Torrid summer ends in style for England

It has been a summer tour to forget for England with off field activity dominating the headlines, with the end not coming soon enough for Andrew Strauss and his men.

However last night they did their talking on the field with an emphatic 121 runs over Pakistan, Eoin Morgan once again showing his class with an unbeaten 107*  before Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann went to business with the ball, taking three wickets apiece.

It means England have been victorious in all six of their series this summer, the disappointment of the spot-betting scandal still casting the cricket into the shadows however.

But what successes can England take out of a summer where the cricket has been on the front pages for once but for the wrong reasons.

Well for starters we don’t have to play Pakistan again for at least a few years, they are a talented team don’t get me wrong, but similar to gaggle of women getting ready for a hen do, they contain far too much baggage.

On a more serious note, England’s batting line-up looks to have a decent structure to it now in test cricket, Jonathan Trott is the no-nonsense number three we have been crying out for, nearly becoming the first man to score two double centuries at Lords. Whilst Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan are viable options for the number six spot.

The form of Alastair Cook took a turn at the Oval where he recorded his first century since March, however both Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen are still under pressure ahead of this winters Ashes.

Another plus has been the bowling attack, in both test and limited overs cricket, the attack looks formidable, James Anderson has taken over 30 wickets in six tests at 16 apiece, ably supported by Stuart Broad and Steven Finn in the longer form of the game, Broad and Tim Bresnan aiding the Lancastrian in the shorter forms.

Graeme Swann’s rise to being the best spinner in world cricket continued this summer, despite it being mainly ruled by pace bowlers, whilst wicket keeper Matt Prior has confirmed himself as a test class wicket keeper batsmen, with several match saving or winning knocks, including an important century at Trent Bridge.

On the negative side, as mentioned before Kevin Pietersen has gone through a poor summer with the bat, so poor in fact he was discarded by the One-Day side for the series with Pakistan and sent back to county cricket to regain form.

Away from the controversy surrounding the latter part of the summer, it has been a good test for England with good cricket played throughout, no doubt the highlight being the One-Day series win over Australia.

However the summer of 2010 will be remembered for the spot betting scandal and nothing more, people will already be forgetting Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad’s record eighth wicket partnership at Lords, or James Anderson swinging his way through Pakistan at Trent Bridge.

Unfortunately people will always remember the bad things, the things that have changed or tarnished the game and what is more unfortunate is the whole scandal will dominate cricket for some time yet, despite the prospect of the Ashes just around the corner.

Trying to remain on the positives however, six wins from six for England this summer, only two series losses under the Flower/Strauss regime, World Twenty20 Champions and we have the best spin bowler in the world.

See there is much to cheer about if you’re an England fan.

Pakistan – The naughty school child

When you were at school and you misbehaved, there was a designated place you had to go, whether it be out of the room, or in a ‘naughty corner’ likewise if you plagiarised or cheated you were expelled.

So when a team who are under investigation for cheating previously, cheat again, why are they not expelled?

Pakistan’s cricket team came to England in July to try to re-establish their position in world cricket, after being banned from playing in their home country.

And it was all going so well, drawing their first series against Australia, the development of Mohammed Amir being one of the highlights after the 18-year-old paceman showed glimpses of why so many compare him to the great Wasim Akram.

But then the tour turned into a farce.

First Pakistan were annihilated by England in the opening two tests and despite winning the third match at the Oval, the tour descended into anarchy as the News of the World published a video which clearly showed a ‘middle-man’ taking money for the Pakistani’s to fix certain balls in fourth test match.

Disgraced Pakistani trio from l-r Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Asif and Salman Buttsweaty palm to a

Three players including captain Salman Butt and Mohammed Amir were arrested and placed under investigation by the International Cricket Council (ICC)

Now there are claims that Friday’s third One-Day International was fixed as well, well I’m sorry but how can the ICC even think about staging the last two ODI’s, let alone allow Pakistan to keep playing international cricket?

When anything from a lad at school who has scribbled exam answers onto his sweaty palm to a cricket team fixing outcomes of matches for financial gain is caught they need to be punished.

But in the classroom the one thing that is worse than a cheat, is a snitch, especially a snitch with no proof.

Such as Ijaz Butt the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) who openly stated that England

‘s players were also being paid to throw the third international on Friday.

What is more confusing than a man, clearly trying to take the spot-fixing spotlight off his own

team by passing it onto a team who were trying to help Pakistan at the start of the summer, is the fact he has no proof, no evidence to reinforce his claims.

It is time Pakistan went home, they have ruined what had been a good summer of cricket, they have

tarnished the game and need to be punished because of it. And children, how do we punish cheats? We expel them, so come on ICC show you’ve got the balls  and tell them schools over.

Yorkshire season review

It has been a strange season for Yorkshire this year, so impressive yet without reward, the Tykes end 2010 with no silverware, despite having their best campaign for several seasons.

Beginning the first-class season as favourites for the drop and with no outstanding chances in either of the shorter format, Andrew Gale and his men have had a top three finish in the County Championship, whilst they reached the semi-final of the new CB40 tournament.

They even topped the County Championship for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, whilst the Tykes’ won their opening four CB40 games in a undeniably impressive start to the campaign.

It is however the emergence of the younger players which has been even more impressive, with the likes of Adam Lyth, Ajmal Shahzad and Jonny Bairstow to name a few have had fantastic season.

All three along with Adil Rashid are in contention for at least an England Lion’s tour place this winter, Shahzad and Rashid maybe vying for a spot in the Ashes tour party.

But it has been a well balance squad this year for Yorkshire, throw in with the youth the ever impressive Jacques Rudolph and the ever reliable skipper Andrew Gale and you have the spine of an excellent outfit.

It is fair to say the White Rose will be disappointed not to end the season with either the County Championship crown or the CB40 trophy, but there is always next season and lets face it, this young side is only going to get better.

With the nucleus of a strong side already in place at Headingley Carnegie the future is bright, something people were not saying 12 months ago.

Slick Arsenal batter Braga

Cesc Fabregas netted twice as Arsenal opened up their Champions League campaign with a 6 goal thrashing of Portuguese outfit Braga which never looked in doubt.

Arsene Wenger’s side had the Emirates drooling over their effortless passing and superb attacking play, making their opponents look like a Sunday league side.

An early penalty from Fabregas gave Arsenal the perfect start, before Andrey Arshavin swept home on the half hour to double their lead, four minutes Marouane Chamakh finished a superb flowing move, cooling slotting past the helpless Felipe.

Fabregas slotted home his second just after half time, before substitute Carlos Vela netted twice, first chipping the ball over the advancing keeper before cooling sliding in Arsenal’s sixth.

Braga were often chasing shadows, as the Gunners’ intricate passing and flowing movement was appreciated by the Emirates faithful.

When Arsenal play with such a dirty swagger, they are arguably the best footballing side in the country and they demolished their opponents with ease over the course of 90 minutes.

With all the mystery surrounding skipper Cesc Fabregas over the summer, it will have been pleasing for Gunner’s fans to have seen him as the fulcrum around which Arsenal turned the screw on their Portuguese opponents.

The Spaniard controlled the game from start to finish, showing he still has the fight for Arsenal by declaring he was not happy with his performance as he didn’t complete his first senior hat-trick.

However his manager Arsene Wenger will have been pleased with his sides efforts, as he will want this form to continue as they look to continue their impressive start to the season.

Where next for county cricket?

Rewind 12 months and the ECB were suggesting a upheaval of the county calendar which included dropping the One-Day competition, reducing the amount of four-day cricket and having shed loads of Twenty20 matches throughout the summer.

Yet here we are almost half way through a hectic final week of the season, with three teams still able to win the County Championship, several teams vying for promotion, a few trying to avoid the dreaded drop and then a One-Day cup final on Saturday.

Not quite where we thought we would be a year ago, however it has been one of the best domestic seasons in recent years, no run away leaders, no teams languishing away and so much talent the England Lions may need to take a ‘B’ side on tour this year, just so everyone is rewarded.

And although there has been less talk of upheaval for the 2011 season, the ECB are not completely ruling out small changes, to believe it or not the Twenty20 competition.

Yes the format supposedly indestructible 12 months ago, in fact the format that was enhanced for this season could be taken down a notch for the 2011 campaign.

It was reported in the middle of the summer that several counties were saying the format introduced to boost the appeal of cricket and get bums on seats, was actually a burden with several attendances dipping below 1,500.

The concentration of matches in the middle of the summer effectively meant a county would play eight home games in 44 days and with attendance figures dwindling come the end of the period, a change could be afoot.

But how could they improve it to suit everybody?

Well lets look at the facts, when Twenty20 was introduced its aims were to get people, especially families into grounds, for 3-4 hours of good cricket and excitement, boosting cricket’s appeal overall.

Now when you think that to attend all eight of your counties home games this year, it could cost one full paying adult £320 in a season at £40 a ticket (average)

Who is going to pay that? Realistically you can throw a couple of kids prices in with that, maybe another adult and your spending a fortune.

What is being suggested is a better format, counties play 12 matches, six home six away on an alternate week basis. Matches are played on a Friday night, or a Sunday afternoon. this would mean three months of Twenty20 cricket for counties, culminating in the show piece of the domestic summer the Finals Day at the end of the season.

A cut down of four matches isn’t really that much, I bet if you asked the players ‘Do you play too much T20?’ the majority would say yes.

Spectators vote with their feet and their certainly suggesting there is too much T20 played, an evening at the cricket should be something to savour, not something that can be slogged to death as it is at the moment.

Maturity the key for Bairstow

From a wicket-keeper who could bat a bit, to a batsmen who can keep if need be, it has been a season of transformation for Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow in 2010.

Having made his county debut half way through the 2009 campaign, he has become one of the first names on the team sheet at Headingley Carnegie this year, hitting 845 runs in the county championship this year at a little over 42.

That isn’t too bad for a lad who doesn’t turn 21 for another few weeks.

However it is the maturity in his performance that have had so many people talking, many of whom cannot believe his tender age.

During this season he has taken his side to victory on several occasions, not least in the penultimate game, a vital win over league leaders Nottinghamshire, the youngster hitting an unbeaten 63 from 51 balls to make sure the title race went to the final week.

Beginning the season as the first choice wicket-keeper, injuries and England call-ups meant Yorkshire Director of Professional Cricket Martyn Moxon picked Gerard Brophy as keeper and stuck Bairstow in solely as a top order batsman.

And he hasn’t disappointed, hitting eight half centuries this season, whilst also showing that he is more than capable in the field.

Even if Yorkshire finish the season without any silverware, they can be proud of a season in which the side have allowed the class of their youth to shine through and excel.

Hero to Zero

What is wrong with Kevin Pietersen? Who does he think he is?

To play for your country (or in Pietersen’s case adopted country) you should earn it, by playing good solid county cricket and then be rewarded with your England cap.

Pietersen has only played 11 times in four years for Hampshire, before he announced he was leaving the county in June, whilst he hasn’t scored a century for England in almost two years.

How is that deserving of a place in the national side?

Yet with his rant on Twitter yesterday, he basically told everybody he feels he in indispensible to the side.

He said being dropped from the national side was f***ked up. How is it?

Your not in form, you haven’t been for a long time, your technique has gone to pot, you haven’t been capable of a big score against two of the poorer sides in world cricket and you even admitted yourself, you don’t feel you are the player you once were.

So why is being dropped such a big surprise?

In his rant he also said he was set to join Surrey for a month’s cricket.

When your out of form, a month’s cricket playing different forms of the game, is far better than six controversial One-Day matches with Pakistan.

What would have been nice is for KP to have not been so egotistical about it, for him to hold his hands up and say ‘I understand why you’re not selecting me, I’ll try my best for Surrey to try to regain some form.’

But no, instead a foul-mouthed rant, taken down a few minutes after, outlining what he thought of the situation.

I just hope his new county Surrey make him graft for a place in their first XI, instead of handing him a royalty card like England have done for the past few years.