Andrew Strauss – The best 10 moments

England’s rise in Test cricket has been a fantastic team effort all around, with many players playing a massive part in achieving the number one status before the South Africans cruelly deposed them of their title on home turf. The writing was on the wall for captain Andrew Strauss after the 2-0 defeat to the Proteas following a run of poor form and the incident regarding Kevin Pietersen and this ultimately persuaded the skipper it was time to go.

Strauss has led England to some great victories during his time in charge and marched his team out on 50 occasions of his 100 hundred tests. Winning 24 of those games in charge, he is second only to Michael Vaughan as England’s most successful captain and thanks to his 7,037 runs at an average of 40.91, Strauss will be remembered as one of the best servants English cricket has ever seen. The captaincy will now pass to Alistair Cook and to remember his predecessor, we take a look back at ten of Straussy’s greatest England moments:

Ten of the costliest dropped catches of all time

England have lost their ranking as the best test team in the world after a 2-0 defeat to South Africa and although the Proteas were excellent in all forms of the game, England badly let themselves down with their catching in particular. They dropped nine chances as the series went on, with James Anderson crucially shelling a chance off AB De Villiers during South Africa’s second innings at Lords. He went on to make a match saving partnership with Hashim Amla and they took the game away from England.

Everyone knows that catches win matches, so hanging onto the key chances in a match is simply vital. Put one down and you never know when the next opportunity might come around. While Anderson’s miss was a costly one, there are several others in history that spring to mind that have proved crucial on the outcome of the match. We take a look at ten of the costliest dropped catches of all time:

England vs. South Africa – Top TEN moments

With the England South Africa test series underway, Andrew Strauss’s men are looking to defend their status as the number one test team in the world. Their opponents are the main challengers to England’s spot on top of the world though and Graeme Smith will fancy his chances of leading his boys to an away series win. The summer should see some fantastic cricket between two fantastic sides and to celebrate the series ahead, we take a look at ten of the best England South Africa moments:

Mind the Windows Tino: Cricket's Top 10 Sledges

After the West Indies’ Shannon Gabriel had to return back to the Caribbean with a back problem following the first test at Lords, his replacement saw the return of a certain Mr Tino Best, much to the delight of Freddie Flintoff. Back in 2004, with Flintoff at the height of his powers, the West Indies were touring and in action at Lords. With England looking to bowl their opponents out in the second innings, Tino Best came to the crease against spinner Ashley Giles. This prompted Flintoff to infamously ask Tino to ‘mind the windows’, a comment that caused Best to charge down the wicket, only to miss the turning ball and get stumped for his troubles. In celebration of Tino’s return to England, here are 10 of the best sledges cricket has ever heard:

10. James Ormond vs. Mark Waugh

Back in 2001, Jimmy Ormond, a young bowler of just 23, made his full test debut against the Australians. As he walked out to bat, he met the usual Aussie chirp upon his arrival at the wicket. Mark Waugh could always offer a few choice sayings to unsuspecting batsman and on this occasion he asked Ormond: “Mate, what are you doing out here? You’re not good enough to play for England.” Ormond’s reply? “Maybe not. But at least I’m the best player in my own family.”

 

9. Rod Marsh vs. Ian Botham

Botham and Marsh were both great characters of the game who could be expected to provide a few fireworks. However, when Beefy marched to the crease during an Ashes clash, Marsh greeted him with the question: “How’s your wife and my kids?” Never one to miss an opportunity, Botham piped up: “The wife’s fine, but the kids are retarded.”

 

8. Eddo Brandes vs. Glen McGrath

Glen McGrath bowling at the Zimbabwean number 11 Eddo Brandes, who was a chicken farmer by full-time trade, was never going to be much of a contest. However, as the Aussie flashed another delivery past Brandes’s outside edge, he snarled at the batsman: “Why are you so fat?” Quick as a flash, Brandes retorted: “Because everytime I f**k your wife, she gives me a biscuit.”

 

7. Fred Trueman vs. Raman Subba Row

Truman was a fiery Yorkshireman who wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion on the pitch. He also wasn’t afraid to sledge his own teammates. During one game, Trueman caught the batsman’s outside edge, only for it to race to the boundary after passing through Subba Row’s legs. He apologised to Fiery Fred, saying: “Sorry Fred, I should have kept my legs together.” An angry Trueman replied: “So should your mother.”

 

6. James Anderson vs. Mitchell Johnson

During England’s comprehensive Ashes victory in 2010, pace bowlers Anderson and Johnson had a battle of wits going on throughout the series. However, Jimmy showed that actions speak louder than words and I’ll let the video tell the full story…

 

5. Tony Greig vs. David Hookes

Tony Greig may have been the captain of England, but just like much of the present day team, his origin of birth was South Africa. So in 1977, when 21-year-old Hookes walked out to bat on his debut for the baggy green and golds, Greig inquired: “Sonny, when are your balls gonna drop?” Hookes then responded: “I don’t know, but at least I’m playing cricket for my own country!”

 

4. Arjuna Ranatunga vs. Ian Healy

Sri Lankan skipper Ranatunga wasn’t exactly the slimmest of figures on the cricket pitch and Aussie keeper Ian Healy was quick to point that out on a number of occasions. However, during a one-day clash between the two countries, Ranatunga called for a runner after suffering a minor injury. Healy however, doubted the necessity for a runner, declaring: “You don’t get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat c***!!!”

 

3. Viv Richards vs. Greg Thomas

The West Indian was at the top of his game, playing for Somerset against Glamorgan in the Country Championship. However, on this occasion Thomas was enjoying a bit of luck, making Richards play and miss a number of times. Frustrated at his lack of wickets, Thomas walked up to Richards and held up the ball, telling him: “It’s red, round and weighs about five ounces if you’re wondering.” Next ball, Richards dispatched the bowler clean out of the ground and into the river, quipping “You know what it looks like, go and find it.”

 

2. Merv Hughes vs. Robin Smith

Australian paceman Hughes was famous for three things, his lightening-fast bowling, his legendary moustache and also his quick-witted sledging. Hughes never missed the opportunity to rile his opponent and could produce a top ten list of his own. However, he had a great ongoing battle with England batsman Robin Smith, once telling him to turn over his bat where he’d find the instructions to use it. However, during one test in 1989, Hughes had Smith all over the place during one particularly fine spell of bowling and snarled at the Englishman: “You can’t f*****g bat.” Smith promptly dispatched the next ball to the boundary and yelled down the wicket: “Hey Merv, we make a fine pair. I can’t f*****g bat and you certainly can’t f*****g bowl.”

 

1. Sharne Warne vs. Darryl Cullinan

Whenever South Africa and Australia clashed during the 1990’s, the highlight of the game was often the slanging matches between Warney and South African batsman Darryl Cullinan, who notoriously struggled against the King of Spin. However, on one occasion, Cullinan, who had been out of the game for the best part of two years with injury, walked to the wicket with Warne awaiting. The larger-than-life Aussie proclaimed: “I’ve been waiting two years for this opportunity to humiliate you in front of your own crowd.” Cullinan replied nonchalantly: “Looks like you’ve spent it eating!”

Beginning of the End

Since the Indians lost their number one spot in the rankings, cricket fanatics have speculated over the need to drop the elderly statesmen that make up the Indian batting line up. It is no secret that the Indian middle order has the average age of the residents of an old people’s home but for so long they have provided unprecedented stability and diversity.

Dravid’s recent retirement from international cricket could potentially have a domino effect on this ageing batting line up, as the poor performances in recent test series against England and Australia have left critics questioning their right to remain in the side. With plenty of young talented batsmen waiting in the wings at domestic level, it would be a bitter shame for the team to continue down the same road of selection, especially given their desperately disappointing form of late. It begs the question as to whether they should be forced out of the side altogether or given the opportunity to call time on their wonderful careers in their own way.

With the exception of Tendulkar (who is still scoring runs consistently), Laxman and Sehwag have not delivered for some time. Both players could therefore  follow Dravid’s professional example and step down, to give younger players the opportunity to establish themselves in the Test arena. The fact that they have retained their places in the side for so long pays great credit to their outstanding abilities and attitudes towards this beautiful game. Sehwag the youngest of the golden generation at 33, potentially has a few more years left in him. As for Laxman, scoring runs against the West Indies could have overshadowed his performances against stronger bowling attacks, such as England and Australia. VVS has achieved great things during his career, providing the backbone for India’s middle order time and time again but now it’s time to for him to step aside and reflect on a wonderful knock in Test Cricket.

There’s no doubt this transitional phase will be extremely challenging for India, much as it was for Australia when the likes of Warne, McGrath and Hayden exited the Test arena. However, there is certainly plenty of talent amongst the younger crop of Indian players, though experts debate as to whether they have the correct attitude required to fill the illustrious shoes of those that stood before them.

The Final Hurdle

This month, England travel to Sri Lanka, where they have another chance to prove themselves in the sub-continent. After a humiliating Test series against Pakistan, England fought back to win the one day and Twenty20 series and did so playing with a completely different mind set against the Pakistani bowlers, who had the better of them during the tests.

Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook both set the tone during the one day series, Pietersen finally showing some prolific form and that mesmerising ability to dominate every type of bowling. After the obvious tentative nature of England’s batting during the test series, a change in attitude was clearly evident, and it worked wonders in the results of both forms of limited overs cricket.

It is essential for the likes of Strauss and Pietersen to continue playing positively and not let the Sri Lankan bowlers dictate terms to them. Even though there will be plenty of nerves going into the series, England have actually enjoyed recent success against Sri Lanka, most notably in the back end of the 2011 summer. However, in the past, the sub-continental wickets have proven to be England’s nemesis, so for complete credibility as the Number One test side in the world, it is vital for them to win in all conditions.

The omission of Eoin Morgan was rightly justified and could give Ravi Bopara another opportunity to prove himself in the test arena after he played well during the one day internationals. England could also introduce Samit Patel at number six, thus providing another spin option and essentially giving Strauss five front line bowling options. In saying this, it is widely expected that Bopara will get the nod, indeed the man can contribute with ball in hand anyway. Personally, I would pick Patel as Bopara has had his chance at Test level on several occasions, though it seems unlikely the selectors will see it that way.

While the bowling department is performing consistently, the batsmen have a lot to answer for. It’s not a question of skill or ability (just look at the last Ashes series), it is purely mindset and application. If England have hope of retaining their number one spot in test matches, it is vital they avoid making the same mistakes they made against Pakistan.

Australia here and now

The back-to-back Ashes defeats and failure to retain the World Cup ensured Australia were a team in a crisis. With huge media pressures and serious selection issues, something had to give. Unfortunately for him, Ponting knew it was time to step down if not because of his personal poor form, then for the opportunity to add a new vibe to an otherwise fading team. Even after being one of Australia’s most successful captains for an extended period of time, speculation grew over his ability to captain an inexperienced side with the absence of greats such as Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, and Gilchrist.

This criticism arose with the sudden departure of many of these legends. Little did the selectors know the impact this would have on the newly formed Australian side, that appeared to be all but premature. Many commentated on the need of a creative incite to Ricky’s captaincy that was previously not required, this was quickly countered by fellow team mates, however it was inevitable that with the retirement of these greats, came the unveiling of Australia’s lack of strength in depth.

Ponting’s retirement in March 2011 gave way for Michael Clarke to take the reins, however there was speculation over his popularity within the side. It would seem that the arrival of 2012 had a dream impact on the Australian team as the batsmen, both new and old, started scored heavily and the bowlers were certainly in their element. In late 2011 Australia beat Sri Lanka, drew with South Africa and New Zealand and then finally in the New Year thrashed India 4-0. This comprehensive victory came at the perfect time for Michael Clarke, who found a prolific purple patch of form scoring 626 at an average of 125.2; this included a selfless captain’s nock of 329 not out, which certainly raised his popularity, not to mention showing what an outstanding player his is.

Ponting himself also came back into form in the same series and while batting at number four, he made a spectacular return to form, scoring 544 runs at an average of 108.8, including two hundreds and three half centuries. Though he no longer expects to play limited overs cricket, he has once again proven himself in the test arena and will surely retain his place for future tours.

But why the sudden change around in confidence and ability? Have the new members of the squad introduced a new vibe to the team? Or have the selectors finally got it right?

Replacing what is considered to be the best spinner and best seam bowler of all time both was never going to be an easy ask of the Australians, although they have been extremely ruthless in selection. The retirements of these great and inspirational players were the underlying reason for Australia’s selection issues from 2007 onwards. Australia have used a staggering 11 spinners since the retirement of Shane Warne and many feel that the majority of them weren’t given long enough to impress. Were they all dropped because they simply weren’t good enough? Or were the Australian Cricket Board and selectors simply too stubborn to admit that it would be unreasonably difficult to replace Warne’s greatness? Either way they have finally found a young gun that is doing the job for them. Nathan Lyon, having just turned 24, definitely has a bright future ahead of him. He bowls with traditional flight, varying his pace and above all, he spins the ball, something that the previous 11 spinners lacked. Taking 5 for 34 on debut was a dream start and he has continued to cement his place in the side ever since, regularly taking wickets and giving the new captain Michael Clarke control.

With the spin department taken care of, it was down to the seam bowlers, a flaw in Australia’s armour since the days of McGrath, Lee and Gillespie and one that England took full advantage of during the recent Ashes series down under. Unlike Australia, England had been planning and developing their bowling attack for 18 months prior to the series, so much so that they had a full replacement bowling attack, which was called upon to great success during the series. Recently Australia have found some promising new fire bolts that could potentially guide the side through the tough tours ahead.

These names include the young Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson, who have both proved impressive so far, Cummins has real pace and the ability to bowl wicket-taking deliveries on a regular basis, as proven on debut against South Africa, taking 6 for 79. Touted to become the leader of the Australian attack, the selectors have realised his potential and offered him a central contract, at 18 he is the youngest to be contracted since the scheme was introduce in 1998. Pattinson has also put his name forward as the one to watch over the near future and the Australian selectors certainly hold him in high regard as they offered him a contract in 2011 with only six first class matches to his name. On debut he bowled with control at decent pace and got just rewards taking 5 for 27, with his accuracy and strength makes him a promising prospect for the future of Australia’s bowling attack.

These new players have linked well with the old warhorses Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus who are both enjoying very productive summers, and if Australia continue to prosper in this way, then it looks like we may actually get a competitive home Ashes series after all