12. August 2009 20:40
With England's coach Andy Flower less than enthusiastic about the performance of England's middle order at Headingley, it is clear that there will be a change in the batting for the Oval, possibly more than one. Bopara looks to be the first casualty, his run-scoring having followed a downward curve over the Ashes series from a low base. So who should bat at No 3? The selectors are likely to favour Jonathan Trott, having much faith in their pecking order system. Geoff Miller, said yesterday "Our policy is consistency and continuity. Jonathan was brought into the Headingley square because he merited it. If we bring somebody else in, then why did we pick Jonathan in the first place? It is just logical thinking". I beg to differ. Miller is saying that because the selectors made one bad decision, the dictates of logic require that they repeat it at the Oval. I can't answer his rhetorical question as to why they picked Trott for Headingley. His record of only 18 first class hundreds in 217 innings (one for every 12 trips to the middle) hardly does the talking for him. At least he is South African - they usually do well for us.
Look at Ramprakash's record by contrast: 108 hundreds in 698 innings (one in 6.46) and an average over a long career of 54.35. Let's put that in context; it's more than Lara, Compton and Greg Chappell and up there with Barry Richards and Sobers. Of course there is more to being a successful Test player than churning out hundreds against the counties - ask Graeme Hick. And Ramprakash has had more than his fair share of chances for England, 92 innings with only 2 hundreds and an average of 27. Frequently Ramprakash appeared nervous and restricted in his stroke play when playing for England as if overwhelmed by the responsibility and the burden of expectation. Why should he be given another chance as he approaches 40?
My main reason is a non-cricketing one. Although the first season of Ramprakash's recent Indian summer preceded his triumph on Strictly Come Dancing (he averaged over 100 in 2006) the manner in which he has followed up those twin successes has, if anything been even more remarkable, especially in an era when very few manage to play on prolifically into their late thirties. In the following seasons he has averaged 101, 62 (completing his hundredth hundred in the process) and 100.75 so far this season. Those who know him feel that his Strictly triumph has relaxed him as a person and as a batsman and given him greater confidence in his abilities. Geoff Boycott recently said that he couldn't imagine that any activity that he engaged in off the field could have helped his batting. GB always was a bit black and white; those of us who take a more nuanced view of life can well understand why inner fulfillment in another field involving testing challenges in front of an audience of millions could have provided Ramps with the mental strength to stamp his authority on bowling attacks up and down the country. Surely that is what we are looking for going into this decisive Test and not the knocking knees of a debutant.
2. August 2009 22:59
At the start of the second day of this test match, last Friday, Australia were 126-1. It took just 40 overs for the England bowlers, led by James Anderson and Graham Onions and assisted by the moving ball, to reduce them to 263 all out. England received 36 overs and reached 116-2. If that were to happen again tomorrow, England could be facing a target in the region of 120 by mid-afternoon. But could it happen again?
You bet it could. Australia are, in fact, in a substantially worse position than they were on Friday morning. Here are four good reasons why. First, on Friday morning they were expected by most observers, including Dan, to crack on and post a big total. They were hardly under pressure to survive; on Monday morning, they jolly well will be. Second, they have already lost Ricky Ponting. The fall of the captain's castle is a critical psychological setback for the visitors and it will have hurt them. Third, not only can we expect the ball do do exactly the same favours for Anderson and Onions as it did on Friday morning, since it is almost exactly as old, but also we have seen impressive turn for Graeme Swann, something which the Aussie batsmen did not have to contend with in the first innings. Fourth, the Australia team has learned to fear the final day of matches in this series. At Cardiff, they failed to win a match which was theirs for the taking. At Lord's, they were undone by Andrew Flintoff, a man who sends shivers down Australian spines like no player since Ian Botham.
The Australia team is in disarray. Test Match Sofa has already exclusively revealed, thanks to Manny at Edgbaston, that the Australian players were not speaking to, or even sitting with, each other at breakfast on Friday; on Saturday they stayed in their separate rooms. Mitchell Johnson has been wound up by his mother, Shane Watson openly questioned the reliability of the opening batsmen, Phillip Hughes broke with selection protocol: it has all been going wrong. If Australia lose today then it may not even be Ponting who calls the coin toss at the Oval.
1. August 2009 19:45
It is so tempting to revel in the elements and congratulate Mother Nature for effectively ruling out any chance of an Australian win at Edgbaston. England could just about manage it, if they reached 450 tomorrow and then bowled the Aussies out in two sessions on Monday, but the prospect of the visitors taking 18 more wickets and having a second innings in the twelve hours remaining stretches the bounds of belief. So it's got to be advantage England.
Or is it? Andrew Strauss believes that an Ashes win is only meaningful if you take on the best Australian side there is. That's why he let Graham Manou sub in for the injured wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, after the toss and the naming of teams on Thursday. Presumably he would also want to beat the Australians without the weather helping. But surely, you might say, you have to take whatever luck comes your way? I would say not. To follow that line of reasoning is to miss the essence of a victory against the old enemy.
You see, no-one whinges like the Aussies when they fail to win. If they have an excuse for a defeat, or even a draw, it is repeated ad nauseam. They failed to beat England at Lord's in 1997 because rain intervened. The same was said of Brisbane in 1998, with knobs on. England were let back into the 2005 Ashes contest because Glenn McGrath was injured at Edgbaston, an excuse which was wheeled out again at Trent Bridge. You get the idea. So, if England are to regain the Ashes this time, it's got to be all-out, full-strength warfare in blazing sunshine. And should we lose, we can tell anyone who'll listen that we'd have won if we'd had Kevin Pietersen.