Monday, August 24, 2009

The Ashes is back in English hands (the 5th Test)

So the Urn is back in English hands…hurrah!

Freddie Flintoff did bugger all in this match, but his mere presence on the field seemed to be enough to spur Stuart Broad on to great things. He did run out Captain Pout…so we can’t ignore him entirely. It was a good note on which to retire.

Captain Pout spent far too much time gobbing on his hands and far too little time at the crease. But he cannot be blamed for this loss – unless his psychic abilities that failed to win him the toss are considered.

Nathan Hauritz probably needs treatment for depression after missing out on the best turning pitch of the series. He was a forlorn character for most of the match as he watched each puff of dust with an agonised expression.

However, the performance of the series goes to…the Australian selectors. Nobody can deny that their steadfast refusal to play a specialist spinner at the Oval was the single most influential performance of the whole series. North toiled away stoically, however it was not ever going to be enough.

There were, however, some other notable performances. Shane Watson made sure that everyone was worried about the pitch by nervously looking at it and constantlypatting it down. His psychological attack on his own team must go down as a crucial act in this test. They spent 5 overs getting the first five runs and after that it was such a struggle. Australia’s batsmen made the pitch look like a minefield, and then England cantered to almost 400 on it. The pitch was not a factor until the last innings.

Even so Strauss appeared very reluctant to win. He did his best to ensure no wickets fell early by refusing to put in close catchers and giving the batsmen an easy ride. I think he was probably beaten up after day 3 and told not to be so soft on poor Aussies.

Ian Bell, showed how is apparent inability to hit a straight ball was, in fact, just a ploy to lull the bowlers into a false sense of security. His seventy in the first innings was vital. However, I don’t think it was necessary for him to use the ploy of being unable to make the grade again in the second innings when England needed runs. That was just showing off.

Scattergun Johnson once again struggled to find a good length, and sometimes struggled to find the cut surface. He tried to break his own foot with a bouncer (perhaps he thought that injuring himself might result in a proper bowler being used!), but merely sent it ballooning over the batsman’s head for a wide. He managed to take the same number of wickets as Siddle at about the same average – but without anywhere near the same impact. Once again Hilfenhaus was the best bowler – the quiet achiever.

And what about Hussey? Too little, too late...but maybe there is more to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Normal Service has been resumed - The Headingly Test

Ok. Normal service has been resumed in the Ashes. As collapses go, England showed that they are the masters of the triple bogey, double summersault spineless capitulation. At least they improved in the second innings with some spirited batting by the new boys. Time for some changes?

I wouldn’t normally say that after one defeat, but the next test decides the Ashes so this is no time to go for youth over experience. England has had a gaping hole in their batting between the openers and number 6, a hole wider than the Grand Canyon that needs to be filled up quickly.

On to specifics though.

Stuart Broad played as if he had some aggression about him, both with bat and ball. I thought the snarling and staring showed the Australians a thing or two. It might have had more effect if England were not 300 runs behind at the time and looking decidedly shaky and the game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Still, it was good practice for the future.

England’s bowlers showed their true spirit with an act of charity that must go down in history as one of the best. The way they studiously avoided bowling any dangerous balls for the vast majority of Australia’s innings showed what gentlemen they are.

Scattergun Johnson finally got some reward for bowling his brand of random deliveries with a haul of 5 wickets. Imagine the surprise of the batsmen when he managed to bowl more than one straight ball every ten overs.

Peter Siddle’s liberal application of sunscreen on his lip finally paid dividends with the resultant glare getting him a bagful of wickets by blinding the batsmen and umpire at the same time. This is just as I predicted.

Ravi Bopara is saving up his big innings for The Oval. He has successfully lulled the Australian bowlers into a false sense of security and will light up the ground with a sublime double hundred. Mark my words (unless of course he isn’t picked – in which case he will languish on the sidelines with Bell-like grumpiness).

Ian Bell showed why he has been overlooked for the England side for a while. I assume that his selection was just a form of ‘ground truthing’ to make sure his initial dropping was the right thing to do.

Harmison took a wicket in his first over and then relaxed into his normal Johnson-like randomness, with the exception of a spell where Watson, for some reason, played as if the lights had gone out. I foresee a rest for Harmie.

But who is that I see in the shadows…is it Mark Ramprakash once again averaging over 100 in the county season (Third time in four years), is Marcus Trescothick averaging 78 this season and pondering whether he can do one more test for England, or is it Ian Trott, young and keen and averaging over 80 this season. Or is it all three?. My betting is that England will change at least two batsmen and drop Harmison for Flintoff. If they don’t change at least two middle order batsmen, they are buggered. This is one test that has to be won and not one where youth is to be nurtured.

PS. And Captain pout didn’t pout. Hallelujah. I didn’t check to see how much spit he layered onto his hands in this test.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

DiVenuto and Harmison in fine form - but for Durham

Yes...Michael DiVenuto scored 254 this week...and Harmie took a few wickets. And a test was played at Edgebaston in between the rain periods. Harmison looks like his form is on the wane though, and this probably means that he'll come into contention for the Oval test match - a flat batting track where underperforming bowlers get hammered. The selectors will wait until he achieves Mitchell Johnson-like accuracy and then pick him - dropping Broad who is starting to look like a test match bowler.

But on to the test match.

Phillip Hughes was dropped and then whinged about it on Twitter. He's looking like future captain material. Watson came in and looked like an opening batsman, before playing Freddie Flintoff into form with some pop-gun bowling. Haddin was awarded the Glen McGrath medal for injuring himself in the warm-up and allowing Graham Manou to make his test debut.

Johnson once again bowled some surprise straight balls, although I must admit that he did find a few more than usual scattered between his randomly directed thunderbolts. Hilfenhaus once again shouldered the burden of bowling England out - surely he's now running classes on swinging the ball for other Australian bowlers. Siddle

I also noted the return of sledging to the game. Or perhaps they were just passing the time of day during the dull parts of this match. Maybe Broad was explaining to Johnson about bowling and the art of getting it to go straight? Who knows, but Swann was certainly doing that and it paid dividends when his coaching finally paid-off when Johnson got his wicket. This is what all coaches live for. I'm sure Swann felt a warm feeling of satisfaction as he walked off. He may also need to coach Captain Pout on playing off-spin too - judging by the large gap between bat and pad that Punter obligingly left for him to exploit in the second innings. Memories of Harbajan Singh must have come flooding back.
The Edgebaston pitch become a bit lively with the rain, but then realised its reputation was at stake and settled down in the last two days to become the featherbed we all know it is. Once this happened there was no danger of either side winning.
The return of Ian Bell caused no waves whatsoever - I was hoping this well known whinger would compete with Captain Pout, but alas he kept quiet, obviously content with the amount of whinging he'd already done about being dropped from the team in the first place. With his colouring he reminds me of a mimime Boris Becker - but without the power, the sense of humour, charisma, or physique or the tennis racket (boom boom).
Michael Hussey showed that he is master of leaving the straight delivery...few other batsmen can have shown such a skill as he. Michael Clarke showed that he is possibly the best batsman on either side and ruined a good match by stubbornly batting through the last day. Surely the crowd derserved a batting collapse or two...but it was not to be.
And one point to raise. I have noticed that Captain Pout reached a milestone to be remembered. I'm not talking about him becoming Australia's highest scoring batsmen by passing the gritty and far grumpier Allan Border (although Border did have good reason to be Captain Grumpy given the sides he had to captain and frequency with which he found himself facing the might of the West Indies and watching a spectacular batting collapses while he himself stoically batted on).

I am infact referring to Captain Pout becoming the greatest ever spitter. It is a little known fact that no cricketer has ever directed so much sputum onto his hands in the history of test cricket. He has kept up a steady stream of spit into his palms and during this test reached the milestone of 100 gallons. He is to be commended and it seems unlikley that anyone will pass this record. Well done Captain Pout.