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Tempers Simmer Under the Durban Sun

Sledging has become part and parcel of test cricket. Whenever the top test nations compete, there are always a few words exchanged. It adds to the contest and stirs up not only the players but the crowd also feeds off the animosity. They contribute to the discussion whenever an opposing player is within earshot. Most of the time it is good-natured and considered quite clever. It can turn hostile depending on what boundary a player is fielding on around the world.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Tempers boiled over during the first test at Sahara Computers-sponsored Kingsmead Stadium. There is normally a fair bit of back and forth between South Africa and Australia. What took place in Durban went beyond anything seen between the Proteas and Baggy Greens. Normally the verbals stay on the pitch. In this instance, they carried on even after the players had left the field.

Warner and de Kock

David Warner had to be restrained by his teammates as he tried to confront the young Quinton de Kock. The incident took place as the players made their way to tea on the fourth day. Walking up the Kingsmead stairs to the dressing room, Warner released a verbal tirade. The Australian opener was eventually pulled away and the incident fizzled out.

It’s clear that a mark was overstepped but by who no one knows. The lines with the Australians have been blurred in the past. Since the stairwell standoff, both players have been charged. The ICC has charged Warner with a level 2 offence and de Kock a level 1.

What this has done is set the stage for what will be one of the best ever test series between these two. The global interest has peaked. These two great nations are going to give it everything they have over the next three tests.

Who Has The Advantage?

After the Australians won the first test at Kingsmead, they are in the ascendency. The Baggy Greens won by 118 runs and dominated from start to finish. Their bowling attack delivered with ruthless efficiency. Messers Starc and Lyon were hugely impressive and accounted for 12 of the 20 wickets. If the Proteas are to get back on level terms, they will need to deal with those two a lot better.

The South Africans also have a formidable bowling attack. Spinner Keshav Maharaj picked up a five-fer in the first innings in Durban. Maharaj could have a huge influence on the outcome of the series. The last time the Aussies battled with spin trouble was in the subcontinent last year. There was a lot of talk about how they needed to pass the spin test in Bangladesh. The Australians only ended up drawing that series. That was purely down to failing to negotiate the Bangladesh spinners.

The evidence in Durban suggests the Australians will battle against Maharaj. As of the 7th of March, Betway has Australia at 2/5 to win the series. It is without a doubt that they are the favourites but there are a few chinks in their armour.

History is on Australia’s Side

Australia hasn’t lost in the rainbow nation since readmission back in 1991. The reasons why Australia had the edge going into the Ashes as favourites apply against South Africa. History is on the side of the Australians. They are also very good at exploiting inexperienced sides.

The last time South Africa beat Australia at home in a series was in 1969. For 21 of those 50 years, South Africa was in sporting isolation. Unfortunately for the Proteas, it doesn’t hide the fact that, in the last 29 years, they are winless at home.

The stars of Australia’s new era are picking up where their retired counterparts left off. Already one down in the series, it looks like history might be repeating itself. The good news for the Proteas is that records are there to be broken. The teams head to Port Elizabeth next. The last time these two clashed at St Georges Park in 2014, South Africa won by 231 runs.

The Stakes Have Been Raised

After the heated clash between members of the two sides, there is an added incentive to win. Feathers have been ruffled and both camps are pointing fingers. The only way to settle the score is with bat and ball. Sledging may be a customary part of the game nowadays but it doesn’t win test matches.

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Can England Make Number One Surge in 2017?

England are in danger of dropping to their first series defeat in almost year in India, trailing Virat Kohli’s men 2-0 with just two matches left on the tour. The Three Lions have been a resilient outfit under new coach Trevor Bayliss, losing just one of their series since he took charge in 2015, but their below-par performances in the sub-continent may end their solid record.

(Feature Image “Lords” (CC BY 2.0) by HerryLawford)

Alastair Cook’s side have had major issues coping with excellent spinners in their tours to the United Arab Emirates and India. First Pakistan’s Yasir Shah tormenting their batsmen and now Ravichandran Ashwin has ripped through their batting line-up with relative ease to put his team on the brink of claiming a series win over the Three Lions.

Despite their problems in the sub-continent England’s form elsewhere has been impressive, defeating South Africa on their travels, while they are also current holders of the Ashes. Injuries have hit Cook’s men hard over the past year, leaving them without many of their best players for extended periods, including Ben Stokes and James Anderson, while Stuart Broad has also suffered.

The battling qualities the Three Lions have shown over the 18 months will be need in abundance on their next tour of Australia. Cook’s men were hammered 5-0 in a whitewash defeat to the Baggy Greens on their last visit Down Under. As a result, England are backed in the latest cricket odds at 13/5 to triumph over their great rivals, meaning that there is plenty of work ahead for Bayliss, Cook and the rest of the players to retain the Ashes.

On the bright side for England there is no world-class spinner awaiting them in Australia, while their chief tormentors of the 2013/14 series defeat Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris have both been forced into retirement. The Baggy Greens have problems of their own, highlighted in their series defeats to Sri Lanka and South Africa, while a tough challenge lies ahead against Pakistan.

England host the Proteas and the West Indies next year before their trip Down Under. Should the Three Lions win all those series on the bounce they would have a strong chance of ending the year as the number one ranked side in the world, achieving the feat for the first time since 2011. The only potential obstacle could be keeping their key men fit, which has been the biggest issue Bayliss has encountered since taking over the side.

The Three Lions will play a lot of cricket in 2017 and cultivating depth will be a key factor, although there have been problems keeping a settled 11 on the field. Haseeb Hameed proved his quality even at the young age of 19 that he can be a long-term contributor at the top of the order, although the same could not be said of Ben Duckett, who became the latest name on the carousel to fail to lock down his place in the team, joining James Vince and Gary Ballance to struggle at number four this year.

"England vs Bangladesh" (CC BY 2.0) by p_a_h
England vs Bangladesh” (CC BY 2.0) by p_a_h

In the bowling department Chris Woakes’ emergence in the summer would have been a huge relief for the coaching staff to alleviate the pressure on Broad and Anderson, but beyond him Steven Finn and Jake Ball are yet to prove that they can be consistent performers in the team. England are blessed with one of the strongest talent pools in the world and should they fail to make the grade the production line will continue to churn players out like Hameed this year.

England have a daunting task ahead of them, but the reward could propel them onto greater things in the future, especially if they can continue to bring young talent through.

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BBL06 Season Preview

After the exciting grand final finish at the MCG last season that saw the Sydney Thunder defeat the Melbourne Stars in a final over thriller, all eight sides will be gunning for the crown in this season’s sixth edition of the competition.

One of the best Twenty20 leagues in the world has commanded some of the best players of the shorter-format once again, as Stuart Broad (Hurricanes) Ian Bell and Mitchell Johnson (Scorchers) headline some big signings, while England captain Eoin Morgan (Thunder), Kevin Pietersen (Stars) and Dwayne Bravo (Renegades) return for another stint at their respective clubs.

Both Melbourne sides are favourites for the trophy and are at $6.00 (odds courtesy of CrownBet), and are joined at the top by Perth and the Sydney Thunder, with BBL06 set to be the tightest it’s ever been.

Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Sixers follow the top four sides on $7.50 with the Brisbane Heat closely behind them on $8.00.

The Hobart Hurricanes round out the sides at $9.00, although with so little space between the top and bottom sides any team is a genuine chance to win the competition.

The Sydney derby kicks off the BBL06 season on December 20, as the first round of the season goes over the opening three days, before a Christmas break halts play until Boxing Day.

When play resumes on December 26 the summer of cricket gets into full swing, as a BBL game is played on every day bar three before the season comes to a close on January 21. The final will be played on January 28.

Despite not making the final last season, Adelaide will be looking to pick up from where they left off, after the Strikers won seven of their eight matches during the season to finish clear on top of the table.

The Stars and Scorchers finished equal second with five wins each, while the Thunder surprisingly won the title from fourth after four wins and four losses throughout the season.

With half the sides making the finals and given Sydney’s recent success from fourth, every team will believe they’re a chance to win the title from any finals position, which is set to make the upcoming season the best in BBL history.

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Will Stokes’s injury hurt England’s chances against Pakistan?

The England all-rounder, Ben Stokes, has been ruled out of the third test against Pakistan at Edgbaston. Could his absence upset the balance of the side and tip the scales in the opposition’s favour?

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BEN STOKES – (CC BY-SA 2.0) by NAPARAZZI

Ben Stokes missed England’s first test against Pakistan emerged as victors by 75 runs. The 25-year-old returned to the fold for the second meeting of the two sides at Old Trafford, as England bounced back to level the series at 1-1. The hosts annihilated their opposition, and won by 330 runs. Stokes put in a fairly decent performance with 34 runs and 2 wickets, but it was perhaps his dressing room and on-pitch presence that helped spur the Lions on to victory.

In the stunning victory, Stokes received the crushing blow that his injury woes are far from over. He tore a muscle in his right calf while bowling, and has not been selected for the Edgbaston test that starts on Wednesday. After suffering from knee problems that saw him miss most of the Sri Lankan tour and the first test against Pakistan, the player who has been compared to Andrew Flintoff by some will be desperately hoping he can recover quickly. If he had managed to avoid injury and had the chance to push on properly after his record innings of 258 against South Africa last year, he could have been on the path towards becoming one of the world’s best.

Even in the all-rounder’s absence, England at odds of 4/6 in the cricket betting to win the series at the time of writing. If they fail to win the third test, though, the best they can hope for is a draw, with the odds for that outcome currently at 5/2.

joe_root

JOE ROOT – (CC BY-SA 2.0) by NAPARAZZI

The Lions are well favoured for the series after Joe Root’s imperious form shone through in the second test. The Yorkshireman bagged 254 runs in the first innings against Pakistan at Old Trafford, and followed up his career best with 71 not out in the second innings. Certainly, with the 25-year-old fresh from such a huge confidence boost, the Lions will fancy their number 3 batsman can build upon those astonishing hits. The captain, Alastair Cook, is also in fine fettle having scored a century and two fifties so far in the series.

On the back of a solid performance in the second test, England should be able to push on and gain the upper hand in the third. The Lions already have another all-rounder at their disposal in Chris Woakes, who has made an excellent case for his permanent inclusion. The 27-year-old has already picked up 18 wickets and is odds on at 1/16 to be England’s bowler of the series. He hasn’t been quite as convincing with the bat, though, so England may want to play a specialist batsman in Stokes’s place.

There is no doubt that the absence of Stokes is a huge blow for the player and the team, but England have shown how devastating they can be, and can push on to win this series.

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Australia need strong 2016 campaign to prove Ashes credentials

Australia surrendered the Ashes without a huge fight in the 2015 series as Stuart Broad led England to victory to reclaim the urn.

The Baggy Greens put in weak efforts with the bat at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge allowed Alastair Cook’s men to avenge their whitewash defeat 18 months prior.

However, they are backed at 2/1 in the latest cricket odds to win back the Ashes Down Under next year, although both teams are a long way from being ready for another encounter.

The series defeat in England brought about the end of Michael Clarke’s career as he struggled with a back injury throughout the summer, while Chris Rogers also departed the international arena, leaving huge voids in the line-up.

Steve Smith continued his impressive run of form in the series with centuries at Lord’s and The Oval, but failed to make an impact in bowler-friendly conditions.

He inherited the captaincy from Clarke and the Aussies made a strong start under his reign by overcoming their defeat to England as they brushed aside New Zealand.

Their dominance with the bat proved to be the difference between the teams in a 2-0 victory on home soil as the Baggy Greens just edged out the Black Caps in the first day/night Test match to clinch their win.

The form of Smith and David Warner at the top of the innings proved to be crucial in the victory, while Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns also notched centuries to solidify their place in the line-up.

Adam Voges was the key figure in the following series win over the West Indies with 375 runs in the three matches, most of which came from an unbeaten innings of 269 in the first Test.

Meanwhile, James Pattinson returned to the fold to provide support for Josh Hazlewood in the absence of Mitchell Starc and led the wicket column with 13 strikes.

Australia continued their resurgence under Smith with another comfortable series win in their tour of New Zealand, with Voges again leading the way with the bat, while Burns scored his second Test century.

Hazlewood stepped forward as the leader of the attack and Jackson Bird offered another option on the bowling front with a five-wicket haul to guide the Aussies to victory in Christchurch.

Smith’s men have developed consistency in their batting line-up with all of their players making contributions to their recent Test victories.

However, the runs were made against mediocre attacks and favourable home conditions, leaving with much to prove before they face off against Broad and James Anderson once again in the pressure-cooker environment of the Ashes.

Their series against South Africa later in 2016 will be key to see if they can hold up against the quality of a varied pace attack as Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada will offer a potent threat.

Encouragingly for Smith and the Aussie selectors the team have managed to build a solid stock of pace bowlers, even though injuries have forced them to include players out of necessity.

Starc and Pattinson’s fitness problems could be a cause for concern over the long term as will Pat Cummins, who has also struggled to remain healthy despite his talent.

Hazlewood has risen to the occasion since leaving England after an underwhelming Ashes series, and it will be on him most of all to improve his wicket-taking ability and temperament, given his exploits against the Black Caps.

Elsewhere Bird, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon all offer solid complements, but the Baggy Greens will need their pacemen to fire to retake the urn back next year.

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Have England finally found Freddie’s replacement?

English cricket is always looking out for the next great all-rounder, and in Ben Stokes they may well have found it. After spending a long time looking for the man to take over from Ian Botham as England’s swashbuckling batsman and aggressive fast bowler, Andrew Flintoff fill the role to perfection during his colourful Test career. Following Freddie’s retirement from international cricket in 2009, a number of players have come and gone as England have looked for their next great all-rounder, albeit one they hope isn’t found floating out to sea in the middle of the night.

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CC by DncnH

One of those players given the chance to establish himself in the Test side was Ben Stokes. While it took time for the big-hitting Durham star to adapt to life on the international stage, Stokes’ role in the recent Ashes success has ensured English fans have a new all-rounder to really get behind. Having played a starring role in the encouraging Test and ODI series against New Zealand, Stokes was named in England’s team for the opening match of this Ashes series in Cardiff. And it’s fair to say it’s a decision the selectors got right.

Following a strong start with the bat, recording scores of 52 and 42, the all-rounder hit a sensational 87 at Lord’s before playing a crucial role in England reclaiming the urn by taking a gob-smacking catch off Stuart Broad in the first innings and collecting 6/36 as the Aussies collapsed in the second innings in Nottingham. As well as bringing some real power into the middle of the England batting order, an area that has been crucial to the hosts’ victory in this series, Stokes has added plenty to the bowling line-up, and his six-for at Trent Bridge proved he has what it takes to be the fourth member of this pace attack.

This Ashes series has come as something of a shock to many who bet on cricket, and it’s been England’s young players who have perhaps been the difference between the two. As well as experienced heads James Anderson, Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad and Ian Bell all playing key roles, the performances of the team’s younger players has been the real success story of England’s summer. While Stokes has enhanced his reputation as a Test all-rounder, Joe Root climbed to the top of the batting rankings following a sensational series, with Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler all doing their case for continued involvement with the squad no harm.

For Stokes, though, the battle is for him to now build on his Ashes success and really cement his place as England’s all-rounder. With a number of players all vying for that number-six spot, the 24-year old knows he can’t afford to let his performances slip just because he’s played an important role in winning the Ashes. On the evidence of the past couple of months, though, England will be confident that they have an all-rounder in place who could be just what they’ve been looking for.