England’s failure to reclaim the Ashes in a home series for the first time in almost two decades can in part be put down to unhelpful pitches, according to the team’s senior fast bowler James Anderson. While a calf injury limited Anderson’s involvement to bowling just four overs in the first Test at Edgbaston, he suggested that the playing surfaces have better suited Australia’s attack and said local groundsmen might consider being “a little bit more biased” towards England in future.
Defeat on Anderson’s home ground of Old Trafford last week left England 2-1 down in the Specsavers Test series and unable to prise back the urn from Australia. While Anderson gave a nod towards Steven Smith for his “phenomenal” batting – in three Test appearances Smith has scored 671 runs, almost twice as many as anyone else – he said England had been disappointed by the pitches served up and that more could be done to exploit home advantage.
“I think they’ve probably suited Australia more than us,” he said. “I would have liked to have seen a bit more grass but that’s the nature of the game here. When you’re selling out – like Lancashire selling out five days of Test cricket – it’s hard not to produce a flat deck but, you know, that’s one of the frustrations from a player’s point of view. We go to Australia and get pitches that suit them. They come over here and get pitches that suit them. It doesn’t seem quite right.
“I thought they were good pitches here against India [last year]. I thought they weren’t green seamers but I thought they suited us more than India. We as a country don’t use home advantage enough. When you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team.”
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, in particular, have led the way for Australia, taking 24 wickets at 17.41 and 18 at 16.88 respectively – separated only by Stuart Broad (19 at 26.63) for England. It has been a bowlers series in general, with only two Australians (Smith and Marnus Labuschagne) and three Englishmen (Ben Stokes, Rory Burns and Joe Root) averaging above 30 with the bat.
In contrast to Anderson’s lugubrious take, Australia coach Justin Langer was perhaps unsurprisingly full of praise for the “bowler-friendly wickets” on which his team had prevailed in their mission to retain the Ashes.
“It’s most important for the health of Test cricket moving forward that you’re playing on competitive wickets,” he said ahead of the final Test at The Oval. “Great players make runs, games always moving forward, you’re on the edge of your seat. I think the wickets this series have been fantastic for that.”
Anderson’s frustrations have been compounded by being forced to watch from the sidelines after suffering from a persistent calf problem that saw him hobble through the first Test at Edgbaston, having being declared fit, then suffer a recurrence while going about his rehabilitation with Lancashire.
There is little doubt that not being able to call upon the most-prolific Test fast bowler in history has hurt England’s chances – despite the resurgence of Broad and a potent display from Jofra Archer in his debut series. However, Anderson has quietened any expectations he may be contemplating retirement, writing in his newspaper column that he intends to try and play on until he is 40.
He proclaimed himself “open-minded” to making changes to his diet and lifestyle in order to prolong his career; perhaps a chat about the benefits of veganism with old Ashes foe Peter Siddle is in order following the conclusion of the series?
“When I start this rehab, I’m going to try and investigate every possible avenue of what do I need to do at my age to keep myself in good shape,” Anderson said. “I feel in really good condition. I feel as fit as I ever have. It’s just the calf keeps twanging.
“I’m going to look at every possible thing I can to make sure I can play for as long as possible. I’ll look at how other sportspeople have done it throughout their careers to keep going into their late 30s. Whether there’s anything specific I can do, diet, gym programme, supplements, whatever it might be. Because I’ve still got a real hunger and desire to play cricket. I still love the game and still feel like I can offer something to this team and still have the skills and can bowl quick enough to have a positive effect.
“It’ll be an ongoing process through the rest of my career. I still feel like I can be the best bowler in the world. So as long as I’ve got that mentality I’m going to keep pushing myself. Keep trying to improve my skills with the ball, work hard at my batting, and try to find every possible thing to help me stay fit.”
“We as a country don’t use home advantage enough. When you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team”
Anderson’s first goal is to be available for the two Tests in New Zealand towards the back-end of November, after which comes a tour of South Africa. His desire to keep playing means he is set to feature under a fifth different England coach – depending on when the successor to Trevor Bayliss is appointed – and he suggested the new management needed to map out with Joe Root a pathway to rebalancing priorities between Test and limited-overs cricket.
“Going forward, it’s important whoever takes over has got the same sort of vision as Joe as captain, on how the team moves forward. Obviously the last four years has been a real focus on one-day cricket, trying to win the World Cup. We’ve now done that.
“I think we need to find a good balance. We’ve kind of been one or the other. In my career, it’s been Test priority in the first bit and then this last four-year cycle has been a push for the white-ball stuff. We need to find a balance, it’s as simple as that. We’ve got to try to give equal attention to both.”
Whether or not he develops a craving for bananas, Anderson’s appetite for cricket remains strong – though he grimaces wearily at the idea of resuming battle with Smith once again in 2021-22. There is an acceptance that he won’t go on forever, an understanding that one day, perhaps not too far in the future, he will be able to inspect a flat pitch with a shake of the head before heading towards the media facilities rather than the dressing rooms.
“I’m realistic. If I’m not good enough and feel I’m detracting from the team and I’m too slow, or whatever it might be, then I’m not going to embarrass myself or drag the team down. I’ll only keep playing if I think I can be one of the best bowlers in the world and if I think I can help this team win games of Test cricket. I’m not just blinkered thinking I’m going to just drag out as many possible games as I can.”
James Anderson was speaking on behalf of ‘The Test Experts’ Specsavers, Official Test Partner of the England cricket team ahead of the final Test of the Specsavers Ashes Series at The Oval
Zimbabwe series will be Mashrafe Mortaza’s last as captain – BCB president
BCB president Nazmul Hassan has said the upcoming three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe will be Mashrafe Mortaza‘s last assignment as Bangladesh captain. He said that a new captain will be named “within a month” as Bangladesh plan the road ahead for the 2023 World Cup.
Hassan also said that the board will be “lenient” on the 36-year old Mortaza’s fitness levels in the lead-up to the ODI series against Zimbabwe, which begins with the first match in Sylhet on March 1. However, after the home series against Zimbabwe, Mortaza’s place in the squad will depend upon his form and fitness, according to Hassan.
“We have started to stress on beep tests so Mashrafe may not pass the beep tests, so we can drop him if he doesn’t pass it,” he said. “We also have to keep it in mind that Mashrafe’s leadership was vital in the turnaround in Bangladesh cricket. But, the time has come for him to decide how long he wants to play. I think Mashrafe will play the ODI series against Zimbabwe, pending fitness. We will be lenient about his fitness. But very soon, we have to decide on the team and captain for the next World Cup. We don’t have much time. We will take our decision after this ODI series.”
Hassan said that Mortaza had agreed on a retirement match at home during the 2019 World Cup, but the captain later changed his mind. Earlier in January this year, Mortaza had said that he will keep playing as long as he is enjoying the game, and not retiring just because the BCB president has said that they would throw a big party.
Before Bangladesh travel to Pakistan for a solitary ODI on April 3, the BCB is likely to name the new captain.
“Retirement depends on individual players,” Hassan said. “We know that top players retire on their own will. We also wanted to give him a good send-off. He can play if he wants to, but I am more concerned about the captaincy. Once we declare on the captaincy, he can enter the team on his performance.
“When I spoke to him during the World Cup, we discussed that if we can arrange a home ODI, he will retire. After returning, he changed his mind. And then he also said that he doesn’t want a send-off. He never told me. I saw it in the media. We have taken a month or a month and a half to decide our next ODI captain.”
Hassan was also critical of the Test side, saying he wasn’t hopeful of Bangladesh beating Zimbabwe in the one-off Test. After holding a meeting with the Test side on Wednesday, Hassan addressed the media.
“I have been seeing in the media in the last few days that things will be great after beating Zimbabwe. I don’t see it happening,” he said. “I have no hope. I told them, if you take them lightly, it will be a big disaster. Zimbabwe is where Zimbabwe was. We are not where we were. They have recently performed better than us.
“If someone asks me what was Bangladesh’s worst performance at home, I’d say losing to Afghanistan. It was unacceptable. If we lose to Afghanistan, we can lose to Zimbabwe. We need to have a new mindset. Our seniors must take the major responsibilities, and it has to be a team game.”
Hassan slammed the T20I side for losing 2-0 in Pakistan. He also called the Test captain Mominul Haque as “soft” and “shy”, and someone who would need help from senior pros like Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim.
“I told them that it was unacceptable to lose to Pakistan in the T20Is,” he said. “Nobody would say that we played poorly in India, but I told them that I didn’t like their approach and mindset in the Pakistan T20I series. I spoke to them about these things, ones that I had mentioned in the media but I wasn’t finding time to speak to the players. I reinforced that we are almost unbeatable at home, and we must beat at least four or five teams in their home conditions.
“I told them, ‘don’t take Zimbabwe lightly’. We must work in a planned way. Mominul is new, plus he is quite shy. Soft. I told Tamim and Mushfiq must be involved fully to charge up the team.”
In a bizarre twist, Hassan also informed the media that he had ordered the Bangladesh players and management that they would have to inform him of the playing XI, down to the batting line-up, before the game.
“I want to know the game plan on the day before the game, and the playing XI,” he said. “Why? It started from the World Cup and then the Afghanistan series, there is a total change; nothing has happened the way I expected. Those who had never played in the top order were given those roles. It was experimentation. In Pakistan too, what was told to me didn’t happen.
“I have told them that they have to give me the batting sequence and cannot drop a player in one game and then pick him again. I understand that they want to try a few boys. Our coach, who is relatively new, wants to see the fast bowlers. But whatever happens, they have to let me know in advance.”
USA allrounder Nisarg Patel banned from bowling due to suspect action
Nisarg Patel, the USA allrounder, has been suspended from bowling in international cricket with immediate effect after an independent assessment found his action to be illegal.
Patel, a left-arm spinner, was reported after his side’s ODI against Oman on February 11 in Kathmandu. He bowled seven overs in the game, returning figures of 0 for 37.
An assessment was then carried out by an expert panel, as per clause 4.7 of the ICC’s illegal bowling regulations, which concluded that Patel’s bowling action was above the permitted 15-degree level. His suspension will remain in place until he undertakes a review of his action by the ICC’s expert panel, or is cleared by an ICC testing centre.
It is possible that Patel will continue to be picked as a batsman alone. While he averages just 20.28 in ODIs, he made a maiden half-century in the game against Oman earlier in the month from only 32 balls, USA’s fastest ODI fifty.
Dimuth Karunaratne back as captain, Niroshan Dickwella recalled for West Indies ODIs
As many as ten players opted out of Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan last year, the last time they played ODI cricket, and Sri Lanka have included many of them in a strong squad led by Dimuth Karunaratne, who was one of the players to withdraw, for the three-ODI series against West Indies starting Saturday.
The 15-man squad also sees the return of Niroshan Dickwella, who last played an ODI in March 2019 before being dropped for the home games against Bangladesh in July. He also chose not to travel to Pakistan, as did Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews, all now back in the squad.
The seam bowling attack for the series comprises of Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara and Isuru Udana, but is without senior bowler Suranga Lakmal, who played in the World Cup last year, but has been omitted from ODIs since. There were no surprises on the spin front: Wanindu Hasaranga, who impressed in Pakistan, and Lakshan Sandakan, are the frontline options. The offspin of De Silva is also there as support. Dasun Shanaka and Mathews are the secondary seam bowling options.
Opener Danushka Gunathilaka, meanwhile, missed out on selection due to injury, with the selectors instead going with Shehan Jayasuriya.
Lahiru Thirimanne had led Sri Lanka in the ODIs in Pakistan, but he was dropped for the upcoming games after scoring 36 and 0 in the two completed games in Karachi, both of which Sri Lanka lost.
Minod Bhanuka, Oshada Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Sadeera Samarawickrama and Angelo Perera were some of the younger players who made the trip to Pakistan but missed out this time, with the return of the high-profile players.
The three ODIs will be played on February 22 and 26 and March 1 in Colombo, Hambantota and Pallekele respectively, before the teams contest two T20Is.
Squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Avishka Fernando, Kusal Perera, Shehan Jayasuriya, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Isuru Udana, Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara
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