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Posts Tagged ‘steve harmison’

The ECB’s decision not to offer central contracts, nor even incremental contracts, to Steve Harmison or Monty Panesar has left both with their international futures in doubt. Harmison has been rumoured to be considering international retirement in any case, but Panesar now looks to have been cut adrift, particularly when the fact that Adil Rashid has been given an incremental contract is taken into account. Being England’s third-choice spin bowler isn’t a particularly attractive proposition, but at least he’ll always have Cardiff.

Just in case anyone thought the ECB were being radical, though, they gave full central contracts to Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell.

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Mitchell Johnson isn’t having the Ashes tour he was supposed to. His form is erratic, his mum and his girlfriend are complaining about each other in the press and the same papers are calling for him to be dropped.

English conditions are being blamed by some, his mum is being blamed by others, but whatever the cause the decline from top-ranked fast bowler to potential liability has been as striking and sudden as Steve Harmison’s. Nevertheless, with Brett Lee still sidelined, Johnson may well feature at Edgbaston, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if his mind is concentrated by all the criticism that has come his way over the last couple of weeks.

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Much has been made in the build-up to the Ashes about the supposed weakness of Australia’s bowling attack, but it is quickly becoming apparent that England’s isn’t quite as good as some people would have you believe.

Flintoff has bowled plenty of overs without looking particularly menacing; Panesar‘s only wicket was more or less self-inflicted by Ponting; Swann hasn’t proved as dangerous to the left-handers as was predicted, and has been outperformed so far with the ball by Nathan Hauritz, Australia’s alleged weak link; Jimmy Anderson has been Jimmy Anderson, threatening for a spell then innocuous until the second new ball; Stuart Broad has gone for nearly 4 an over.

If England want to bowl Australia out twice in a Test this series, then someone needs to step up. Graham Onions may be feeling confident about his prospects for the Second Test (as indeed may Harmison).

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Despite their central contracts, neither Steve Harmison nor Michael Vaughan were included in the England ‘pre-Ashes’ squad of 16 (not 17 as was reported at the weekend – does anyone know what went on there?) that was announced today. Although Geoff Miller has said that “[t]he door has not been closed on any player at this stage“, their exclusion more or less signals the end of both players’ hopes of featuring in the First Ashes Test in just over two weeks’ time.

Given that neither player really merits a place in the side at the moment, it isn’t a massive surprise that Harmison and Vaughan are both left out, but the selectors’ past loyalty to the stars of the 2005 series, along with the considerable investment made in both via their central contracts, had convinced many that there would be roles for both in the squad. Harmison does feature in the England Lions team to play Australia next week, but he is currently England’s sixth-choice pace bowler at best.

Amongst those who have been included, there number three spinners: Swann, Panesar and Rashid. The latter two are likely to be in direct competition for the role of second spinner now that Swann is well established in the side, and suggestions are being made in some quarters that Rashid’s superior batting ability may see him edge out Monty, something that would arguably portend the end of Panesar’s England career.

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Michael Vaughan missed another chance to prove his form ahead of the announcement of England’s sqaud to play the West Indies when he fell to fellow England outcast Steve Harmison for 24. Television replays suggested Vaughan may not have got a touch on the fatal ball, but the evidence from the single available angle was inconclusive.

The selectors almost seem to be looking for an excuse to pick Vaughan, so this score will frustrate them as well as their former captain. The number three spot is looking increasingly like it might end up being filled by Ian Bell, which is fine if he’s in form, but it’s only a matter if weeks since he was dropped, so it seems more likely that any recall would owe more to the lack of options available than to a belief that Bell has improved in the intervening period. Indeed, his attitude to being dropped suggests little or nothing has changed.

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  • Durham surprised a lot of people with their Championship win last year, and with Steve Harmison out of favour with England once again, their bowling attack looks just as strong as it was in 2008. Ian Blackwell has come in to bolster the middle order and add a spin option, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul returns in June following the World Twenty20.
  • Hampshire arguably owe last year’s survival, let alone their eventual third place, to the spin bowling of Imran Tahir, who returns from June. In the meantime, Australian Marcus North comes in as an overseas player to add runs, and Dominic Cork also arrives following his release by Lancashire. Chris Tremlett will also be key for the attack, whilst Mascarenhas’ England and IPL commitments will drain the Rose Bowl’s resources for much of the season.
  • Lancashire have released Dominic Cork and Stuart Law, whilst Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson are likely to make very few appearances for their county, so the Red Rose lineup will be somewhat unfamiliar in places. Mark Chilton and Francois Du Plessis need to improve on last year’s performances with the bat, or relegation may threaten to make Peter Moores’ 2009 even worse.
  • Nottinghamshire may spend the majority of the season watching their three best bowlers ply their trade for England, so the likes of Shreck and Pattinson will be key. If Samit Patel gets fit enough to be called up as well, the side could look a little thin in the middle order, but if newlywed Adam Voges can translate his limited-overs form to the four-day game then the prospect of a title challenge isn’t too far-fetched to consider.
  • Somerset continue to have an incredibly strong top order (especially with and Marcus Trescothick as an opening pair), but with Ian Blackwell moving to Durham and Andy Caddick into his 40s, the bowling attack looks worryingly thin. Unless a young gun steps up to take wickets, a proliferation of draws may ensue.
  • Warwickshire face the step up from Division Two without Ian Salisbury, but Jeetan Patel should be a strong addition to their four-day side. If Ian Bell stays out of the England team long enough to feature regularly, then the Bears can reap the benefits. Similarly, Tim Ambrose will be a force in the County game even he doesn’t cut it at Test level.
  • Worcestershire enter the post-Hick era in 2009, which puts a lot of pressure on Vikram Solanki and the likes of Stephen Moore. Gareth Batty’s recent England call-up underlined his quality with the ball, but the pace attack is relatively weak, especially given Simon Jones’ continuing injury problems. If Solanki and Kabir Ali find form, then the side can look for more than just consolidation in their return to Division One.
  • Yorkshire came uncomfortably close to relegation last year, but players of the quality of Michael Vaughan, Anthony McGrath, Matthew Hoggard and Adil Rashid should see them improve in 2009 (assuming England call-ups don’t intervene). A championship challenge may be asking too much, and adjusting to life without Darren Gough will be difficult, but there is enough class (especially with Jacques Rudolph in the side) for a top-half finish.

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Few could accuse the Test series between the West Indies and England of being predictable – a second-innings total of 51 and less than two overs bowled before abandonment in the other were both rather unexpected developments. Yet the Third Test is (so far) panning out in exactly the way I would have expected the First Test to – England’s batsmen rebuilding damaged confidence (even more damaged, given recent developments); the West Indies’ pace attack firing sporadically, yet the home team struggling in the field otherwise.

It will be interesting to see how England’s bowlers perform when they have a big first-innings total to defend. The inclusion of Swann and the reprieve of Harmison following the move to the ARG are likely to increase the scrunity on the two of them, but it’s also a crunch match for Jimmy Anderson.

For the West Indies, the challenge is likely to be the fact that they are batting under pressure for the first time in the series. If wickets fall early, the lower order looks fairly exposed, so their top-class batsmen will shoulder a lot of responsibility.

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