The Death of the Allrounder

15/07/2009

England allrounder Andrew Flintoff has announced that he will retire from Test cricket after the current Ashes series. In a trend that may become more familiar in years to come he has made himself available to still play in ODI and T20 cricket. It seems modern cricket may be no place for allrounders.

Flintoff has struggled with various injuries throughout his career, and while the timing of his announcement may be a shock, the decision perhaps is not. Since the defining moment of his career, the Ashes triumph of 2005, Freddy has missed 25 of Englands last 48 Test matches and has spent the better part of 2 of the last 4 years in rehabilitation for various injuries. His body just wasn’t up to it. While many may feel that Flintoff has been a great player during his international career the stats don’t do that theory much justice. Since 2005 Flintoff has averaged 28, without a 100, with the bat and 34 with the ball, with no five wicket hauls – hardly the stuff of legend. There is no denying the talent and ability of the player, but the work load he has been forced to handle has proved to big a burden, and his body has had enough.

A few years ago players were moaning about too much cricket. Then the T20 was born, and with it the likes of the IPL and its millions, the T20 World Cup, and domestic T20 competitions. There is now more cricket than ever. Yet the money on offer for the shortest form of the game means that players will still make themselves available for T20 and Test cricket will feel the pinch. The amount of cricket played, the stress, strain, and work load means that true Test allrounders are a dying breed, and some, like New Zealands Jacob Oram, have predicted that it will become impossible to be a Test allrounder in the very near future.

A look at Test teams around the world seems to suggest that Oram may be correct. With Flintoff now retiring how many true allrounders are there? Australia’s Shane Watson and New Zealands Jacob Oram have been spending as much time as Flintoff out injured. South Africa’s Albie Morkel has only just made his debut in their last Test played. Shakib Al-Hasan of Bangladesh and Shahid Afridi of Pakistan are both allrounders, but spinners have less mileage on them then fast bowlers. Perhaps this is the future of Test allrounders – all spin and no pace.

Mitchell Johnson of Australia has shown enough ability with the bat to suggest that he could develop into an all rounder but the more likely scenario is that Australia would like to keep him as a bowling all rounder, batting at number 8, just as South African managed the dual talents of Shaun Pollock. The South African’s may look to use the emerging potential of Wayne Parnell in the same manner.

The South African Test team of the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s possessed the all round abilities of Pollock, Kallis and Klusner, and at times Boje. Those were times without T20 cricket and perhaps we may never see the likes of that team again. Kallis is the only one left of that bunch and like any true legend, and all rounder, has modified his game to bring success to T20 cricket, but how long he is able to play all three formats is up for debate.

It seems that the modern game will see more and more players retiring from the longer format earlier than usual, and becoming ODI and T20 specialists. Will the all rounder survive?


Pride in Bafana Bafana

08/07/2009
pic from goal.com

pic from goal.com

The Confederation Cup is done and dusted. Brazil beat a competitive USA, who took a week to find any form, in the final, and the best team over the two weeks won. That’s perhaps what most of the world took from this two week dress rehearsal to next years World Cup, but the bigger story, the endearing story was that of Bafana Bafana, the South African national team.

The world, and more precisely many in Europe, may have taken the noise of the Vuvuzela as their memory, and irritant, of the two week show case in South Africa, they have missed the mark by a long way. The Vuvuzela is part of South African footballing culture and brings the continents atmosphere and spirit to the event. Those who oppose them should get over themselves. Next years World Cup is going to be in Africa and should be an African World Cup and anything else would be criminal. Get over the Vuvuzela and take notice of Bafana Bafana.

Pride and confidence in the countries team was at an all time low before the tournament. The team had failed to qualify for next years African Nations Cup and had they needed to go through qualifying for the World Cup they would have more than likely not made it. Their last appearance in the African Nations Cup saw Bafana fail to get past he first round. There was real belief and embarrassment that the team could make unwanted history by becoming the first host country not to get past the group stage of the World Cup. The nation had little faith in Joel Santana or his team.

It took just two weeks for that to change. A statistical look at the fortnight shows that Bafana actually just won one match in their five in coming 4th, but statistics don’t tell the whole story. Bafana were unlucky not to get more from a 0-0 draw with Iraq, before a strong performance against New Zealand just about saw them through to the next round. A 2-0 loss to the worlds best team, Spain, set them up against Brazil in the semi’s. This is where the heart and pride of Bafana was restored.

For 88 minutes Bafana didn’t just match Brazil but out played them in patches. This was the brave Bafana that the country hoped for and expected. It took a dubious free kick in the 88 minute to get Brazil through to the final. The South American heavy weights scored at least 3 goals in every game they played in the competition, except for against Bafana. Another brave performance followed against Spain in the 3rd/4th place play off. Again Bafana didn’t look out of their depth and more than matched the European champions and number one world ranked team. A 3-2 extra time loss brought pride to the country and showed the team what they were capable of.

There is still a lot of work for Bafana to do in the year leading up to the World Cup. They need to take their chances – this was the failing that was the difference between them and the Brazil and Spain. But the team spirit and belief are there and heroes have been found in Booth, Masilela, Gaxa, Pienaar, Kune and Modise. The pride and confidence has been restored and there is no reason why the host nation should not be thinking of a second round showing in Africa’s first World Cup, at least. The nation and continent are behind Bafana Bafana.


Owen – A Risk Worth Taking

06/07/2009
Picture from teamtalk.com

Picture from teamtalk.com

On Wednesday it looked like there was a chance that Michael Owen could be playing for Everton or Aston Villa, but more likely Stoke or Hull. The Newcastle player had just become a free transfer target having let his contract run down and was looking at his limited options. Four years of injury problems at Newcastle had made the once prolific Liverpool, Real Madrid and England striker a player who’s career seemed to winding down with the only real hopes of a mid table or relegation threatened team willing to take a chance on him. And then Sir Alex called.

48 hours later Owen was signing for the Champions, he was a Manchester United player. With Ronaldo and Tevez gone United were looking to reinforce their attacking lines with a goal scorer. The 80 million pounds brought in from the Ronaldo sale meant United have money to burn most of the games big name strikers were mentioned. United seemed on the verge of signing Karim Benzema before it was announced that he too would be heading to Madrid. David Villa seems set on staying in Spain, and the likes of Huntelaar, Fabiano, Kun Aguero and Ibrahimovic have all been linked at one time or other. There is still two months of the transfer window left and United may still bring in a big name expensive signing, but on Friday evening Michael Owen became a free transfer signing for Manchester United.

Many see this as a risk by Sir Alex, with none of the other top teams seeing Owen as a viable option. Liverpool fans have come out violently aggressive and bitter about their once goal scoring legend signing for United. Opinions are split on the signing but one thing is certain, Michael Owen on a free is a risk worth taking, and a great bit of business by United.

If Owens fitness continues to be a problem the consolation for United will be that he was free. But the forward believes his injury problems are behind him and was put through the most stringent medical in the clubs history before signing for far less then he was on at Newcastle. The gamble is one worth taking. The desire is still there from Owen and is clearly evident in his taking a huge pack cut to play for a team that gives him his best chance at honours and at getting back into the England fold. In a world cup year Owen will be best placed to show Capello that he is not finished, and in playing with Rooney, will give the England selectors something to think about. He has a lot to prove, not to the Liverpool fans vilifying him, but to himself and Capello, and has faith to repay in Sir Alex.

United have not played with an out and out goal scorer since Ruud van Nistelrooy left for Real, and Owen will give them that option. Whether coming off the bench or starting, Owen will bring something new to the United attack and the increased options and threat can only be a good thing. A fit Michael Owen, with the desire and burn to restore his name and reputation could be the stroke of genius United need to follow the departure of Ronaldo. Time will tell, but I think this could be a great signing by Manchester United – for them and for Michael Owen.