Tag Archives: australia

No whitewashes, just the Ashes

It would be an outright lie if I said I didn’t care who wins the Ashes. I wear a team Cook t-shirt, not team Clarke. But I certainly don’t want to see a 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies. A close fought series, a taster of which we had at Trent Bridge throughout the first Test, should be what every cricket fan craves.  Of course I want England to win more of the tense, edge of your seat, say goodbye to your nails type games, but who wants the series to be over with two Test’s left to play?

The greatest Ashes series in recent memory have been decided in the final Test: 2005, 2009, 2010/11. Yes these were all England victories, but even if they hadn’t been, they’d still be remembered for hard fought, exciting, enthralling Test cricket. Despite coming into this series as underdogs, Australia have proved they’re not to be taken lightly.

The pendulum of favour swung so much at Trent Bridge that it had to check in to a spa retreat for three days of yoga and relaxation before the onslaught begins again at Lord’s. Round one, in the form of the toss, went to England, but it wasn’t long before the tourists took control to bowl out England for 215.

At 117-9 England had it back. Then came Ashton Agar: the no.11 teenage batsman that smashed all the records for the last man in, and created a twitter #Ashtag whilst en route to 98 runs. Gritty innings from Cook and Pietersen poised the game in the balance, with a superb and determined century from Bell once again making England the bookies favourites. The penultimate swing came on the final morning, when the last wicket partnership for Australia between Brad Haddin and James Pattinson gave the Australians hope of an unlikely victory. The final twist in the tale came with a half hearted England review that revealed a gentle kiss of the ball on Haddin’s bat on it’s way to Matt Prior’s gloves, to give England victory by 14 runs. Tense stuff.

If headlines and column inches counted for anything, the winner of the first Test would be the hotly debated Decision Review System and, to a lesser extent but undoubtedly entwined, the umpiring. Australia seem incapable of using the DRS to their best capacity. Forget net sessions and hours in the gym, Clarke and his men want to spend some time learning how to utilise the DRS before round two. As the first Test proved, it can be a game changer.

Since it’s first appearance in modern cricket, more often than not one or two DRS incidents have been talking points in a match. But it simply dominated this Test. No doubt there are followers of the Baggy Green claiming that if it weren’t for the DRS they would have won this Test. By the same token, had Haddin seen Australia across the line, the England faithful would be debating the Agar ‘stumping’ decision in pubs across the land.

Clarke lost seven out of nine DRS reviews. It’s there for the howler, which is a word that can definitely be attributed to the Broad incident. Umpire Aleem Dar missed a nick so big it had it’s own postcode, but Clarke had used his two reviews, and Broad stood his ground, as is his right. Whilst Broad has been rebuked for failing to uphold the ‘spirit of the game’, fault plainly lies with the umpire.

Agar, Broad and the DRS were the talking points of this first Test.  But they should now be left behind, as the steamroller of the Ashes presses swiftly on to Lord’s. Both teams have things to think about before Thursday. England will already know whether Finn remains in the side at his home ground, on a wicket that will suit him better than that of Trent Bridge, or whether Onions or Bresnan will take that final spot, the latter strengthening the batting line up.

Australia, as well as genning up on the DRS system, are likely to be thinking about Ed Cowan’s place in the team, and whether Warner might return from his seat on the naughty step after punching England batsmen Joe Root in a nightclub during the Champions Trophy. It’s possible they are considering playing spinner Nathan Lyon, in place of the inexperienced Agar, adding to the records he now holds. Has anyone ever scored 98 on debut and been dropped?

Despite needing a health warning for those with heart conditions, the first Test of this series was what the Ashes is all about: riveting, unmissable Test cricket. Here’s to four more of the same.

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The Wizard of Oz: England blown away by a spell from the Wicked Mitch of the West

Have you ever been promised an amazing present for Christmas? The build to the big day is all part of the joy; telling everyone what you are getting, imagining the glorious moment when you tear off the paper to reveal your dream in all its shining glory.  You wake up on Christmas morning with that sick excitement in your belly. You run downstairs and rip open your gift…only to find you’ve a Satsuma and a bag of walnuts, just like last year.

 

That’s how England fans feel. The build up to this Ashes series filled them with a belief that England could finally win it down under after 20 years, and, bar the first couple of days in Brisbane, that belief was compounded by England’s performance in the first two Tests.

 

However, like the ghost of Christmas past, the England of old were on display here in Perth. The team that blew Australia away in Adelaide were a distant memory, as were the batting performances that saw England amass 1137 runs in their previous two innings, for the loss of just six wickets. The batting from England was poor.

 

By the fourth morning, it was no great surprise that the final five England wickets fell in just 50 minutes. With Bell and Prior the only recognised batsmen left to play, the Australian team were so fired up by the opportunity to level the series that they made it look like childsplay.

 

England had bowled reasonably well, particularly in the first innings, restricting Australia to 268. Tremlett in particular was effective on the bouncy WACA wicket, but they missed the control offered by Stuart Broad, who flies home on Tuesday to begin rehab on his torn stomach muscle.

 

However, Finn, although taking wickets, is expensive. Swann is yet to perform to his usual high standards in this series, although this pitch offered little for a spinner.

 

One man made the difference between the sides in this Test match. Like the legend of Loch Ness, England had heard much of the monster that is Mitchell Johnson at his best, but, until now, they had never seen it with their own eyes. Taking confidence from his runs in the first innings, Johnson produced a match-winning spell with the ball that tore apart the England batsmen on day two. He removed four of the five top batsmen, three of them in 12 balls for just four runs.

 

Other players stepped up for Australia. Mike Hussey scored his 2nd century in three Test matches, and became top run scorer of the series. Harris took a Test best six wickets in the second innings, his first five-for in Test cricket. But it was the performance of Johnson, with bat and ball, that won this Test match for Australia, and it was all the more remarkable for the stark contrast to his recent shocking form.

 

The only dampener on this victory for Australia is the injury to captain Ricky Ponting. He fractured the little finger on his left hand attempting a catch in the slips at the end of day three. His participation in the next Test, just one week away, is unlikely to be decided until the morning of the game, but he remains positive about his chances.

 

“I think I have a really good chance of playing,” he said. “It’s only a small fracture. It’s a bit sore and a bit angry, but I’ll be right!”

 

England captain Andrew Strauss played down the severity of the loss, whilst admitting that it was the batting that let them down.

 

“Now is not a time to panic,” Strauss said. “Up until this game, our cricket on this tour has been very consistent. We dropped off in this game there is no doubt about it, but if we can retain those levels of consistency then we’ve got a great chance of going on and winning the series.

 

“As a batting line up we’d be very disappointed with our two performances. We’ve got to take that on the chin, learn the lessons and move on.

 

“You’ve certainly got to address the way we lost wickets in clusters,” Strauss conceded. “The issue to address is if you lose one or two wickets, to make sure that you don’t lose three, four or five in a row. The batters have got to take responsibility for that, but at the same time we’ve got to keep perspective about things.

 

“It would be wrong for us to just wash our hands of this game completely”, Strauss said. “But it’s all about bouncing back now. We’ve done it well in the past and we are going to have to do it well in Melbourne.”

 

England have plenty of food for thought over Christmas. Whilst wholesale changes are not England’s style, and not necessarily needed, there are some causes for concern.

 

Collingwood is the standout weakness in the batting line up, having only scored 62 runs so far in the series. He continues a poor run of form that has spanned much of England’s summer in the UK. At 34, he is the only player almost certain to not take part in the next Ashes series in 2013. But his other contributions to the team should not be underestimated. His bowling offers an alternative to the quicks, and gives them a vital rest. He took the crucial wicket of Johnson in the second innings here. And his fielding is exemplary. He is also a trusted confidant of Strauss.

 

Morgan would be the obvious replacement for Collingwood, but his place in the team should be considered alongside the bowling line up, which is where the other decisions will lie. Finn looked tired during long bowling spells, and proved expensive. With Shahzad and Bresnan both chomping at the bit to get an opportunity in this series, Finn may be rested for the next Test. Bresnan would add strength to the batting line up, while Shahzad, with his ability to swing and reverse swing the ball, is perhaps the bowler most likely to take the all important wicket of Hussey.

 

Perhaps Strauss is right to play down the significance of this loss. There are still two matches left in the series, and England need only win one more to retain the Ashes. But momentum is with Australia, and if the Wicked Mitch of the West shows up on Boxing Day, England will have to overcome the Wizard of Oz.

 

Day one 2nd Test Adelaide Oval

I felt like I had won the lottery yesterday. After arriving in my favourite country, myself and Dobbie taxied to the 5* team hotel where we had been given a complimentary room. Not too shabby… The cricket fan in me is very much enjoying bumping into the legends of the game, past and present in the corridors and lifts!

A glorious day at the Adelaide Oval greeted the players and fans this morning. There is barely a captain in the land (except maybe Nasser) who wouldn’t have elected to bat here, and that’s just what Ponting did when he won the toss. However, the clever Spin team (me and Dobbie) posted this, shortly before the start of play:

It might seem like bad news for England, but actually this could give them their best chance of winning:

–       If England get early wickets, they could quite quickly be into the Aussie tail, which has been weakened by the exclusion of Johnson. He might have failed dismally in the first Test, but he is dangerous when the bat when he gets going. Harris isn’t totally inept with the bat, but the rest of the Australian bowling attack are unlikely to trouble the scorers too much.

–       If Anderson is to get the ball to swing at all, these first couple of hours would be the most likely time it will happen. So it is not out of the realms of possibility that England could do some damage with this new ball.

–       Facing Doherty on day five on this pitch is unlikely to fill the England batsmen with too much dread. He hasn’t yet shown the ‘X’ factor.

Point is, it’s not all bad. Losing the toss for England may help get a result.

Now I am not one to gloat, but we were right, no?! In a dream start for Strauss and his men, England had Australia 0-2, and then 2-3! It included a rare diamond duck (dismissed for no score without facing a ball) for Katich, who was run out, and a golden duck for Ponting next ball (caught in the slips by Swann).

With the first ball of his next over, Anderson got Clarke in much the same way, Swann again with the catch at second slip. This was the kind of rewards Jimmy should have been reaping from his exceptional spell on the third morning at the Gabba last week.

After the dream start for England, this Adelaide pitch reverted to type, and Hussey and Watson patiently batted out the rest of the session, taking the Aussies to 94-3 at lunch, with Finn proving expensive for England.

However, this was still England’s session. Dismissing and humiliating the captain for 0, and taking those crucial early wickets, was exactly what was required with the new ball.

England, and Anderson, made another excellent start after lunch, dismissing Watson in the second over after the break, Pietersen taking the catch in the gully.

Next man in was Marcus North, who has been struggling for form recently. If he doesn’t get out early on, he is known for going on to make a big score.  He looked to be heading for the latter, as he Hussey put on 60 during the afternoon session, Mr Cricket once again looking magnificent.

However, England claimed one more wicket shortly before tea to just about steal the session. Crucially, the wicket came from Steve Finn, who had struggled in the morning session, with figures of 1 for 45 from his nine overs. North made a feeble attempt at a shot, beaten by a lack of pace, and was caught behind for an uncharacteristic 26.

That brought Haddin and Hussey together again at the crease, for the first time since their epic 307 at the Gabba last week.  The partnership added 51 before Hussey gifted his wicket to Swann on 93. That was the wicket England needed to get into the tail. Swann took Harris next ball, lbw, but was unable to complete a hat trick.

Some shoddy cricket from Australia resulted in the second run out of the day, Haddin hitting the ball to mid-wicket, Doherty ball watching and ignoring the call. He eventually set off, but a quick throw from Strauss via Cook to Prior, got the bails off with the batsmen still miles out.

England took the new ball on 80 overs, and Anderson and Broad finished off the tail, taking one apiece to dismiss Australia for 245, Anderson finishing with 4 for 51 from 19 overs.

England saw out the one over before stumps, finishing 1-0.

 

Australia: Great country. Shame about the cricket team.

When I lived in Australia I bought one of those tacky tourist wooden signpost arms that has the distance in kilometres that Australia is from other countries.  It still hangs above my bathroom door. Underneath the distance it says ‘it’s a bloody long way’. I can confirm that is still true.

I can’t be sure but I think I travelled for about 3 weeks to get from Bristol to Adelaide. Since I left home, my 4 month old niece has graduated university. Luckily however, it seems that they have delayed the Ashes on my behalf, and, in fact, the second Test starts tomorrow. Almost like I planned to arrive in time for it…

So here I am in my absolute favourite country in the world. I love it. To arrive, it is a beautiful place, particularly welcoming when you have left freezing temperatures and snow at Heathrow. But it is only on the return journey that you can fully appreciate how great this place is. When I returned to the UK after living in Melbourne, I was struck by how different the way of life is over here. The Aussies are more relaxed, friendlier and happier than people in the UK. Of course, that is a generalisation, and not true in all cases. But it’s not far wrong.

On public transport, it is second nature for people to talk to you, without fear of you thinking they must be some kind of crazed lunatic, or at least trying to sell you drugs! When was the last time a stranger just had a chat with you on the tube in London? I’m guessing not recently.

I remember hearing a story about a ‘pom’ who moved to Sydney, and during a phone call to a call centre whilst setting up in his new home, the Aussie on the other end of the line struck up a conversation with the Brit about how long he had been in Australia. Upon finding out that he had been there less than a week, and knew no one in the country, he invited out with him and his mates that weekend. The British guy took a chance, went out with the guys, and several years later was best man to the friendly Australian who had reached out the hand off friendship when it was needed most.

Now I cannot vouch for the validity of that story, but it rings true. In a similar situation when I first moved here, a girl at work gave me her number and said to call if I was bored. That Friday night things were bleak. I was young, on the other side of the world from my friends and family, and desperately homesick. It was fly home, or man up and do something about it! So I rang Rachel. We went out the following night. That phone call stopped me from flying home, and that night out was one of the most fun I had in Australia. Rachel is still a very good friend of mine. I will be spending Christmas with her, her husband, and their new daughter Abigail.

Anyway, my original point is that the people here are unashamedly welcoming. Within minutes of stepping off the plane there was banter about the cricket with the ground staff checking landing cards. Passport control and quarantine staff were friendly and convivial. To me, it feels a little bit like coming home. Except I would never support their cricket team!

So I sit here in Adelaide airport, waiting for Dobbie, the world’s greatest cricket writer, (at least the world’s greatest cricket writer who is prepared to travel Australia with me…) and I can’t wait to get out there. Part of the glory of cricket, and indeed travelling, is the sweet anticipation of what is to come! This time tomorrow I will be sat at the Adelaide Oval, watching part two of this series, the most exciting cricket contest in the world. Anything could happen. And I can’t bloody wait!

 

 

From Ashes to Oscars

Following up on the hit blog ‘Ashes teams on song’, myself and Senor Barbs have turned our favourite cricketing heroes (and the Aussie team) into film and television stars.

England

  1. Strauss Desperate Strausswives
  2. Cook  The Jungle Cook
  3. Trott  Some like it Trott
  4. Pietersen Pietersen Pan
  5. Collingwood Collingwood, Prince of Thieves
  6. Bell Drag Me To Bell
  7. Prior Prior Prior
  8. Broad Broad of the Rings
  9. Swann Swann in 60 Seconds
  10. Anderson Third Rock From the Anderson
  11. Finn Cat On A Hot Finn Roof

  Australia

1. Katich Katich me if you can

2. Watson I Know Watson You Did Last Summer

3. Ponting Good Will Ponting

4. Clarke Clarke Rise To Candleford

5. Hussey Hussey No Evil

6. North Born on the North of July

7. Haddin Far From the Haddin Crown

8. Johnson Dear Johnson

9. Doherty G.I. Doherty

10. Hilfenhaus Hifenhaus M.D.

11. Siddle Blazing Siddles

Ashes predictions from those in the know

Warning: Ashes fever is sweeping the country. Symptoms include mouths gushing predictions of English victory, fingers furiously tapping tweets, and arms rotating rhythmically to a craze known simply as the ‘Sprinkler’.

Since the final ball of the series clinching Test at the Oval last summer, all talk has been of whether this new and improved England side can retain the mighty urn in the notoriously difficult Australian environment. After all the build up, the preparation, and the excitement, the first Test at the Gabba is now a matter of days away. England haven’t been better placed to win the Ashes in Australia since, well probably since the last time they won the Ashes in Australia (1986/7 for those of you that didn’t know!). Their preparation, team spirit and individual performances are, on the whole, as good as they will ever be. The Australians on the other hand, have lost some of their best, and most intimidating, players since England were last down under, and their expanded squad is a mixture of players on their way out, and youngsters with little experience of a stage as prolific as the Ashes. The mood amongst the England players and fans is buoyant to the point of giddy. A positive result for England seems to be in sight. But don’t take my word for it. Below are the comments and predictions from recent interviews that I have done from, amongst others, England players past and present.

Ian Bell

I’d love it to be 2-1 to England. If we start well we could win out there. The first Test match is huge, if we can come away either winning or drawing, it sets the series up very well. If we start well it will grow and grow and the pressure will be more on Australia. If we don’t start well then I think the momentum in Australia starts to become very hard to play against.

Last time we had great hopes, everyone was expecting us to do really well, and we lost 5-0. So if we can improve on that certainly it would be a start! I’d like to think that this squad will push them a lot closer this time and that we are strong enough to do it.

We had massive belief going last time and it got knocked out of us pretty quickly. But I do believe that, in all forms of the game, we are starting to believe in ourselves. I think having won the World t20 and the Ashes, people are starting to believe that we can win big games, and starting to believe that we can beat Australia. Eight years ago I don’t think anyone believed that we could beat them, so thinking about playing Australia probably isn’t quite as bad as it used to be.

It’s a really great series to be involved in, even last time. Playing at grounds like the MCG with 100,000 people, that’s just unbelievable. You don’t see that in England.

Paul Collingwood

The last time we were out there, there were probably a few grey areas. I think this time around we’ve really been solid in the way we’ve played over an 18 month period and the good thing is we are growing all the time, getting better and better, and we are ready for this challenge ahead. The guys are fit and mentally should be pretty refreshed after this little break that we’ve got as well. So we are in the best situation that we possibly could be considering the amount of cricket that we have played.

Alec Stweart

It all revolves around the first test match. If we leave Brisbane with the score at worst still 0-0, I think we’ll keep the Ashes. If you go 1-0 down then they gain the momentum. You don’t escape from Ashes fever in Australia. When you are losing to Australia, it’s not just the 11 players, it’s the whole country. You go out for a meal and it’s the waiter and people sitting around you. It was my favourite place to tour but it is also the toughest place, because you do well to get away from the cricket environment and the passion that the Australians show.

Bob Willis

I think the series will be drawn and England will retain the Ashes. 2-all will be the score. It’s a sensible decision to take Panesar. He’s the second best spinner in the country and if they need two spinners in Adelaide or Sydney he’s definitely the right choice. They’ve got to get more out of Tremlett than we’ve seen before and he’s got to stay fit and be ready to go if he’s asked to play.

It won’t be easy for any of the reserves because going on tour these days with no other cricket; it’s very difficult to get into any sort of nick. The old cliché ‘he’s looking good in the nets’, but if you are not getting any competitive cricket it’s quite a tough ask, but I think it’s about the best job the selectors could have done.

Tony Cozier

I’d say England will win 2-1 with two drawn. They’re settled and confident, Australia, for a change, are completely the opposite although still dangerous enough at home to win one.

I think Stuart Broad will be key for England. He is emerging now as the authentic all-rounder every good team needs. Ricky Ponting is the key player for Australia, one way or the other. He’s fighting for his reputation, and his future as captain.

As a boy I saw the Lord’s Test in 1961 when I was in England on a short British government scholarship for Caribbean journalists, and recently the last two Test’s in 2005 when I was on the way home from the West Indies tour of Sri Lanka.

Tristan Gemmill (star of BBC1’s Casualty and life long cricket fan)

I predict 2-1 to England. It should probably be 4-0, but being England we are bound to make it harder than it needs to be.

Granted, a lack of Australian voice here helps make England appear favourites, but I don’t think many Antipodeans would argue that a repeat of the 5-0 whitewash of four years ago is likely this time around. My prediction? We will get some hard fought, entertaining cricket over the next seven weeks. And England will come home with the Ashes!