Eoin Morgan provides answers to England’s testing questions

As he trotted off the field at Trent Bridge with his first test match hundred in the bag, the smile on Eoin Morgan’s face was telling. Not just relief, it was reassurance that here he had proved beyond all doubt that he belongs in Test cricket.

England have invested plenty of faith in Morgan, and quite understandably so. That talent and temperament which had been on show in limited overs international cricket throughout his formative year have caused quite a stir.

Perhaps Andy Flower, himself a nugget of a left handed batsmen who was adept at manoeuvring all and sundry in all forms of the game sees something of himself in the young Irishman.

But after scores of 37 and 44 against Bangladesh, the question remained, could Morgan make the step up in Test Cricket?

The critics pointed at a technical flaw outside off-stump, a lack of first class cricket where he averaged 24 for Middlesex last year, and an array of unorthodox strokes which could prove his undoing.

But here was an innings which answered many of the doubts, if not all of them. England have rarely seen a batsman perform so well in their international career, less so in all forms of cricket. Pietersen was the last one, but Morgan on this evidence deserves no lesser billing than his counterpart.

While Pietersen’s innings was a scattergun approach, betraying ring rustiness and a lack of preparation, Morgan’s was as cool and collected an innings as any in living memory. The fires of county cricket have warmed him up nicely for this, Pietersen would do well to heed that lesson.

And he needed to be on form, coming in with his team four wickets down and with the bal doing plenty, it needed Morgan to be watchful. So he was, playing watchfully and without alarm.

Then as he saw off the quicker men, he cut loose against the spinners who could not match the pressure of Asif and Aamer. There were shots of all varieties, sweeps, reverse sweeps, cuts and cover drives-the only thing missing was the pull stroke which his critics may argue he still needs to show he can play well, unlike Michael Bevan who he is so often compared to.

Yet this was not a day for the critics, as all doubts melted away. Morgan had performed as England believed he could, with their team in trouble Morgan-ably supported by Collingwood-led his side away from danger, as he has so often already in One Day Cricket.

Suddenly the doubts, the shot selection, the supposed weakness outside off stump and the poor first class records, have simply melted away. When he was asked afterwards what it was about international cricket which so inspired him, he simply shrugged his shoulder’s and smiled.

It was a telling statement if only because it confirmed that Morgan has simply proved himself a man for the big occasion. If England are looking ahead to the Ashes, Morgan has furthered his cause considerably. Because despite the most testing of questions, Morgan appears to have all the answers.


Salman Butt is the glue holding Pakistan’s fragile batting line-up together

Pakistan are facing a hard task to chase down a world record score in the fourth innings of a Test match, a hard one, but not yet an impossible one thanks to some eminently sensible batting from Ashar Ali and in particular Salman Butt.

How the early start will be key for Pakistan, if they can avoid losing wickets early tomorrow and slowly begin to transfer the pressure back onto Australia, then a compelling day’s cricket ought to be in the offing.

No-one will be more crucial to their chances in this match than Salman Butt, for Ricky Ponting and Australia will know that if they can snare Butt, then the game is there’s.

That is how vital Butt is to the Pakistan team, while their bowling ought to be a test for most Test Match nations, with the prodigious Mohammed Aamer, Mohammed Asif and Umar Gul along with the wily Danesh Kaneria to contend with, their batting is weak.

It would be a disservice to the Australian bowlers to say that a score of 148 was always likely against that batting line-up, but there is a palpable lack of experience-especially at the top of the order.

Imran Farhat is arguably two or three places too high opening the batting, Azhar Ali at three is making his debut at the age of 25, and Umar Amin and Umar Akmal-though both hugely talented, are by any estimation inexperienced to be playing at 4 and 5.

How Pakistan miss a Mohammed Yousuf-who has a test match double hundred at this very ground, or Younis Khan-playing down the road at Surrey. But sadly personal pride, and the kind of infighting that has blighted Pakistan cricket, have put paid to that.

It is a shame, because this match could conceivably have been there’s for the taking-with a more methodical and experienced batting line-up unlikely to have caved in the manner they did in the first innings.

So the onus is on Salman Butt, the one Pakistan batsman to show real determination and skill against the Australian bowlers, who must carry the fight. By comparison to the rest of the top order he has plenty of experience, having experienced his own ups and downs throughout a career which is still young at 25.

But what has always been clear has been his abundant talent, best shown by some of his gorgeous off-side cuts, but he has emerged from his troubles to begin to put some innings of real class together.

Since his return to the side in 2009 he has hit 4 50’s and 1 century-against Australia in Hobart. In this match alone he is currently averaging 121, and he has become arguably the key man in this batting line-up.

No-one will know that more than Australia, and they will be gunning for him from the off. But if Butt can hang in their, along with some support from some of his more inexperienced, and even more experienced colleagues, maybe Ricky Ponting’s won’t have things all their own way just yet.

Pace proves the key in a great week for the fast bowlers

The sight of a genuine pace bowler terrifying all and sunder may be becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence in cricket; it was an oddly refreshing week to be a pace bowler.

Pace bowlers in Test Cricket have found life strangely difficult, bar the honourable exceptions of Mitchell Johnson and the fantastic combination of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, while the recent retirements of the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Shane Bond did suggest that perhaps pace bowling could become a thing of the past.

After this week, you could not be more wrong, as the wondrous joys of pace bowling have once more been on show for the entire cricketing world to see.

It was appropriate that at the ‘Home of Cricket’™ , Shaun Tait-a pace man capable of delivering them as quick as anyone out there today-albeit in small doses-ripped the beating heart out of a resurgent England with a terrific spell of bowling which had the pundits harking back to the truly great spells of Ambrose, Marshall and Lillee.

100mph......nuff said

Reaching the mythical 100mph mark, he sent Andrew Strauss’ stumps flying and then followed it up with Michael Yardy’s. It was a truly awesome display, and one from which England never recovered, and it had Ricky Ponting fending questions about possible Ashes’ comebacks.

But if that wasn’t enough, just a matter of days later, Tait’s Australian team-mates found themselves on the end of some similarly speedy stuff.

Pakistan cricket may have been in turmoil, but their ability to get genuinely threatening pace bowlers fit and firing is arguably second to none.

This week it has been the sight of the old and the new. The old-Shoaib Akhtar, more a huffer and puffer these days, but still capable of bowling genuinely quickly. He was the original 100mph man, and while he didn’t reach that this time, in his second game he bowled with genuine menace in a spell which harked back to those great days at the start of the decade when he ran amok.

The others were the new guard, the ever-reliable Umar Gul whose brand of high speed Yorkers continue to make him such a devilish prospect in 20/20 cricket.

Then finally there is, arguably the star of the show, Mohammed Aamer. 18 years old, capable of bowling mid-90s with consistency and plenty of variation. He truly is a remarkable talent, and Rameez Raja rather scarily admitted he was better than Wasim Akram was at the same age.

The Future of Fast Bowling?

Whether he can emulate the feats of Akram is another thing, but certainly the future for Pakistan cricket, and indeed fast bowling itself-looks in safe hands.

Finally, a week of extravagant pace bowling was rounded off with a more domestic feel as one young English pace bowler served notice that perhaps there may be genuine pace bowlers lurking within the County scene.

England’s bowling attack has plenty of talent, variety and skill, but in terms of fast bowling, they tend to stick more to the fast medium side. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graham Onions, Steven Finn and Ryan Sidebottom all touch 90mph but rarely ever exceed it. Even the top fast bowling prospects, Chris Woakes, James Harris and Nathan Buck are medium to medium fast at best.

Indeed, since the departures of Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones, raw pace is the one thing lacking from England’s attack.

The alternatives, if you call them that, are hardly an inspiring bunch. The leading candidate-hence is rapid rise to England contention-is Ajmal Shahzad who is capable of firing down mid-90’s balls with a solid repeatable action. The only other genuine quick bowler is Sajid Mahmood-a bowler who shows little signs of improving on his early promise and adding accuracy to his speed.

Given the far from promising scene for English quick men, perhaps it’s comforting to see 22-year old fast bowler Maurice Chambers rip through Nottinghamshire with genuine speed.

That rare thing: Young, English and quick

10 wickets in any match is a remarkable feat, but doing so with pace bowling, menace and no little skill, is a wonderful sight. While talk of international honours maybe premature, a Lions call-up could be in the offing.

While in the grand context of this week’s events, Chambers feats mean little compared to those of Tait, Aamer and Akhtar, it simply capped a great week to be a pace bowler.