December 2010

Yes Australia Were Wretched But England Were Pretty Damn Good

by daniel 29. December 2010 15:27

And so it came to pass that with 20 sessions of the series remaining, England retained the Ashes.

 

The final morning was something of an anticlimax. With Ryan Harris unable to bat, England required only three wickets for victory. Aussie dreamers may have fantasized about a Mitchell Johnson ton and an 8 hour epic from the gritty Brad Haddin (whose features seem to have been carved from Ayer’s Rock itself).

 

But it was not to be. Within five minutes Mitchell contrived to inside edge a Tremlett delivery onto his pad and off stump. The champagne was readied. The glasses chilled.

 

Siddle and Haddin batted for another hour and compiled an entertainingly futile 86 runs from 16 overs which merely served to .prolong the England fans’ revelry.

 

Prior and then Collingwood “dropped the Ashes” but, as Andy Zaltzman said on commentary, “I’m pretty sure they’ll be picking them up again in a minute”.

 

The largely English crowd at the MCG sang, gloated, and gloried in the delicious improbability of watching Australia flail hopelessly in their own backyard.

 

And then the end came. Siddle’s punchy, ugly, wild but worthy innings of 40 was cut short by a decent catch on the boundary by Pieterson off Swann, and Bresnan delivered the coup de grace having “the Good German” Hilfenhaus caught behind for a fortuitous duck..

 

Strauss, in a generous display of parsimony, hadn’t even bothered taking the new ball and perhaps Cricket Australia can use the savings to compile the necessary paperwork for their selectors’ redundancy notices.

 

For whilst England’s squad, management and preparation must be lauded to the skies, they have been ably assisted by an Australia in disarray.

 

Most of the Aussie players have been together now since the 2009 Ashes series, but the incoherence in individual selection decisions (the dropping of Hauritz, the picking of Doherty, then Beer, the resting of Johnson for one match, the call up for a hopelessly out of shape Bollinger, the lack of a proper number 6 or opener to replace Katich) has rendered the once mighty Ponting impotent, exposed and broken.

 

For sure he’s not been helped by the poor form of his vice captain. Indeed of his entire top 6 only two men average above 25. Only once before in Ashes history has this happened to Australia.

 

By contrast England’s batsmen, with the irritating exception of Perth and Collingwood, have been in prime nick.

 

For only the second time in Ashes series England have scored over 500 in three test matches and there is still Sydney to come.

 

Perhaps the starkest indication of England’s dominance is that their wickets are being taken at an average of a full 19 runs apiece more across the series. That’s an average advantage of 380 runs per match.

 

This hasn’t been a series between two well matched teams. On the contrary, England are streets ahead of their hosts in every department.

 

Whether that is because Australia are a side for whom 4th in the world is as flattering a title as Hitler’s Time’s man of the year award in 1938, or because England are now a very good side will be debated probably until India visit England in the summer of 2011.

 

It’s probably a bit of both. And we shouldn’t forget England’s luck in this series. At the MCG they bowled first in cloudy conditions, batted under clear skies, and racked up an unassailable lead.

 

They won tosses that counted, but had the bravery to insert their hosts. They caught mostly what came to them and bowled fiercely disciplined lengths (except, again, at Perth).

 

However, the series is still up for grabs. Only when the Ashes is at stake do supporters tend to fixate more on their acquisition or retention. For every other test series it is the winning that counts, and England will desperately want to leave with a 3-1 victory, if for no other reason than the positive effect it will have on their ICC test ranking.

 

Already up to number 3, if they beat Sri Lanka and India in the summer they could take top spot. No one was predicting that 18 months ago.

 

For Australia it will be fascinating to see how they go about selecting their side for Sydney. Will they wield the axe on Clarke, Ponting (perhaps hiding behind his finger injury), Smith, Hughes, Hilfenhaus and Johnson (again)? Who will skipper if Ponting is left out? Can they really hope to go toe to toe on a turning track with Michael Beer as their frontline spinner against the number 2 bowler in the world?

 

You can be sure that 20 or 30 names will be touted as necessary saviours of Aussie cricket. But therein lies their problem. There really are no stand out candidates to replace the current under performers. Perhaps Khwaja will get a long anticipated call up. I’d get David Hussey in the side right away. But the solutions are far from obvious.

 

I can’t pretend not to enjoy watching the Aussies flap about like a reluctant Samurai committing hara-kiri, but for the gloating really to have meaning I do hope they can alight upon a coherent plan for moving ahead, because when they next visit England in 2013 I want England’s win not to be overshadowed by the incompetence of their hapless opponents.

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I Must Be Sick; I Feel Pity For Ponting

by daniel 28. December 2010 16:56

I have risen from my Yuletide deathbed just in time to watch the perhaps even more remarkable resurrection of English cricket.

 

I say remarkable, yet England had been on top for so much of the previous three tests (yes, even day one in Perth) that it would be reasonable to greet their brutal trouncing of Australia at the MCG with little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a sotto voce “well I never.”

 

But that would be to ignore the true significance of the team’s all round performance.

 

At the start of the series England’s bowling line up was fixed in stone. The three support seamers and spinner were only going to play in the event of injury, we thought.

 

At Perth Tremlett was rightly called up and performed excellently, but it was Perth and Tremlett is a man mountain.

 

At the “G”, however, it has been both Tremlett and Bresnan who have driven England to the brink of retaining the Ashes with a match to spare. That is not to downplay Anderson’s 1st innings efforts but he was bowling in favourable conditions on a first day pitch.

 

When the surface looked as flat as a Bengaluru belter it wasn’t to Anderson that Strauss turned for the post tea breakthrough.

 

Bresnan’s spell after the break of 3-2 in 18 balls signals that England are not simply a well drilled XI; a first team showered with the best coaching resources money can buy sent out to do a specific job against an ailing Australian side in disarray. An XI drawn solely from contracted players, kept as far away from the mediocrity of county cricket as possible to avoid bad habits wrecking promising careers.

 

No. The heroes of yesterday were two county stalwarts. Waiting in the wings are Panesar and Shahzad both of whom played extensively in the championship last summer. Morgan, Prior and Finn all got a healthy amount of time on the county circuit as well.

 

The signs are very promising. Certainly there isn’t the depth in batting that India possesses but it’s bowlers that win you matches and currently England have Onions to return as well as the 8 bowlers out in Australia.

 

For the hosts it was another miserable day. The five wickets in the morning session brought as much anxiety as relief. The pitch wasn’t misbehaving but it wasn’t going to be easy to bat for two days on it.

 

Siddle’s six wickets were deserved but irrelevant.

 

Harris sustained a stress fracture of the ankle, Johnson managed a straight ball and Hilfenhaus doubled his series wicket taking tally by picking up two late wickets.

 

Thereafter it was all about how the Aussies would handle the mountainous deficit (415 – the highest ever after batting first in an Ashes match).

 

Things began well. The new ball failed to swing. On the Sofa we began to wonder if a Brisbane style reverse was on the cards. 

 

In the end it all worked out painfully predictably.

 

Watson needlessly ran out Hughes who looked in better touch than at any time since his debuts tests against South Africa.

 

Then Watson left a reversing in-ducker from Bresnan, Ponting dragged on, and Hussey, who was due a triple century after his first innings failure drove straight to Bell at short extra.

 

I should be elated. I am elated, but also saddened. It could be the gastro-enteritis talking, but Ponting’s capitulation now seems a punishment too far.

 

He imploded yesterday over the Pieterson inside edge. Today he was slowly humiliated. The longer he batted the more it must have been obvious that not only were Australia a beaten side, they were being annihilated but a vastly superior team, with a depth of resources he could only dream of, led by selectors and management sure of purpose.

 

Eventually all the greats have to go. They are all beaten by the passage of time, but if, as seems likely, this is Ponting’s last test series, he will be defeated by his oldest and bitterest foe, not with pride in tact but rather humiliated, eviscerated and publicly shamed.

 

Border, Taylor and Waugh got to leave on highs with their country top of the tree and moistened Aussie eyes mouthing lacrimose dirges about their service to the venerable Baggy Green.

 

Like Julian, the last of the great Roman emperors, he has been betrayed as much by his own men as his naïve leadership failings. The hun (South Africa), the vandals (England) and the Goths (India) are laying waste to Australia’s once mighty empire.

 

You may say good riddance. Before the series began it was my heart felt wish. And after a revitalizing whisky or two I no doubt will be dancing and gloating away about one hour into the fourth day’s play tomorrow morning when England’s victory is confirmed.

 

But just at this moment, in my sickly addled state, I’m already feeling a pang of nostalgia for a once magnificent cricketing colossus.

 

 

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Match Report Days 1 and 2 Melbourne by Manny (cos Dan was ill)

by tom 27. December 2010 23:43

DAY 1

So Cricket Australia instructed the MCG groundsman ( I refuse to call him a 'curator' as he is neither in charge of an art gallery nor a museum) to prepare a green top wicket. This he did to perfection. Let the record show that I am firmly of the opinion that the home side should prepare wickets to suit their side as this is one of the main purposes of having home advantage. The only flaw in this Baldrickesque plan was that Ponting lost the toss and was thus consigned to bat first.

A combination of excellent bowling together with a rash of poor shots resulted in Australia being shot out for 98, their lowest score against England at the MCG.

Tremlett bowled with hostility and consistently hit that difficult in-between length which prevents batsmen from getting either back or forward. Just such a delivery accounted for Watson. The ball reared from just back of a length, found the shoulder of the bat and looped to Pietersen.

Now if Phil Hughes is a genuine test match opener, then I am favourite to become the next Pope. This would be the first occasion that a lapse Jew has filled this role. Having attempted to get out on several occasions, Hughes finally succeeded in doing so by playing a flat-footed slash at a ball way outside his off stump.

The most impressive feature of England's bowling was the consistency of both line and length. I can only recall of handful of balls bowled on or outside the line of leg stump. This meant that even when the ball failed to swing, few if any cheap runs were being offered. Bresnan's economy rate was under 2 per over. This pressure soon told on the fragile Australian batting order. Undoubtedly the key wicket was that of Hussey who can console himself  that at least he was dismissed by a corker of a delivery from Anderson. the ball pitched on the line of off stump thus requiring Hussey to play at it and then moved fractionally away providing Prior with on of 6 regulation catches. The remainder to the batting was a quite pathetic procession of ineptitude and poor technique against the moving ball. The worrying feature for Australia being that this is happening far too often. Lest we forget, they were hustled out for 88 this summer in their second test v Pakistan.

 In contrast  Strauss and Cook were largely untroubled by the Australian seamers all of whom bowled too short and too waywardly. This allowed both to either leave deliveries pitched too far outside the off stump and then milk the ball through the leg side when the bowlers looked to overcorrect their line. The one exception to this criticism was Siddle who bowled tidily but without a great deal of menace.

DAY 2

Can Australia's woes become any greater? Well, I for one can only hope so but I'm uncertain if they can sink further. During the morning session they at least looked interested in taking wickets and feigned some aggression and  bowled far better than the previous evening. Matters were helped by dismissing both Strauss and Cook which forced both Pietersen and Trott to consolidate. The result was that the scoring rate fell and this at least provided Ponting with a modicum of control.

Post lunch matters plunged to new depths as Ponting divested himself of his last remaining vestiges of self-respect and most of his match fee when he verbally abused both umpires following a referral for a caught behind decision against Pietersen. All technology available was unable to concussively show that the ball had been edged to Haddin and therefore umpire Daar's original decision of not out remained in force. Ponting's show of petulance was more in keeping of that of a vastly over privileged and spoilt child than a captain of a country's cricket team. Am I alone in recalling the mantra that the umpire's decision is final? Ponting's view of events is entirely irrelevant. The ICC has once again shown its lack of spunk in fining Ponting 40% of his match fee for this outburst. The penalty should fit the crime and he should be banned for 2 or 3 test matches. Now it could be argued that such a penalty may be irrelevant as he may be surplus to Australia's requirements in future. However, they principle still applies.

It is difficult for a side to retain its focus once its captain has demeaned himself in such a manner and it was little surprise that England found batting easiest in the final session and achieved a run rate in excess of 4 runs per over. During this period Ponting employed Clarke to rattle through a number of overs to improve the over rate and thereby avoid a further fine. This prompted me to question that together with his earlier fines would it be possible for a player to end a game owing money? A delicious thought. Following this exercise, Smith was introduced to the attack and bowled more utter filth in his 5 over spell than Ian Salisbury managed throughout his entire career. No mean feat, that. 

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I've been a very good boy this year

by ben 24. December 2010 20:00

Ho, ho, ho. Here I am on Christmas eve bearing gifts from our friends at CricketBetLive.  Those lovely Aussies think that Steve Smith is capable of getting more than 63 points* at the MCG! Lunacy, the useless midget can't bowl, can't bat and can only pray for catches at third slip. As Manny said on a recent podcast:

"He used to be a bowler who bats a bit, now he's a batsman who bowls a bit"

Cricketers described like that almost always turn out to be able to do neither.

One man who came into the England side with a bit-part reputation was Paul Collingwood and he transformed that reputation into one of determination, bloody-mindedness and nerve. We now expect him to grind out a match saving 85 at the MCG, almost more so than we would if he had actually scored a run this series. I don't buy it, he's never been great against express pace despite his low back lift. His line is 68.5 and I am with the under there.

At the opposite end of the form spectrum is Ian Bell. Hendo's favourite has looked in wonderful touch this series and has been stranded a couple of times with the tail but still scored enough runs to edge over his points line. The indications are that he will not be promoted and I was swayed by my brother during a long late night argument last night into thinking that was the right thing to do. My brother also fairly pointed out that whilst he may have been left with the tail a couple of times what great cricketers do when they are in the sort of form Bell is enjoying, is score tons. The pressure is on him a bit but I'm sticking with him and going over 64.5.

It may seem a bit foolish to ask a man who comes down the chimney for Ashes but my note is written and my brandy left out. See you all tomorrow night when we can open our present.

Good luck.

* 20 points per wicket, 1/run, 10/catch, 25/stumping.

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No More Speculation. Let's Just Wait And See.

by daniel 19. December 2010 06:08

I suppose the best thing that can be said for England’s performance on the last day of the 3rd test match was that it was mercifully brief.

 

Six of the Test Match Sofa commentary team were absent, snowbound in various locations across London and South East England.

 

Hendo, Sophia, Harwood and I settled down to the inevitable humiliation rather as a transgressing schoolboy waits outside a headmaster’s room for his punishment, and we didn’t have long to tarry.

 

Anderson defied all expectations by playing a straight batted drive off the back foot for three glorious runs that hinted at some impossible glory, but was immediately done for pace by a low bouncing straight ball from Ryan Harris.

 

Hendo still clung to the hope of a 300 run partnership between the delicious Bell and the stiff Prior, but the rest of us knew the game was up.

 

However, there was still just enough time, 49 minutes in fact, for a few expletive laden rants at dreadful technique. Bell somehow managed to learn no lessons from the last 20 years of playing cricket by flicking at a straight one and being trapped in front.

 

Swann dragged a ball back onto his stumps when he should have left it, and Prior’s braced front leg and obsession with hitting the ball when he could have watched it sail by resulted in another moment of glory for Harris and the catcher, Hussey.

 

Tremlett, however, batted marvelously for his 1 not out from 3 balls but Finn threw the match away within a mere 268 runs of victory by edging to Smith at 3rd slip.

 

It was all diabolical, defeatist ineptitude at its worst, but somehow we were grateful for not enduring 3 hours of unnecessary pluck and spirit.

 

At least there were no “what ifs”. Apart from the obvious “what if England hadn’t played disgracefully bad cricket from the last session of day 1 to the match’s conclusion”.

 

No doubt plenty of pained pundits will pen a trillion column inches trying to explain the remarkable turnaround in fortunes for both England and Australia. The arrival of wives and children will be criticized. Anderson’s paternity leave will come under fire. Collingwood will have his place in the team questioned.

 

For Australia there will be rejoicing at the restoration of the old order. Johnson will be hailed the hero. Ryan Harris, with his 6-47 will be garlanded with praise and the failings of the batsmen will be ignored.

 

I don’t know why it is that these two teams seem incapable of producing a close match despite being closely matched, man for man. But one thing I do know is that England shouldn’t change their side, except perhaps to rest Finn in favour of Shahzad. And that they will fancy their chances at both Melbourne and Sydney despite the hiding they’ve taken at Perth.

 

Australia, however, may be without Ponting at Melbourne, and this unexpected boost to Aussie morale could be the difference they need to maintain their challenge to regain the Ashes.

 

But that is all speculation, and since every speculative thought about the likely progress of this series has proved to be the fantastical animadvertion of an excitably unhinged public, I shall simply wait and see.

 

But whatever happens at the MCG, someone, somewhere will call for Warne or Brearley to be brought out of retirement. 

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