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!”

Top 20 Sportsmen with mentally dyed hair

We’ve all sported a bad hairstyle at some point. Cut it too short, grow it too long or even gone for something extravagant like a Mullet or a Mohawk. However, many of us are not in the public eye on a sports pitch. Leeds Rhinos caused a bit of a stir with their lovely new red numbers that was intended as a good cause for Sports Relief. However, after the side’s dismal defeat to St Helens, questions were raised over their professionalism and whether it affected their performance on the pitch. Regardless of your opinion on that matter (for the record, I think it’s a load of bollocks), here is a countdown of the Top 20 Sportsmen with mentally dyed hair:

20. Dan Hardy (UFC) – A Mixed Martial Arts fighter with a decent record of 23 wins out of 34 fights, Hardy is known as much in the cage for his hairstyles as much as his fighting ability. Whether his red Mohawk is enough to put opponents off is questionable…

19. Tom Chilton (Touring Car Racing) – Chilton is a British racing driver, who will debut in the World Touring Car Championship in 2012 after a decent spell at national level. You may recognise Chilton from appearances on Top Gear however, indeed he was rumoured to be The Stig for some time. This would be impossible though, as Chilton wouldn’t be able to show off that wonderfully coloured hair under the helmet…

18. Frankie Dettori (Horse Racing) – A legendary jockey, who has been described by some as perhaps the best of all time. Dettori also has a bit of character to him as well, highlighted during his spell as a captain on a Question of Sport. Franke turned blonde for a while in 2003, something that didn’t exactly suit his dark features, but to his credit, he raised over £1000 for charity in the process.

17. Marc Bircham (Football) – Bircham was a Canadian international who enjoyed a solid career in the Football League. He became popular with fans, especially at QPR, when he dyed his hair the colour of his team, earning his own terrace chant that went: “We love you Bircham because you got blue hair, we love you Bircham because you’re everywhere, we love you Bircham because you’re Rangers through and through” At least till he moved till Yoevil, where the shirts are green instead…

16. Abel Xavier (Football) – Plenty of people have dallied with peroxide blonde before, but not many looked like Abel Xavier after the effects. The Portuguese international enjoyed a long career at the top of the game, playing for both Liverpool and Everton. It’s fair to say that Xavier won’t be remembered for his skill as a full back though, but more his selection of mental hair-dos, perfected by the bottle of bleach he used to pour in willy-nilly.

15. Kevin Pietersen (Cricket) – Ah KP. England’s golden boy has always dazzled crowds, indeed with the help of Freddie Flintoff and 20/20, Pietersen has ensured cricket remains an entertaining sport. Kev’s ego often needs a good massage and his hairstyles make sure he captures the attention he so badly craves. Sporting a rather unusual skunk hairstyle, dyed blonde down the middle, Pietersen took the Aussies apart in his debut series, making that memorable 158 at the Oval that saved the game and won England the Ashes in 2005. To be honest, KP can bat naked with pink hair as long as he keeps spanking Australian bowlers out of the ground.

14. Freddie Ljungberg (Football) – Mr Ljungberg has never been short of confidence, just look at those underwear adverts that had ladies on the Tube falling down escalators left, right and centre for a second look. The Swede enjoyed a sensational spell with Arsenal and also introduced some sensational hair colours to England during his time in the Premier League. Possibly the only man in history to pull off a pink Mohawk effectively.

13. Joe Marler (Rugby) – Stuart Lancaster’s new look England team is all about discipline, respect and teamwork, with individuality slightly frowned upon. Perhaps that’s why talented Harlequins prop Joe Marler didn’t make his debut in this year’s Six Nations. Sporting a number of different hairstyles and hair colours, Marler refuses to change for anyone, not even his country, telling the Daily Mirror before the tournament: “I don’t see any reason why I would have to change, or why I need to tone down my appearance. There was a ridiculous article suggesting I might not get selected based on my haircut or my colourful boots. As for my hair? Yes it is not currently it’s natural colour. It looks like a 60-year-old woman’s blue rinse because the hair dye didn’t really work. But am I going to tone it down? No. There’s no need. What you look like doesn’t determine how good a rugby player you are or how professional you are. I am what I am.”

12. Jose Reyes and Harley Ramirez (Baseball) – Most people with ginger hair spend their life dying it or wishing it was another colour, so it’s unclear why Reyes and Ramirez of the Miami Marlins decided to dye their hair orange. Team bonding at it’s very best eh!

11. David James (Football) – They say all goalies are crazy, but none more so than David James. Known for his eccentricity between the sticks and apparent intelligence off the field, it would be nice to know what David was thinking most of the time he visited the barbers. Name a colour or style and James has adopted it. If only he’d concentrated more on training…

10. Phillips Idowu (Triple Jump)  – The poster boy for London 2012 and deservedly so. His gold in Beijing was a spectacular performance and everyone hopes he can repeat the feat again this summer. Idowu may not be your average athlete, indeed his red hair catches the eye leaping into the sand pit, but at least all those corporate swines stealing all the Olympic tickets will be able to know which one he is easily…

9. Jamie Lawrence (Football) – Average footballer, terrific hair. Lawrence was a regular for Bradford City during their brief spell in the Premiership and he almost made watching the Bantams bearable during that period, sporting a new colour of hair every week. Perhaps his teammates were so distracted, they forgot to defend as well.

8. Ron Artest (Basketball) – The NBA defensive player of the year in 2004 currently stars for the Lakers, meaning he has to resort to other methods to distract the attention away from Kobe Bryant. He tried his hand at rapping, but instead resorted to eccentric haircuts, including the classic yellow with purple writing. Why couldn’t the Lakers have chosen a black kit instead?

7. Colin Miller (Cricket) – For such a placid bunch, it’s surprising to see another cricketer hit the Top 20. However, Colin Miller was no ordinary cricketer, indeed the Australian bowler had an array of hair colours that put Shane Warne to shame. His rather fetching blue trim apparently gave Courtney Walsh a good chuckle at the crease. Not many people managed that during their career…

6. Ireland (Cricket) – Think back to the World Cup in India and the shockwaves the Irish team made. Not just with their stunning win over England, but also their less-than-stunning hair colours. The side rolled out an assortment of dyes to raise awareness for the Irish Cancer Society and we will now have the image of Kevin O’Brien celebrating scoring the quickest hundred in World Cup history with a white and pink barnet for ever. Only the Irish…

5. Djibril Cisse (Football) – The French striker has always been a bit barmy and England has been able to enjoy his antics during his spells at three Premiership clubs. Colourful character, but Djibril also has the colourful hair to match that. Jamie Lawrence eat your heart out!

4. Dennis Rodman (Basketball)  – Not many words can be used to describe Dennis Rodman. Let’s be honest, he is slightly odd. From wearing a wedding dress to promote his autobiography to that appearance on Big Brother, no-one knows what Rodman will do next. The same applies to his hair, indeed there isn’t a style invented that ‘Dennis the Menace’ hasn’t tried. I’ll let the picture do the talking.

3. Tonga (Rugby) – In terms of hair colouring, this one was ‘the one that got away.’ During the 2007 World Cup, the Tongan squad decided to embark on a bit of a publicity stunt, dying their hair green to show their gratitude for Irish bookmaker Paddy Power who supported them financially during the tournament. However, the curse of the bureaucratic red tape struck again and the IRB ordered them to change the colour, suggesting the stunt constituted advertising. So the rugby world missed out on the Tongan side performing with green hair. Might have clashed with the pitch a bit…

2. Romania (Football)  – During the 1998 World Cup, Romania faced a tough pool containing England, Colombia and Tunisia. To motivate themselves, the squad agreed to dye their hair peroxide blonde if they won the group, a feat no-one expected them to do anyway. However, a late winner against England meant Romania qualified as group winners and therefore faced Croatia in the second round. Fully equipped with bleach blonde hair. It didn’t do them any favours either as they crashed out thanks to a Davor Suker penalty.

1. Leeds Rhinos (Rugby League) – The Super League Champions had made a decent start to their season, before they made the trip to misfiring St Helens who had just sacked their coach. To raise money for Sport Relief, the Rhinos decided to organise a team hair-dying session, with the squad sporting rather fetching bright red tops for the match. However a 46-6 defeat left people questioning their professionalism, something that Leeds coach Brian McDermott scoffed at. It’s fair to say their faces were left as red as their hair though…

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.