seems little doubt that the captaincy has been weighing on him in this series but with the urn secured outright it will be interesting to see if he can get back to doing what he does best, scoring heavy runs.

The biggest pressure within the England team probably exists for Joe Root and Johnny Bairstow. Other than his huge score at Lords, Root's average has been horrific and Bairstow is a man in desperate need of a big score. England's options look rather limited but it's hard to suggest that Compton would have averaged any worse at opener this series and Gary Ballance is pushing for an opportunity.

Root for sure remains one to persist with but Bairstow is in danger of having a test career falling short of the likes of even Mark Ramprakash and Robert Key who it must be said were facing a far higher level of bowling attacks.

For Australia there is an opportunity to settle the batting order and overall team selection. Coming into the series they appeared to have no idea what their best eleven was but things look much clearer now at least in the short term.

David Warner's return has been very positive for the side. Had he, Nathan Lyon and Ryan Harris been available and selected from the outset then this series may have been far closer.

Oval pitches have been kind to spinners in the past and Nathan Lyon, whilst not a prodigious spinner of the ball may well have an important role to play in this game. He is far from spectacular but he has surely done enough to finally nail down the spin position in the Australian team.

Michael Clarke will have much to ponder again going in to the match but he for one should feel proud of the way he has performed both on and off the pitch. He has batted with style and courage, captained positively in the field and has handled himself with the utmost dignity off the field.

He has done much to restore some faith in a team that had lost a huge amount of public support and he should be congratulated for it. One must feel he for one deserves a test win finally.

The fifth and final test at the Oval will be about far more than simply filling the ECB's bulging coffers, it offers a huge opportunity for both individuals and teams alike to lay down markers before hostilities resume in Brisbane in November - No Nonsense.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mourinho - Like he was never away?

The natural order of things appeared to resume at Stamford Bridge yesterday with a strong Chelsea team overwhelming their opponents in the first half hour and racing in to a 2-0 lead. After half time Chelsea then sat deeper presumably conserving energy for their next game against Villa on Wednesday.

All the while the fans smiled and chanted Jose Mourinho's name and there was a huge roar when Roman Abramovich's image came on the stadium screens. Deja vu anyone? The past has clearly been forgotten.

If Mourinho had any short term doubts about his decision to return they would have been dispelled by a rumbustious but hugely affectionate welcome from the Blues' fans. Their leader had returned, they were delighted and they let him know it.

Chelsea will face sterner tests for sure this year than a newly promoted Hull and a slightly bewildered looking Allan McGregor in goal but there signs of the returning swagger as well as some problems that have not gone away.

Some of Chelsea's interplay in the first half hour was mesmerising. Oscar in particular showed a glimpse that his future may lie in a deeper role with more of the game ahead of him. He continually dropped alongside Lampard and Ramires before playing crisp give and gos with his advanced colleagues causing mayhem in the Hull defence in the process.

Lampard and Ramires looked re-energised but whether they are a true 'holding' pair remains to be seen. There is however strength in depth with Essien and Van Ginkel looking on.

Kevin De Bruyne looked bright on his debut but he will need to improve his decision making in the short term or at least get new shooting boots. Three speculative long range shots went sailing over the bar with Chelsea in a promising position.

Eden Hazard remains an ever so slight enigma. The man is a handful to say the least but he is at the point where he must decide whether he wants to be a fancy dan winger or take his game to the next level and become a player that drives and dictates a game in the vein of Ronaldo or a Luis Figo. One hopes and suspects that with Mourinho around it will be the latter, he clearly has the ability.

Chelsea's defensive strength in depth is there for all to see and whilst Terry is clearly much slower nowadays he remains a consummate reader of the game and a highly underrated passer of the ball.

Fernando Torres had another very 'Torres' game. He showed some intent and nice touches, ran around a fair bit and linked up well with Oscar and Hazard in particular. He also however didn't look close to fashioning a chance that he could score with. Mourinho's post game comments that they still want to buy a striker look more pertinent than ever although Lukaku looked good when he came on.

Mourinho is back where he feels he belongs, Chelsea are winning and the fans are happy but there is still much work to do - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A great result for Arsenal

And no, we are not being sarcastic. Arsenal have had yet another unsatisfactory and downright inept Summer in the transfer market. Hopefully for disillusioned or even angry Gunners fans, this might force the arrival of much needed reinforcements. Somehow we doubt it however.

This was meant to be the Summer that Arsenal finally came to the top transfer table again, it has proven yet another false dawn. After several seasons of frugality coupled with huge income from the Emirates and upheaval at all of the three clubs that finished above them, this was meant to be their time to step up and challenge at the top again.

Arsene Wenger wields huge unchecked power at Arsenal and for that reason he must bear the brunt of the blame for their utter ineptitude in the transfer market. It is however notable that Arsenal have failed to make any impact in the market since David Dein left. The transfer market is a vipers' nest and Arsenal simply do not seem to know any longer how it works, they no longer have the street smarts.

Wenger continually cries foul of the market, of 'financial doping', of huge inflated fees but the reality is that everyone else is getting on with it and Arsenal are holding on to their Champions League status by the skin of their teeth. They are a million miles from challenging for the important silverware.

It is interesting that the returning Jose Mourinho is insistent that trophies are the only thing that matters. Arsene Wenger has lost all sight of this and his personal crusade against the greater direction that football is taking is at the expense of the wishes of the fans. There could be no doubt that the Emirates faithful would far rather have had the decade that Chelsea have just had rather than theirs.

The 'non' transfer of Gonzalo Higuain was case in point. Arsenal postured and quibbled over the transfer of a proven goalscorer and were simply blown out of the water by Napoli. Granted they are armed with loot bagged from the Edinson Cavani transfer but they should not be able to compete with a team from the top end of the Premiership with crowds of over 60,000 every week and over ten years of CL income.

The simple fact is that Arsene Wenger (not Arsenal it should be said) has a valuation of a player and the rest of the world has another. Napoli understood the necessity to buy the player and simply got on with it.

Wenger's valuation of players is baffling. Higuain is a proven La Liga and International goalscorer, holding his own for Argentina against competition from Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. He is 25 years old. Arsenal it was reported were prepared to pay 22M.

Roberto Soldado is a proven La Liga goalscorer with only a handful of caps for Spain. He is 28 years old - 3 years older than Higuain. Spurs get a little more than half Arsenal's crowds and a fraction of the corporate income and have no CL income. Spurs paid 26M for him.

AVB said that Soldado was relatively expensive but explained that you get what you pay for and he is top quality. That is hard to argue with.

The Luis Suarez soap opera is another non event. Liverpool are aiming to replace Arsenal, they are not going to sell to them. If Arsenal were a true big gun they would up the bid significantly and attempt to try and force it through.

Luis Gustavo was heralded as another top transfer target - and what a minder he could have proven for Jack Wilshire - but again it appears he has been lured (not 100% confirmed yet) instead to Wolfsburg, again a club that could hardly claim to possess anything close to the stature that Arsenal enjoys. None of the Premiership top three would be beaten to a player by Wolfsburg or Napoli.

Paulinho is a player of probably similiar compare to Luis Gustavo. He has more Brazilian caps but has no experience of playing in Europe, but again Spurs stepped up to the plate, bought the player and moved on.

Arsenal have been crying out for a top class keeper and yet the excellent Brazilian Julio Cesar has been available all Summer at a knockdown price.

Wenger is again blaming the referee for the Aston Villa result but it is his lack of transfer activity that is to blame. Buying players effectively is a huge part of football at the top table and Arsenal are simply not up to it anymore.

Much relief was felt when Arsenal beat Spurs to 4th place last season but given their inability to leverage on it, possibly it would have been better to have lost out and really force through some change at the Emirates. Everyone else covets the CL not just because of the revenue but because of the power it allows you to wield in attracting players. Possibly Arsenal just want the revenue it seems.

Arsenal have less than two weeks now to buy new players and this year they cannot blame a Fabregas, Nasri or Van Persie saga for things this time around. More Gervinhos and Mertasackers are simply not the answer.

Whilst others do, Wenger continues to whinge and complain, you can almost imagine him closing the door when he gets home in the evening and stamping his feet shouting 'it's not fair', but then life rarely is - No Nonsense.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Blue Ribbons on the Premiership Trophy?

This summer has proven to be a huge phony war with the biggest 'transfers' looking to be non starters. Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez, Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale are all still with their employers of last term. Many newspapers have effectively been sold debating nothing at all it would seem whilst no one seems to be asking who is going to win?

For good order, we are going to dispense with the sponsors' fueled PC notion that six clubs are in contention. There are only three, one of which resides in the posh part of London and the other two from Manchester.

For the champions it has been a largely unsatisfactory summer. It was always going to be a case of after the Lord Mayor's show after 'Sir' left the building - or at least moved office - but the lack of movement in the transfer market must be a concern for fans of the Reds.

The coming of Fabregas was much trumpeted and he would have surely been a superb capture but ultimately an entirely impossible one. ManYoo romped to the title last season but more due to the deficiencies of their competitors rather than this being a vintage team. They remain a side with an ageing defence and a sub standard midfield.

Their biggest transfer story has revolved around a player wishing to depart the club instead. Poor little rich kid Wayne Rooney who badly wishes to fly the nest having been supplanted by RVP. He was oft overlooked by Fergie last season, the Real Madrid match proving the breaking point we are told.

This of course has been music to Chelsea's ears where the newly styled happy one is back where he belongs on the Kings Road. Never one to miss an opportunity to disrupt the opposition, Mourinho hasn't wasted a second in testing Moyes' mettle with two bids for the unsettled Reds No10.

Moyes and ManYoo have so far stood firm and whilst they run the risk of his value plummeting as his contract runs down there appears to be no prospect of them changing their stance.

Chelsea themselves have spent modestly versus last Summer and with less upheaval to their squad and a proven trophy winner returning at the helm they look well placed to challenge for the title again. Hazard and Oscar will be better for a season in the Premiership and Mata has remained. One must also suspect that David Luiz will be the better for Mourinho shining and taking the rough edges off what undoubtedly is an unpolished diamond.

Chelsea however have not addressed last seasons' deficiencies either with questions remaining in central midfield and at centre forward. Marco Van Ginkel has arrived to bolster the midfield but this has been offset by the slightly curious loan move of Oriel Romeu. It is clear Mourinho retains much faith in a fit again Michael Essien, once a mighty force at Stamford Bridge.

Fernando Torres remains and remains an enigma for Chelsea. It could have been expected that Mourinho would have jettisoned him but the owner appears to wish to persevere and it must be a huge temptation for a manager to be the one who revives his career.

Whilst Rooney now appears to be an unlikely arrival, the answer to their problems may be the returning Romelu Lukaku who netted 17 league goals for mid table West Brom last season. He has excelled in pre season and appears to be exactly the type of centre forward that Mourinho craves. If he has a big season then Chelsea may well indeed be true title challengers.

Whilst all around them have pontificated and postured about buying players, Manchester City have simply written the cheques. Like Chelsea they have suffered previously from absurd decision making up top.

Their decisiveness in the transfer market this time around has betrayed their lack of faith in Roberto Mancini last Summer. It begs the question why they extended his contract in the first place? A last gasp Sergio Aguero goal is not the grounds to base your forward strategy on and shows how inexperienced they remain as a club.

In removing Balotelli, Tevez and Mancini they have dispensed with three of the most combustible and negative elements and in Manuel Pellegrini they appear to have brought in an articulate and highly intelligent coach. They also - at at first glance - appear to have bought very well during the Summer although Fernandinho will have to do much to justify his transfer fee.

Losing Sir Alex and with no new players to speak off, ManYoo would appear to have gone backwards. Chelsea will certainly be stronger but it Manchester City who appear to have stolen a march and for that reason we are picking them for the title - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Broad margin of victory for England

3-0 with a test to play and England have been comfortable winners of the Ashes, or have they? Whilst the batting in particular has not been of a classic Ashes standard, it has been a hugely intriguing series so far and far closer than the scoreline suggests.

Thinking back to the series as a whole, other than the hugely lopsided Lords Test, most of the games have been fairly even with Australia probably edging it on 'sessions won'. Indeed the Aussies made the very same point in the closely fought 2009 series. England it seems however have the edge in the pressure situations.

There are also two ways of looking at this England performance, one is that the batting looks atrocious and the bowling below the level that they thought they were at. The other spin of course is that England have comfortably beaten Australia with many of their players performing badly below par and if they re-find their form, then look out Australia.

For Australia it must be a very odd position to be in. Michael Clarke, whilst conceding that England have been the better team must be wondering how on earth he has been on the receiving end of such a hammering. One can say that Australia have been unlucky but in their tours of India and England their record is a dismal P 8, W 0, D1, L7 so far in tests. Only a certain amount of those statistics can be attributed to luck.

Much of Australia's problem appears to have been is they came into the series with no actual idea what their best team was and what their batting order should be. Nathan Lyon and Ryan Harris in particular have been two of Australia's best performers with the ball yet neither was included for the first test with Lyon missing out at Lords too. No one also is quite sure what Phillip Hughes has done wrong.

Whilst England have employed the same top 7 for each test, Australia have rejigged their line up for every game with only Rogers, Haddin and Clarke retaining both their places and batting slots.

Another interesting point is that whilst England are 3-0 up, very few of their players have emerged with any credit from this series. Of the batsmen, only Ian Bell could say he has excelled with Kevin Pietersen performing only in spurts. Cook and Trott have disappointed and Matt Prior has not contributed in any way whatsoever with the bat.

If you removed Joe Root's huge knock at Lords then his numbers look horrendous and Johnny Bairstow has emerged with his fragile reputation tarnished even further. Both will have big target signs on them for the Australian fast bowlers if they are indeed selected for the Gabba.

Of the bowlers, Jimmy Anderson has disappointed hugely after the first two tests, Finn was dropped unceremoniously whilst Bresnan has been his usual steady self. Stuart Broad had been largely disappointing until his match winning performance at Durham. Broad can be enigmatic, grumpy even but he remains a match winner.

Having said that, only Graeme Swann the spinner can be said to have performed consistently and reliably during the series so for England's oft vaunted seam attack there is much to ponder.

For Australia, Clarke has led and led well both in the field and with the bat. He has been the recipient of a couple of wonderful deliveries but other than the first innings in Durham has not really given his wicket away cheaply. He has also captained positively in the field.

Rogers and to an extent Watson have done what they can to give support and Warner has been a positive influence on the team since his reintegration. The team looks far more solid without Ed Cowan but one must really question whether Kawaja should be there at the expense of Phil Hughes.

Lower down, Brad Haddin should take huge credit for his performances on this tour both with bat and glove. He was meant to be the poor relation to Matt Prior but has outplayed him in all facets of the game.

Australia's seam attack has pleasantly surprised with Ryan Harris in particular mercurial at times. Siddle has performed as hard and as honestly as you would always expect with him. Starc and the rest have performed to an acceptable level and Watson has provided genuine 'all rounder' back up.

The spin option has been the weakest spot in the Australian line up since a certain S.K. Warne left the scene with players such as Xavier Doherty hopelessly short of the mark. Ashton Ager proved a false dawn - for the moment - but Nathan Lyon has provided some reliable if unspectacular off spin.

Lyon has held up one end pretty well, taken some crucial wickets including Kevin Pietersen twice in the last test. If Australia use him in the same way that England used Ashley Giles in the context of controlling an end to give respite to the quicks, he could become a very useful player for Australia.

Should England finish things off with another victory at the Oval then they will be favourites to repeat their heroics down under from 2010. This blog however has a feeling that Australia will prove a far tougher nut on home turf especially given the brittle nature of the batting line ups meaning that drawn matches are highly unlikely.

4-0, 3-0 or even 3-1 should be seen as a very comfortable margin but there is a strong suspicion that things might be very different come the end of the Sydney test in the New Year - No Nonsense. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bell Tolls for Australia

A finely balanced test match swung back ever so slightly in England's favour yesterday as a fine century from Ian Bell gave England a lead of just over 200 with 5 wickets remaining. It has become rather a cliche but again the first hour this morning will be critical just as it was yesterday with England dismissing the Australian lower order cheaply. Australia need to return the favour today.

England's top order showed far more intent than in the first innings but again it was again blown away. A superb delivery from Ryan Harris took Joe Root's top stump and Cook uncharacteristically flashed at a wide one getting himself out poorly in much the same way that Clarke did in the first innings.

Australia clearly have a plan for Jonathan Trott and they executed it again well yesterday tempting him into gloving a very high bouncer that he simply didn't need to play. He had been going well until that point.

England have never looked better in this series with the bat than when Bell and Pietersen have been at the crease together and again they led the counter-attack with England in deep trouble. Whilst Bell merely continued serenely on, KP changed his game plan to Nathan Lyon and appeared to be well set before getting a leading edge as he attempted to work everything to the onside.

Johnny Bairstow showed much intent but again got out and remains desperately short of runs along with Joe Root, his huge innings at Lords aside.

England again inexplicably persisted with a nightwatchman, this time the No8 batsmen acting as the nightwatchman for the No7 batsman - make of that what you will - but they appear to be in a handy position if they can bat until at least lunch.

Australia however will be firmly fancying their chances also as the pitch appears to be holding up not too badly and we are after all today only on day 4. If they can chase less than 250 then they will probably be favourites. The first hour has not gone well for the batsmen on any day of this test and given Australia will be avoiding it today with the bat and enjoying it with the ball things may well yet swing back their way - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rogers bucks the trend

It would seem ridiculous to compare a man coming to test cricket so late in life and scoring his maiden test century at the ripe old age of 35 with the one of the modern greats but there was much in Rogers' innings yesterday that a certain J. Langer would have been proud of.

Rogers' hard earned century yesterday was attritional at times - especially on the score of 96 - but there was much there that Matthew Hayden's less celebrated long term opening partner would have been proud of. Rogers is almost certainly not in Langer's class but his grit and spirit was comparable much in the same way that the lesser talented Brad Haddin so echoes Ian Healey at times.

England's total of 238 was almost certainly sub par but Stuart Broad set about restoring the balance of play with an imperious spell of new ball bowling where he was at times unplayable. Warner and Kawaja both got balls that sucked them in not sure whether to play or not. Clarke played loosely on the drive after seemingly being distracted just before by movement in the crowd rather than off the pitch.

Rogers rode his luck at times during that spell from Broad but that is part of being an opening batsmen. There was yet more tedious DRS controversy with Rogers being given out for edging Broad only to be given not out for the edge but found to be out LBW.

Too many column inches have been given over to DRS and it is not the system that is at fault but the people using it. Yesterday was a classic case of international sportsmen in the shape of the England team simply not knowing the rules. Rogers was not out by the laws of the game and rightly stayed at the crease.

After Smith got out cheaply, Shane Watson was brought to the crease. Again in recent days we had written about the possibility of unshackling him by introducing him lower down the order . Again Watson got out without scoring a century but he played with a lot of freedom given the circumstances. Swapping him with Smith in the order and bringing Hughes back at 3 may answer most of Australia's batting conundrums and give them a settled line up finally.

As is often the case, the first hour this morning could be crucial. A lead of 50-100 runs on this pitch could be priceless although Australia do have to bat last and chasing anything more than 200 is going to be extremely uncomfortable. Brad Haddin has the ability to score quickly and England need to get him out cheaply this morning.

Conditions for bowling looked slightly better yesterday and the pitch should deteriorate from here. Australia were also on the receiving end of a spell of bowling from Broad a level above anything England faced on Friday. Despite that Australia still scored more quickly than England did.

Yesterday we spoke about the problems regarding England's scoring rate and whilst Australia didn't actually 'motor on', much of the reason was due to the early wickets lost to Stuart Broad. For all the talk of Rogers' century being not too aesthetically pleasing he outscored the majority of the English batsmen with a scoring rate over 43 as he anchored the innings.

Had Australia scored at England's rate they would only be 190 overnight and the match looking far more in the balance. England will almost certainly be facing a first innings deficit but they need to be far more positive with the bat or Australia will be playing to level the series at the Oval.

England also need a way to get James Anderson back amongst the wickets and it could simply be a case of too much cricket. Should England get a result at Durham, a rest for Jimmy at the Oval may be a good idea however highly unlikely they would drop their premier bowler. His figures however for the third and fourth tests so far are truly dire and there is long winter to come. For the moment he has lost his 'zip' and the ability to make the ball swing.

It was only ever going to be Tim Bresnan at risk of losing out to Graham Onions but Broad surely showed the value yesterday on this pitch of a tall man hitting the pitch hard with an upright seam.

It is not entirely clear whether Graeme Swann has a problem with his spinning finger but it did seem a little odd watching Trott bowl 3 overs of abject mediocrity yesterday whilst Swann had only put down 5 overs at that point. If England are to dig themselves out of yet another possible hole then Swann in the 4th innings and some promising looking rough could well be a trump card.

One thing that is very clear however is that the supposed gulf in class between the sides does not really exist. If all England's players were playing to their full ability then realistically they are the better side but the truth is that Australia are playing the tougher cricket and England now face a battle to win the series before nervous thought is given to the first day at the Gabba - No Nonsense.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

England's scoring rate under the microscope

England's poor batting form continued with another poor display at Chester Le-Street that again showed how brittle and bereft of confidence their batting order is.

Whilst Alastair Cook ground out another half century his scoring rate of 31.10 is an issue and Joe Root merely appears to be hanging around waiting to get out with a run rate of 30.77 yesterday. Whilst Cook should be commended for 'hanging in there', in the process of facing 164 balls he is at some point probably going to get a good ball.

Trott scored freely for once and KP attempted to break the shackles in a slightly unhinged way and whilst he faced only 35 balls he was England's 3rd highest run scorer. Crease occupancy is one thing but England have to start finding a way to score runs more freely as they once did.

With the openers scoring at around 2 or less an over it allows the opposition to maintain attacking fields and England's consistently low totals show that this uber conservative approach is simply not working. The openers are offering no platform for the middle order.

Whilst Andrew Strauss was clearly - by his own admission - in decline, his presence as an opener gave England steadiness and direction. England's scoring rates this series have been dismal with the openers as culpable as anyone.

Bell's scoring rate was only 35.29 and Johnny Bairstow's rate of 18.18 belies a man simply trying to survive. By putting no pressure whatsoever on the bowlers, England are making their task with the bat infinitely harder. Both Prior and Bresnan had scoring rates below 30 also, it is simply making it too easy for Australia.

Australia didn't even appear to be bowling particularly well yesterday with line and length trying to be simply adhered to. Bird was bowling with no real pace, Harris looked to be struggling for rhythm early on and Watson was a little wayward yet their economy rates look like something Glenn McGrath would have been proud of.

England's overall scoring rate for the day was 2.64 per over. If England had scored at even 3.25 per over - hardly overly aggressive in the modern game - they would be just shy of 300 and in a much better place.

More scoring shots would also force Australia to adjust their fields in turn taking pressure off England's bogged down batsmen, they need to break the negative spiral.

Whilst if and buts don't win matches and England have retained the Ashes with two tests to spare, some better weather in the last test and England could be facing upto 2-2  by the end of this match with a cliffhanger at the Oval to come. With some luck going the other way in the first test they could have been looking at going 3-1 down. England are going to have severe problems down under if they cannot remedy their batting problems.

Johnny Bairstow will again come under focus and whilst he is clearly struggling, the order above him could do much to help him by getting England into stronger positions before he comes to the crease. His confidence looks entirely shot and only a big score will help him gain any confidence before heading to the Gabba in November if England indeed keep faith with him.

For Australia, whilst the Ashes are gone for this series, it now looks far from a disaster and they must now be feeling far more confident about holding the urn when England depart Sydney in January.

This is of course no team of world beaters, it is the poorest Australian team for 30 years with their own deficiencies with the bat there for all to see. They do however seem to be prepared to knuckle down far more than England, bowling with discipline and playing with a degree of aggression with the bat that England would do well to consider.

It is possible that the pitch is not as good as it looks and only after Australia have batted will we really know but one must suspect that Australia will again have a decent first innings lead - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Three Unhappy Superstars

Amazingly enough, the wronged triumvirate of Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale are all now injured and unavailable for their club's respective pre season matches. In reality it's a contrived situation that suits all parties.

From the players' point of view, non participation - barring going on strike - is pretty much the only option available no matter what agents may or may not believe. It keeps it newsworthy and gives people - such as myself - something to write about.

From the club's point of view it also makes sense. Having the player around the other players is at this stage is disruptive, encourages an even bigger media scrum and maybe most importantly, the reality is that every player has a price so bearing in mind you might be about to receive an offer you simply cannot refuse then why risk having the player injured?

Rooney's case is probably the most interesting, Suarez's the most pathetic and Bale's probably the most worthy cause.

Rooney as already blogged about clearly wants out of Old Trafford, be it money, footballing reasons, no one really knows as he on the instructions of his agent is keeping sch tum. What is interesting with Rooney is how you value him. Bearing in mind the numbers being talked for the other two, 25 or 30M for Rooney seems very good value, but is it?

His wages are astronomical and his performances have been patchy and Chelsea must sense that ManYoo are tempted at some point. From their perspective, they sell an unhappy player who has not been first choice, he has only two years left of his contract (another big factor) and clear out a quarter of a million quid a week in wages, what's not to like?

The problem for ManYoo is that it sends the wrong message at the beginning of Davie Moyes' career, even if the problem is apparently with his predecessor. Selling to Chelsea could also be suicide if he goes on to have a good season and they finish above the Reds. The situation is far from straightforward.

Luis Suarez it appears lives on Planet Suarez where everything that happens is everyone else's fault and he should be allowed to serenely go around doing as he pleases and playing for whom he pleases.

Liverpool are a wonderful institute, occasionally a touch sanctimonious about certain issues but generally a proud and properly run club. They have stood by Suarez twice now, the first to their detriment and the second in this writer's opinion in any event an overblown storm in a teacup. Regardless, they have supported Suarez at all times and he was given a marvelous reception by the fans earlier this week by all accounts.

It is completely understandable that Suarez wants to play Champions League football but regardless of that fact and as is the case for every player, he has signed a contract and he has no legal right to break it.

There is clearly an issue with his contract that Arsenal believed they could exploit but Liverpool are cast iron that the contract is not explicitly worded such and we would tend to believe them.

Liverpool will let Suarez go but at their price and he should not feel wronged in any way by their instance that if he leaves it is on their terms. Suarez represents everything that everyone despises in the modern footballer.

Now we come to poor Gareth Bale who has fallen foul of the transfer pantomime villan that is Daniel Levy. Levy is much vaunted as the master negotiator who never fails to get his price and in truth he has extracted some fantastic fees for Spurs whilst also picking up some good players at cheap prices.

However, at this stage with the Bale saga, one can almost feel some sympathy for the player and wonder whether Levy has started to drink his own kool aid. If Real Madrid are genuinely prepared to pay 100M for Gareth Bale then Spurs are bonkers not to take it. Santos must be wondering how on earth they were duped into selling Neymar for a mere 57M Euros, HALF the price being talked of for Bale.

Yes, transfer fees invariably go up but this is even beyond the Ronaldo fee. Ronaldo however was arguably the best player in the world at the time- yes we've heard of Messi - but is Bale really that good? It is also not as if British players have a wonderful track record of playing abroad either although that is not Spurs' concern obviously.

Once Real Madrid go public like this they intend to see it done and Levy must know this but again he risks dragging it out too late and also the problem is everyone will know that Spurs will be loaded with loot when they come calling for their players.

For those reasons it smacks of pride that Levy apparently will not countenance a cash plus player swap arrangement. 100M of players could give Spurs a real shot at establishing Champions League football rather than relying on the fitness and form of Bale to constantly dig them out of trouble in the last five minutes.

You could argue how the proceeds should be used for team building but it seems like folly to reject anything approaching 100M for a player who has only had one truly great season. It is possible also he caught everyone a little cold last year as to the level he could play. He will be a marked man this season for sure, whether he can step up another level to counter that like Messi or Ronaldo can is still unknown.

One can understand people wishing to change jobs, nearly everyone does at some point but what the players fail to understand is that given the contracts they have signed they have no right to do so unless there are explicit clauses stating certain criteria that can be met.

They are also not normal jobs, they effect the lives of tens of thousands of people. No doubt these three sagas will drag on until late late late into August with a promise that noses all over Europe will be firmly out of joint by the end, we will watch with interest - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ashes - Two teams with much to ponder.

The Ashes return down under was always going to be the more crucial series. After all, if you lost this English Summer you only had to wait three months for another opportunity. The winners by the time we reach Sydney in January will have two and a half years to puff our out their chests.

It seems incredulous given that England have already retained the Ashes that they could now be considered slight underdogs for the series down under but given the ferocity of the conditions down there and the comparison of the two teams, that may well be the case.

England should of course be congratulated for retaining the urn so promptly. Trent Bridge should have been far more comfortable than it was with only Ashton Ager's knock skewing the match. Lords was then a complete hammering. But it is the swing in power between the sides at Old Trafford that has got everyone so agitated.

The weather alone is the reason that England escaped from Manchester with a draw as other than an hour or so from Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen on Saturday, they were hopelessly outplayed for the entire match. Australia are hardly in rude health but they dominated this test match.

As previously written, Michael Clarke must take huge credit firstly for his mammoth first innings century but also for some fine captaincy including an aggressive first declaration, superb field placings, excellent rotation of his bowlers and then pushing his team to score quickly in the second innings, first class all round.

Mickey Arthur was royally panned for declaring Australia to have the best and most balanced attack in world cricket, how everyone chuckled. Now there is no doubting that the lack of a decent spin option renders that statement nonsensical but Australia's seam attack has looked at least the equal of England's more lauded threesome.

Harris, Siddle and Starc all bowled with discipline, purpose and to a plan during this test match and caused all sorts of problems for England's batsmen. The way they have embraced English seam conditions bowling a slightly fuller length than what they may be accustomed to back home has been impressive to say the least.

If you strip out Jimmy Anderson's figures of 15 wickets at 26 then the stats for the remainder do not look too hot. Broad has taken 6 at 52, Finn 2 at 58 and Bresnan 7 at 28. Siddle's 16 at 21 and Harris' 11 at 18 look far more impressive.

The difference between the sides potentially remains Graeme Swann who has taken 19 at 27. Clarke is clearly hamstrung by the lack of a top class spinner and given Smith's ability to turn his arm over for some occasional leg spin, one wonders whether they would be better simply going with an all pace attack regardless of the dry pitches, they appear to be causing England far more problems with seam.

The series now moves to Durham and finally the Oval and whilst they are technically dead rubbers, there is a huge sub plot in terms of psychology ahead of the return series.

England's batting is currently in the mire and having been there personally on the first day at the Gabba on two occasions, it is not for the faint hearted. Cook badly needs runs and one must simply hope that they come, he is capable of truly mammoth stays at the crease and that will be required.

Root has talent but he must find a way to rotate the strike as he can become hopelessly bogged down at the beginning of his innings and becomes a sitting duck, he needs to find a way to get the scoreboard moving and relieve the pressure on himself.

The Sky Sports pundits believe they have spotted a technical deficiency in Trott in his bringing down an angled bat and if that is the case then hopefully a studious netter such as Trott will address it quickly. One must home he is not just in a terminal decline such as what happened to Robin Smith when he suddenly woke up one morning and wasn't any good any more.

KP remains the trump card and seems to be trying to buckle down - at least outwardly - for the team's cause. Ian Bell has looked imperious so far and one most hope that he conquered his 'down under demons' last time around. A good performance by him could be crucial.

It has to be said it is not looking good for Johnny Bairstow and possibly only a lack of options are keeping him in the side. On this evidence one would not fancy him lasting too long at the Gabba or the WACA. Matt Prior must get back to basics with bat and glove and forget about being Wisden cricketer of the year.

The other issue for England is that of the 'third seamer'. The writer of this blog is a huge fan of Stuart Broad but he needs to get amongst the wickets, he could be hugely influential down under on quicker bouncier tracks. But here is the conundrum at the moment.

There is a huge clamour it appears - very short-termist it must be said- for Graham Onions to play at Chester Le-Street given he is in great form and it is his home track. For him to play it would almost certainly mean Bresnan being dropped yet his stats for the series so far are infinitely better than Broad's. The issue is Broad remains a match winner however.

For Australia, they can only play with the hand that is dealt with them, the problem at the moment is they don't seem sure when to stop shuffling the pack in terms of their batting order. The only fixed point that everyone seems to be agreed on is that Clarke should bat at 4.

The batting does appear less brittle now with Ed Cowan out of the team and Warner adds some grit to the team which it was badly lacking beforehand. Rodgers also has looked reasonably impressive.

Shane Watson remains an enigma and it may make more sense to drop him down the order and go with an opening pair of Rodgers and Warner, both appear to relish the challenge of the new ball.

That is not to say that Watson cannot open but the reality is you simply have to wait for him to get himself out as his high score of 46 in the series indicates. Coming into an innings lower down with a different perspective of the match position may help him to move on to making higher scores, it is certainly worth experimenting as the Ashes are gone - for now - and he is a player of undoubted talent.

Phillip Hughes can possibly count himself a little unlucky to be out of the team given that Khawaja is hardly pulling up any trees. Australia need to decide on a No.3 and stick with him. Steve Smith appears to have earned himself a spot in the team lower down and Haddin and the tail have performed admirably.

Non cricket fans will query the reason for ten day more days of sport for a trophy that has already been won by one side and isn't even made of precious metal. For the Ashes fans however it is going to be - weather permitting - riveting stuff - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

England Hanging On

The third day at Old Trafford proved to be an interesting if not decisive one with England finishing the day 7 wickets down and still some way shy of the follow on target. The first session and even the first hour this morning could prove pivotal in the entire match - and series. The weather forecast is not good however.

Michael Clarke must take huge credit not just for his superlative innings but also - reviews aside - his captaincy in this match. Australia's field settings yesterday and their bowling to a clear plan went a huge way to stymieing England's run rate.

One could only speculate on how this series would swing were Graeme Swann in a baggy green. The unavailability of a class spinner is a huge hindrance to Michael Clarke. England will not feel much sympathy however given years of the likes of Tufnell, Croft and latterly Ashley Giles up against a certain S.K. Warne with Stuart McGill waiting in the wings for good measure.

Right now the teams actually look fairly balanced. Both batting line ups have had the occasional great individual performance such as Clarke and Root and Kevin Pietersen yesterday. Brad Haddin has outplayed Prior so far with both glove and bat and the Australian seam attack has been a match for England's much vaunted threesome. It is only really Graeme Swann that throws the equation on balance towards England.

England's batsmen again flattered to deceive yesterday at times. Cook got in and got out. Trott looks in horrible self doubting nick and Bairstow continues to toil. KP and Ian Bell offered some respite however with some imperious stroke play at times. Indeed there was genuine shock when Ian Bell got out to a beautiful delivery from Ryan Harris that nipped back and took the top of his off stump.

Pietersen enjoyed a reprieve when Australia failed to review a fairly plum LBW, Darren Lehmann signalling the finger afterwards from the balcony. His innings however showed measure and maturity as well as some fine shots such as the wonderful boundary that brought up his hundred.

A draw is no good for Australia and with two days left time is against them. If England fail to achieve the follow on then Clarke can press ahead but if they do, he will be facing the reality of setting a fairly low declaration target especially given the weather. History tells us however that few sides chase 300 or more successfully in the fourth innings, we can expect Clarke to be bold.

England badly need Broad and Prior to bat for at least an hour this morning unmolested and if England can find a way to bat through to lunch then a draw may well begin to look the most likely outcome.

Clarke's Australia have endured horrendous - some of it justified - criticism leading up to and throughout this tour, they have fought back superbly and should be given full credit.

Clarke however must take the lion's share as it is his wonderful 'daddy' hundred that has set the game up for them. His captaincy in this match also has put Alastair Cook in the shade and there is much for England to ponder on, not the least the continued failings of Johnny Bairstow.

Should England secure the draw and retain the Urn there will be smiles all around but even without an Australian victory at Old Trafford, serious thought must be given to England's prospects down. Australia will prove a far more daunting prospect at the Gabba and the WACA in particular.

The English press and pundits have been talking of winning both series as almost a formality. Sir Ian Botham is a boys' own hero but at times he is becoming English commentary's answer to a certain William Lawrie. One only needs to listen to the likes of Shane Warne or Michael Atherton to appreciate the benefit of balanced insightful commentary.

The Ashes could be gone for Australia by the end of today but there is every reason to believe things will be tighter from here on in - No Nonsense.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Anyone for 10-0?

Thought not. England's bravado and the patronising of the Australian team - for being unable to compete - by the assorted press after the Lords Test has been replaced with the very real prospect of batting for the remaining days to attempt to save the third test. There is the prospect of some more traditional Mancunian weather to save them potentially however.

England's bowling lacked any penetration on a fairly benign pitch offering little for anyone other than Graeme Swann. England's body language on the pitch steadily deteriorated as it became clear that they had little answer to the avalanche of Australian runs that were being so comfortably scored.

Comments that England were overly reliant on Jimmy Anderson looked to definitely have some merit as he toiled in the Carribbean like Lancastrian sunshine. Stuart Broad possibly looked the best of the England seamers and was obviously unlucky with a huge LBW shout late on Thursday.

Michael Clarke is Australia's one true world class test batsman and he proved it again without question on Friday putting the England bowlers to the sword with a vast array of attacking shots, it was an innings of the highest quality at a time when Australia needed it most.

Clarke backed up his pugnacious innings with an equally aggressive declaration sending a clear signal of intent to England, he is here to win. He also probably had one eye on the weather forecast.

England toiled on what looked to be an excellent batting pitch which did offer some turn. As a friend of the writer pointed out, one suspects that a certain S.K. Warne would have extracted far far more from the surface than Graeme Swann was able to as hard as it is to knock a five for. Their seam figures were simply miserable.

All of which makes last night's disappointing but somehow unsurprising batting progress all the more galling. England have flattered to deceive with the bat for some time now and again the deficiencies were laid bare by some honest and straight forward seam bowling.

There are certainly no demons in this pitch with it only occasionally offering any encouragement to the seamers and the later siren's call of reverse swing. Having said that, England face considerable work to firstly avoid the follow on before even considering having batted themselves back into the game.

Bearing in mind a draw would secure the urn, it's has been a pretty ordinary effort. The folly of England's persistence insistent of the use of a nightwatchmen was yet again laid bare. Prior should he get amongst the runs will have one less partner now.

Subject to the weather, England face a tough three days to secure an otherwise unlikely draw. Some big names such as Cook, Prior and KP have offered little in this series so far, it is time to step up or the next discussion could be regarding the possibility of 2-2 - No Nonsense.