Archive for 28 February 2012

Pakistan v England tour review

Make no mistake, this was a dreadful tour for England. It’s easy to forget that in the wake of a 4-0 ODI victory and a 2-1 T20 victory, but when it really counted we lost 0-3.

Our batsmen mostly displayed either an infuriating inconsistency on the tour or were simply consistently awful. This was a middle order that came into the series having thrashed the best in the world in England and the second best in the world in their own backyard. 517-1, 620-5, 513 and 644 v Australia in Australia and 474-8, 544, 710-7 and 591-6 v India suddenly gave way to 72 all out. The spin of Ajmal was a contributing factor, of course, but it was not the sharp, quick spin of someone like Warne. It was theoretically playable spin, but England could not play it. I thought before the series that the batsman would win it for us, but instead they did the exact opposite. And then, incredibly surprisingly, they turned their fortunes around in the ODIs. Captain Cook scored two tons and an eighty, whilst KP chipped in with a pair of imperious tons and a match winning 50 in the last T20. That’s the same KP who averaged 11 in the Tests. The turnaround was not quite inexplicable, one of England’s problems in the Tests was an unwillingness to go after Ajmal and not just sit back and block. In the ODIs they had to try to score and had the extra advantage of fewer men around the bat and so had better success. (Though that’s a relative measure, Ajmal still did very well.)

Cook and Prior are probably the only ones to come through with their reputations unscathed; Cook had the highest individual score for England in the Tests, plus good success in the ODIs and Prior had the highest average in the Tests (the only one over 30). Strauss, however, did not embarrass himself to the extent of many of the batsmen. He was the only one to look relatively assured during the 72 all out debacle, and for a time it looked like he and Prior might lead England to victory. Strauss then also ground out a fifty in the third Test run chase. I know none of that sounds like much, but the important aspect was that he looked like he had learnt how to play, albeit too late. None of the other batsmen looked like they had learnt anything at all. KP, meanwhile, will coast into the next series on the back of his ODI and T20 heroics, but he had an absolutely terrible Test series and that must not be swept under the rug. He looked, as he so often does, like an idiot. And I don’t mean in the proverbial sense, I mean he looked literally stupid. He so often does not seem capable of learning from experience and has always had very poor impulse control. He did better in the ODIs, but he has to find a way to play sensibly when it matters. When it comes off, as it did at Lord’s last year, it is majestic and when he only does that in pyjama cricket it is so, so frustrating. There was also the limited overs introduction of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow. Buttler was much hyped after an incredible Lions tour to Sri Lanka, but he did not look quite ready for this level yet. Bairstow did rather better, hitting a match winning 60* in the second T20 and generally looking quite composed. Bopara was another who was given a chance in the limited overs leg, and scored two fifties in the ODIs. This has led, of course, to another wave of suggestions for him to bat at six in the Test series. Very annoyingly, I except Flower and Strauss will agree. Despite my saying that Morgan has to go, I cannot overemphasise that Bopara is not the answer! He has failed in every chance that he has been given in Tests. If we are going to persist with playing a batsman at six then we should give a chance to one of the Lions players. There are no fewer than three candidates, any of whom would not be worse than Bopara. Personally, I would play another bowler, but…

In the vicious battle for worst batsman of the tour, Morgan edges out Bell by virtue of failing for the entire tour as opposed to just the Tests. Morgan showed clearly that he does not have the temperament for Test cricket, at least not yet, and then he abjectly failed to redeem himself in the limited overs matches. This despite the fat that he is supposed to be a limited overs expert, able to find any gap in the field. He did sod all, then gave an interview that showed he was not willing to work and change to help the team. As I said last week, it’s time for him to go back to Ireland. Bell, meantime, had a much more anomalous tour. He was the best batsman in the world last year, averaging over 100, but he could seemingly not buy a run this time. Even when he started to look like he might know roughly how to play Ajmal he promptly became unable to play Gul and his last dismissal of the series was horrific. He has a very good record as a batsman, however, and I expect him to improve.

The one outstanding bright spot on the tour was the bowlers. The 0-3 scoreline was fair in the end, but the absolutely outstanding bowling effort prevented it from being in the same league as the hammering we gave to India during the summer. The only bowler who did not perform was Tremlett, who probably ought not have been selected at all. Graeme Swann had a slightly below par tour, but still did quite well despite taking a backseat to Monty in the second two Tests. Broad, Jimmy and Monty were outstanding, however. Monty deserves special praise for doing so well after being out of the Test side for so long, but Broad and Anderson were not supposed to be so effective on the slower pitches. Broad was probably the pick of the bowlers for me, as he continued his revival from the ‘enforcer’ phase of his career. He pitched the ball up and got it to nip back at the top of off stump time and time again, and the Pakistani batsmen seemed to have no answer. He continued his good performance into the limited overs leg as well, including some good captaincy in the T20 series win. In that limited overs leg we also were treated to an outstanding performance from Steven Finn. He picked up where he left off in the India ODIs and ran through the Pakistani top order. He appears to have added a yard of pace and some accuracy and there are many calling for him to be in the Test side. I think that might be a bit premature, I am always hesitant to try to apply ODI form to Tests, but at the same time I probably would not have dropped him from the Test side to begin with. The problem is that there is no one for him to replace. He certainly has not shown that he is a better bowler than Tim Bresnan, let alone Jimmy and Broad. I think for now he is still the fourth seamer, which means he is going to be carrying the drinks until someone is injured or England decide to bat Prior at six and Bresnan at seven. (And the latter is apparently never going to happen, even though it would also solve the problem of who to bat at six.)

As tempting as it would be to say that England won the tour 2-1, everyone knows that Tests count at least quintuple and that England lost the tour rather heavily. I have every confidence that the management will look most closely at the Tests when analysing the tour, but it is important the the media and fans do the same. We cannot say that KP is off the hook due to his ODI runs, nor can we say that Bopara is a Test number six. We cannot think that this was a good tour, or even a decent tour. Most importantly, we cannot think that anything short of a pair of comprehensive victories over Sri Lanka will redeem England. That willingness to gloss over flaws has become a defining characteristic of Indian cricket recently and it is almost certainly related to their loss of form. We must not allow it to happen in England as well.

I was mostly right

In a way, I did a pretty good job of predicting the weekend’s matches. I correctly called one win out of two for England’s women, a win for Wales and a win for Liverpool. The only things I got wrong were a washout in the other women’s match (I predicted a Kiwi win) and the England men winning their T20 (by quite a lot, as it transpired). So on the face of it, I did okay. It was the details that went a bit awry though.

First off, an English victory in the T20. We are the World Champions and world number one in that format, but I never feel comfortable saying that we will win. I know I’ve said it before, but there is a huge element of luck in T20s and I think England have been almost more fortunate than good in the past. Yesterday though saw a very skilful performance by young Jonny Bairstow who hit an unbeaten 60 to propel us to 150-7 after a slow start. Once again though, it was the bowlers who really won the match for us. The captain led from the front with 2-12 from 3.2 overs and was ably backed up by Finn (as usual), Swann (2-17) and Dernbach (1-13 from three overs). Pakistan were 33-4 after the powerplay and all but out of the match at 50-5. Afridi and Hammad Azam had a go near the end, but it was already too late and when Azam was out Pakistan capitulated. Afridi started turning down singles and looked like he was going to just bat out the 20 overs, before getting impatient and skewing a catch. One of the biggest factors in the run chase was England’s outstanding fielding. Of the ten wickets to fall, nine of them were caught (with the other run out) and at least eight of the catches were difficult ones. If England had dropped even a few of those the match would have been a lot closer, but as it was Pakistan never had a chance.

That was going on at the same time as the Six Nations match between England and Wales. Whilst I correctly predicted the outcome, I didn’t expect England to make their match so close. England actually led until fairly late at Twickenham, coming back well after a dismal first 20 minutes. It is a mark of how well they did that the loss was still gutting, with Wales getting a very late try and England not quite being able to match it at the death. Still, England can take a lot of positives from that match. After a horror start to the match that saw Wales completely dominate possession England turned it around and dominated the next 20 minutes to almost the same extent, playing a surprisingly fluent passing game. They had good width and were able to force Wales back well. The one thing they could not do, however, was get over the tryline, though it took an incredible tackle from, as I recall, Sam Warburton to deny Manu Tuilangi at one point. What England will particularly rue though is the ten minute man advantage that they wasted. After kicking the penalty to go 12-6 in front, they did not get possession for the next five minutes as Wales held on to the ball and gradually worked it down the pitch. England did eventually manage to get a lineout on the Welsh 22, but made an absolute hash of it despite being a man up. By the time Wales were back to 15 they had scored a penalty and had the momentum, which they didn’t really relinquish until England’s last ditch effort to bring the scores level. It was, as I said, a very disappointing result in the end but there is at least more cause for optimism ahead of the last two matches. Wales, meantime, having won the Triple Crown have a great chance for a Grand Slam. Effectively, they only need to beat France at the Millennium Stadium.

The big result was the League Cup though. I said that I thought Cardiff would score a goal, but Liverpool would score at least two. I was half right: Cardiff did go in front in the first half, but Liverpool equalised in the second. Cardiff’s goal came against the run of play, and although they did have other chances (including a heart-stopping moment a few minutes before the second half ended) Liverpool were always the more positive side. We had what seemed like dozens of corners (I lost count), hit the woodwork a couple of times and it seemed like we were almost constantly threatening. Whilst there was some of the profligacy in front of goal that has plagued us all season, Cardiff were also very good. They never seemed to tire in defence and kept charging down shots and attempts to pass the ball in the box. The effort looked like it had worn them down in the end though, as after all the chances we had had it was a relatively meek one by Kuyt that put us in front 2-1 in extra time. After that was where Cardiff really deserve credit though, they did not drop their heads, they did not give up. They came back, put us under pressure and got the last gasp equaliser. I’m sure the adrenaline of a big match helped, but how many teams could go behind after 108 minutes and still have the energy to come back in the 118th? It was a phenomenal show of fight from them and they deserve no end of praise for it. I thought that it would be enough to win them the match, myself. We have been very poor at normal penalties this season and apart from Gerrard and Kuyt I did not know on whom we could rely to take them. Fortunately Suarez, after his howler last week, was not amongst the five. I had been pessimistic to start, so when Gerrard had his saved and Charlie Adam followed up with an attempt that looked like he was aiming for the net at Anfield instead of Wembley, I was despairing. Kuyt was as reliable as ever though, and some hope appeared when the Cardiff players missed badly too. In the end it was Downing and Johnson who scored the vital last two penalties, much to my astonishment and delight, before poor Anthony Gerrard, Stevie’s cousin, missed for Cardiff.

I’m still, of course, ecstatic about having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and finally getting some silverware. King Kenny is also now the first person to win a career treble as both a player and manager, though he’s helped by having done some of them at the same time, of course! And I could be wrong, but I think the win also guarantees European football at Anfield next year. Whilst we still need to push hard for a top four finish, it’s nice to know that we have the Europa League on which to fall back should that not go our way. We’ll be able to help ourselves in that respect soon too, as our next Premiership match is at home to Arsenal who rather annoyingly won today.

Ultimately, it’s been a pretty good weekend.

Should be a fun weekend

Including tonight, there are three cricket matches, two rugby matches and a football match that I’m planning to follow closely this weekend. England’s women have their last two (dead rubber) T20 matches tonight and Sunday night, whilst the men play tomorrow morning looking to level the series. At the same time as the men’s match, however, there is rugby on as England play Wales at Twickenham and when that ends Bath will play away to Exeter in the Premiership. Finally, Sunday morning is the League Cup final with the Reds favourites to win a first bit of silverware for a while.

As far as predictions go, I’m still sticking with my original 4-1 prediction for the England women. They very nearly (and arguably ought to have) lost the third match, and whilst winning that will give them a mental edge for the last two it could be negated by the fact that they are now dead rubbers. T20 is an inherently unpredictable format and I still think the Kiwis will sneak a win this weekend. That said, I would not be surprised if England got the whitewash.

As far as the men go, the loss on the first T20 was, whilst not entirely unexpected, quite disappointing given that England probably should have won after the start to which we got off chasing. (It seems that we simply cannot chase 145 in the UAE.) Although the batting mostly let us down, we did drop a couple of catches, which may have cost us. The turning point was probably Bopara’s wicket, but I think KP’s was actually more important. He had picked up right where he left off in the ODIs and looked like he might have been able to knock off at least half of the target by himslef, but he was well caught on the boundary for 33. The catch also cost us six runs, as the ball was on course to clear the rope, the important of which should not be underestimated. (We only lost by eight runs.) For the next match I’m tipping Pakistan to win again, and not merely because the first two series were both whitewashes. England, despite being champions and world number one in this format, still don’t tend to look terribly convincing. I suspect a large part of England’s strong T20 record is actually down to luck, (the rest being very good bowling) though that’s to be expected in this format.

In the rugby, I did not see anything in the second round to persuade me that my initial assessment of Wales and England was incorrect. England will have home field advantage, but I think that is about it. Whilst we looked composed and competent for the last half an hour or so against Italy, there were still a lot of mistakes in that match as there were against Scotland. I expect Wales to punish those mistakes a lot more efficiently than Scotland or Italy did, as well as to make fewer themselves. If England can play very error-free rugby then they will have a chance with the crowd behind them, however I don’t think they will be quite up to the level required to beat a strong looking Wales, even at Twickenham.

Finally, the League Cup final on Sunday. Liverpool are strong favourites (2-5, according the Guardian), of course, playing 5th in the Championship Cardiff. That said, we have had problems forcing victories over lower placed side this year (though more at Anfield than anywhere else). Cardiff also have a very good record against us, and we saw Arsenal upset just last year. That said, I do think we will win, though it will probably be nervy for a considerable portion of the match. As good as Reina et al are, I expect we will ship probably one goal, but with Andy starting to find a bit of form up front and Suarez looking to make up for lost time I think we will score two or three to take home the trophy.

Ashes Wednesday

It’s not the traditional celebration, but for me the significance of Ash Wednesday is to watch Ashes highlights and videos. It’s right there in the name, and this year is a particularly good one for it, as we’re in the midst of a month without Test cricket. In that spirit, I’ve compiled a few of my favourites from YouTube. The first one probably the best musical selection I’ve ever heard. Enjoy!

Should Ponting retire?

Ricky Ponting had a much awaited press conference a few hours ago to announce that he was okay with being dropped from Australia’s ODI side. Not in so many words, of course, but he did not say that he was actually retiring from anything, just that he didn’t expect to be selected in any more ODIs. I suppose it was new that he had been permanently axed, as opposed to just dropped for the series, but I think most people suspected that was the case anyway. The only thing of note that he said was that he was not retiring from Tests, which was probably not cause for and entire press conference. In fact, as far as press conferences go it was probably most underwhelming since a few years ago when Nasa announced their discovery of microbes that used arsenic in their DNA*.

The rest of this post is now on The Armchair Selector! I’ve explained why here, but if you already know or don’t care then keep reading the article here!

The fact that Ponting will not be retiring from Tests would seem to confirm that he intends to play in the 2013 and 2013/14 Ashes. He probably does have a couple of years left in him, but if he had gone out now (or soon) he would be going out on a high. As it is, I think his form will fall away again, if not against South Africa in a year then in the Ashes. He has had a very good series against India, but their bowling has been worse than uninspired. It’s worth remembering that against South Africa, against a good attack on reasonably helpful wickets, he scored only 70 runs in four innings. Worse, when he played on a Hobart pitch that was most similar to what he will find in England he made five and 16 against a talented, but hardly world beating attack. If he stays on for the Ashes he risks being humiliated by England’s powerful seam attack. Ponting will very likely score runs in the Windies, and perhaps afterward as well, but right now he has the chance to bow out on a high. Staying longer will jeopardise that and I doubt it will be a good idea for him in the long term.

It’s a difficult situation for Australia, however. Ponting staying one would appear to be a boost on the face of it; he is in form and looks like he still has runs in him and at the same time their younger players do not look ready yet. Unfortunately they do not have very many series before the Ashes. After touring the West Indies next month they do not play again until they host South Africa this winter. If Ponting struggles, either against South Africa or later in the first Ashes series, Australia are effectively stuck with him through the 2013/14 Ashes. This is a very risky policy; I don’t think Ponting will bat well in the Ashes and whilst someone like Khawaja or Marsh may not be an improvement, I think Australia would be well advised to look for a replacement for Ponting sooner rather than later. That said, it’s very difficult to drop a batsman with the record of Ponting, especially before there is a clear replacement. I don’t expect the Australian selectors to do so, but Ponting has put them in what appears to be a no-win situation.

The best case scenario for Australia is that Ponting plays reasonably well through the double Ashes series, then bows out and Australia can find his replacement and get him settled into the squad by 2016. I don’t think that’s likely, however, and I don’t think staying on is a good idea for Ponting or Australia.

*For the handful of people who aren’t familiar with that incident, Nasa publicised the press conference several days in advance as an announcement of an important discovery relating to the search for extraterrestrial life. The fact that they had discovered entirely earthbound, albeit interesting, microbes made it rather a damp squib.

Virender Morgan

Eoin Morgan gave a very… interesting interview to BBC Sport recently. He claims that there is no need for him to alter his technique in Tests because ‘[t]he mental game still stays the same. It’s worked for me in the past and hopefully it will continue to do so.’ That mental game has given him a Test match average of 30.43 with only two hundreds in 16 matches. Only the first of those hundreds, against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2010, was an important one in the innings either. To say that his mental technique has worked well when he has not significantly contributed to the side is ignorant, but to say that there is no need to chance his technique when there are clear flaws in it is beyond arrogant. It is into the realm of Virender Sehwag, the poster-boy of arrogant, overrated, flat track bullies. The last thing England need is our own Sehwag, KP is already close enough. It is a simple fact that is true of any player in any sport: if he can’t or won’t adjust to help the team then he ought not to play for the team. In this case he can go back to Middlesex, they’ve been promoted so he’ll have some decent attacks against which to practise, or he can go to the Ireland and/or the IPL and forget Tests altogether.

It is the last one which seems like the better route, both for him and the England team given the other quote he gave: ‘The Test series didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped, but the one-day series has certainly made up for it.’ Really, Eoin? We were whitewashed in the subcontinent, threw our number one ranking into jeopardy and threw away any chance we had at being a properly dominant side for at least another five years, but a few ODI wins make up for that? If that is his attitude I don’t want him anywhere near any of the England sides, regardless of how good he theoretically is at limited overs matches. If he thinks ODIs are that important then he ought to go back to Ireland where he’ll get to play plenty of them without people asking questions about his Test form. We can’t have that kind of negative, complacent attitude infecting any of the young players who are coming up. It pains me to say this, but even Bopara would be better than Morgan now. It’s too late for this tour, but after England return from the UAE Morgan should never again be allowed to wear the Three Lions.

England win by 48 runs

The win makes it two in two for England’s women and this one was never in doubt. England’s top three of Edwards, Marsh and Taylor scored 33, 48 and 45 respectively and all at good rates to set up England’s total. The partnership of Edwards and Marsh was particularly impressive, as they went along at almost ten per over. Even after dismissing them in quick succession, the Kiwis never really found a way to contain the scoring. Taylor played another good innings whilst the batsmen farther down added nice cameos. New Zealand ended up using seven bowlers in the innings and all of them went for at least seven an over. I was hoping near the end of the innings that we could get up to 170, but the average completed first innings score in women’s T20 is only 126, so 166 was still more than handy.

New Zealand’s run chase was rather odd though. They started poorly, getting only two of the first over before Anya Shrubsole, heroine from the first match, delivered a wicket maiden. After four overs New Zealand found themselves 9-1 and already needing almost ten per over to win. That prompted the only period of the match in which they really looked like going for it. McGlashan in particular made a concerted effort to find the ropes and just about managed to keep the Kiwis in touch for a couple of overs. Once they powerplay ended though they went back to knocking the ball for singles. I can understand keeping wickets in hand for a late assault, but they waited far too late. They went over six overs after with only a solitary six (followed by a wicket) as the only boundary, after which they needed 12 per over to win. By the time they actually started an assault in the 15th over the rate required was over 13 and all they could do was slog. Seeing as they had to get a four off of almost everything they saw, it was not surprising that it didn’t come off and they lost four wickets in two overs. What was surprising was that after that they went back to hitting singles! Part of that was some very good containing bowling from England, of course, but when one’s side needs 17 per over to win there is no excuse for not trying to clear the infield. Only boundaries were going to be enough and they did not seem to be willing to take the risks to get them. They kept losing wickets anyway, however, and their final tally of 118 all out was fairly pathetic.

With England now 2-0 up and the Kiwis having looked pretty poor twice the series is there for the taking. New Zealand may be able to sneak a win, but I’m sticking with my original 4-1 prediction.

England win by six/nine wickets

Suddenly I’m writing the words ‘England win’ a lot. A couple of nights ago the women’s side won their first T20 by six wickets. It was rather closer than it ought to have been, Anya Shrubsole took 5-11 (all five bowled or lbw) in four overs as the Kiwis finished on 80-9. It was at this point that I made the in hindsight ill-advised comment ‘should be a straightforward chase’ on Twitter. Needless to say we got bogged down and after losing a few wickets were actually behind the rate for a time. For the Kiwis, Kate Broadmore at one point had figures of 2.2-2-0-1. Unlike Shrubsole, however, she couldn’t take more than that one wicket and Sarah Taylor hit a composed and unbeaten 31 off 34 to see England home with six wickets and 14 balls to spare. Never in doubt… The second match of the series is tonight/tomorrow morning and whilst New Zealand will take heart from their bowling display I’m tipping England to win again.

The far more surprising win was for the men’s side. If I had known before the tour that there would be 3-0 scorelines in both the Test and ODI series I would have assumed that we had won the Tests and been hammered in the ODIs. As it was, England turned in one of their most comprehensive ever ODI wins away from home. Only three times previously have England played top tier opposition away from home and chased down a target with more balls to spare than the 76 balls to spare that they had in this match. The most recent was against South Africa in November 2009 when England lost three wickets en route to 121 off 31.2 overs. England also won with 94 balls remaining at the MCG in January 1979, a 40-over ODI in which Geoffery Boycott scored an unbeaten 39 off 107 deliveries. England took just 28.2 overs to chase down the 102 they needed for victory and I’m sure the crowd went home thinking that they got their money’s worth. I think a case could be made that this was a more comprehensive victory than any of those, however. England looked today like they could easily have chased down another hundred runs. There were standout performances from Cook and Finn again, but KP was the real star. He looked today like the KP of old, a man bristling with intent and for once not likely to give his wicket away. Once he got into his stride the only thing that looked like it might stop him from reaching three figures was if England ran out of runs to chase. As it was, Cook’s dismissal meant that KP could get to an unbeaten 111, his joint highest ODI score.

This puts England in a very rare position for overseas ODI series. Excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the last time England won an overseas ODI series by two or more matches was a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand in 1992. If England can win the last match, it will be only the second time overseas and fifth time ever that England have won four or more matches in an ODI series.

England win by 20 runs

Only an ODI could be this close and still this dull. Pakistan needed 251 to win and yet never seemed to go for the runs until it was too late. They hung around, matched England’s score and matched the D/L par score for almost the entire innings, and apart from a brief blitz by Afridi in the last powerplay they never showed any real attacking intent. It was a match in which the result was not decided until a couple of overs before it ended and yet it was never gripping. There were 99 overs played and about ninety of them followed the ‘dull middle over’ pattern. If it had been a Test match it might have been thrilling, but as it was it was just waiting for something to actually happen.

Part of that was the England bowlers who were very good again, Finn turning in his second successive 4-34, but once again losing out on man of the match to his centurion captain. Jimmy Anderson, however, who I suggested should not play in ODIs took the vital wicket of Afridi in what turned out to be a wicket-maiden. I still say Jimmy should not play ODIs, or at least seldom play. My point about him needing to be fit and firing in Tests has not changed, but he showed today just how talented he is.

I always think that ODIs should be played before Tests in a tour as to do otherwise is often anticlimactic, as we saw with the series against India last summer and the Ashes before that, but I think England will be particularly ruing that the Tests came before the ODIs on this tour. England played Saeed Ajmal much better today, partly due to practise and partly due to the format demanding that they attack a bit more and not having men around the bat. If the ODIs had come first they would have got their practise in the less important matches and they might have learnt the value of positive play before now. I don’t think it will be changed in the near future, but it is something at which I think the ECB ought to look.

New Zealand v England preview

England will start a five T20 and three ODI series against New Zealand on Friday afternoon (Kiwi time anyway, 01.45 GMT, and a very reasonable 19.45 Thursday evening in my time zone). I’d say England are strong favourites. They go in both in very good form in the warmups (all three of which they won convincingly) and over the past year and a bit in general. Since the start of 2011 they have lost only four of 21 completed matches in both the fifty and twenty over formats, including beating New Zealand once in each at home last summer. Of course, the men’s team have shown clearly that winning at home is very different from winning on the road, but the difference in conditions between England and New Zealand will not be nearly as large as that between England and the UAE. To further boost England’s hopes, New Zealand come in to the series on the back of a very disappointing tour of Australia. They lost the T20 series 1-4, the one win being in a dead rubber, and they were crushed by nine wickets and 200 deliveries in the only ODI that was not washed out.

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect England to win the T20 series at least 4-1, perhaps even 5-0. England only lost one T20 last year and had the best run rate of any team in that time, seven runs per over. England have not had quite the same advantage in ODIs, winning seven of ten last year, but still look much the stronger side. They were not troubled in South Africa, winning all three matches by comfortable margins. England’s success in South Africa was based in large part on sizeable contributions from the top order, with the captain Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway being the standout performers both in the T20s and ODIs. The bowling was very good too, however, the most they conceded in a single innings in 2011 was 235, though Australia probably would have gone past that at Perth had they not achieved their target. For a New Zealand side that struggled a bit with the bat in Australia, that is not good news. When one adds in the fact that the Kiwi bowlers had the worst ODI economy rate in women’s cricket in 2011, I can’t see them getting close to England in the series. Barring an intervention by the weather I’m predicting a 3-0 win for the tourists. Unfortunately there are not any Tests being played on the tour and disappointingly England have played only three since 2006, the most recent being in Australia a year ago.

The T20 matches will start at a very awkward hour in the UK, but it won’t be difficult to catch the start of the ODIs, which begin at 21.30 GMT. In any case it might be worth it to get/stay up. After the debacles the men’s side have had in the subcontinent and nearby areas it will be very nice to see what should be a comfortable win. Unfortunately, the first T20 won’t be on Sky Sports until after the New Zealand men’s T20 ends, about 03.30 GMT. (I’m not sure about the subsequent matches.) It’s rather frustrating seeing as the match that is being given priority is the one in which England are not playing, but even more irritating is the fact that there seems to be no radio coverage at all. Living in America, I don’t get Sky Sports at all so I will have to make do with Cricinfo’s rather minimalist ball-by-ball coverage. Hopefully the rest of you can enjoy it, however. Record it and watch it at a reasonable hour if nothing else.

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