Monthly Archives: July 2009

Ashes update, third Test, second day lunch: Jimmy Anderson finds his form of the series

It’s been a long time coming and there were questionable claims that it had arrived at Lord’s, but has Jimmy “in the form of his life” Anderson finally located the form of his life?

I was just thinking, Graham Onions having provided the early inroads, that it was time for Jimmy to get in on the act and suddenly, in barely the blink of an eye, he has done, turning familiarly uninspiring figures of 15-4-51-0 into ones of 17.5-5-56-4.

Again, he got a bit lucky – the leg-before decisions against Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson were marginal, but on first viewing most of us, not just Rudi Koertzen, would have given them.

Clarke had earlier got the benefit of the doubt on another very close lbw shout, and then guided a sitter to Freddie at second slip, only for the hero of Lord’s to do the almost unthinkable and drop him, while Johnson will probably just have to admit he’s going through one of those rough stages in his career that most cricketers experience.

It will be remarked upon elsewhere, but I think the statisticians will have their work cut out trying to find another occasion in which two England bowlers have been on a hat-trick in the same Test, let alone the same day and in this case, the same session.

It was a fascinating morning that England, paradoxically, started on the defensive, with men out on the boundary on either side of the wicket for the opening ball – a ball with which Andrew Strauss sprang another surprise by handing to Onions, who had conceded 21 runs from a mediocre three overs yesterday evening.

It proved an inspired – or fortunate – choice as the Durham man whipped out Shane Watson and Michael Hussey out with the first two balls.

The Australian response, however, was equally positive, and Clarke and Ricky Ponting tried to put the pressure back on England by dispatching the loose ball – Flintoff didn’t really get it right in his opening spell – and running their singles aggressively. They shared what might have been  momentum-turning stand of 40 odd at around four an over, but the surprisingly soft dismissal of Ponting provided England with another lift just when they needed it and Jimmy slipped into his form of the series so far, if not his entire existence.

Presuming that England mop up the tail quickly after lunch, it will be equally interesting to see how their batsmen fare if the ball keeps swinging. Hilfenhaus can make it do a bit, and if Mitchell, against all expectations, clicks back  into gear, the rain that is forecast to return tomorrow may not have such a bearing on the outcome of this match as we’d thought.

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Ashes update: Knackered Shane Warne has reason to be grateful to the tooth fairy

As Sky’s introductions for the third Test on the wetlands in Birmingham got under way this morning, I confess that I couldn’t quite decide which had had the more work done on it: the Edgbaston outfield or Shane Warne’s teeth.

I eventually decided it must be the latter, for from the mouth of the Aussie former leg spinner flashed a sparkle and gleam that would make even a Colgate executive blush. In fact, such a paler shade of white are his mandibles, that you could stick him behind the bowler’s arm, ask him to grin and do away with the need for a sightscreen.

If you don’t have access to Sky, you might like to peruse the following excerpt of an old episode of Friends, for a fuller understanding of the Shane Warne new look

That, however, was the only visible part of Warne that was looking top Australian dollar. The spikey gelled hair and tanned visage – tanned probably only because of the amount of foundation that the make-up artist had applied to tone out the blemishes – could not disguise the fact that he appeared knackered, washed up, whatever you will.

Then, in conversation with David Gower, he offered up the notion – I hesitate to call it an excuse – that, true professional that he was, he had been at the ground at 5am to check on the conditions. I think that highly unlikely: if Warne had been at the ground at 5am, I’m sure it was only because it was on the route back to his hotel from whatever boozy function he had attended long into the early hours.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ground staff who had worked themselves into the earth trying to get the venue ready for today’s proceedings found him curled up and having a happy little snooze on a length when they first rolled back the covers.

Sky, though, proved to be a bit of a tease today. I woke up expecting to hear the day’s play had been abandoned before anyone had even thought about bowling a ball, only to be greeted with the sight of bright sunshine, the covers removed to the edge of the square and a member of the ground staff gently operating a mower or roller up and down a very firm-looking pitch.

It was 15 minutes into the build-up before we adjourned to Ian Botham in the middle, who was even more tantalising as he explained how excellent the pitch was. But before long he was heading off in the direction of the bowlers’ run-ups, trying to convince us that water was rising up over his polished size-12s. (Is it too much to have expected the bowlers’ run-ups to have been properly protected?)

As I write now, Michael Atherton is suggesting there may yet be some play today – good drying conditions, the subtle placement of hessian matting to do their tricks, but I’m not optimistic. It’s been one of those weeks for cricket.

With Andrew Strauss’s team one-up in the series there is no reason for them to risk life, limb and a wet ball should they be forced to bowl.

I was going to say that there’s about as much of a chance of getting under way as Shane Warne needing a new set of dentures, but, blimey, late news alert. They’re hoping to start at 5pm, with the toss half an hour earlier. By which time, of course, I will be on my way to work.

Such is life.

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Ashes preview: The Test there is no point in previewing

Shame. I was so looking forward to the third Test with all its ponderables – would Andrew Strauss be punished by the cricket gods for becoming the latest and most signficant Ashes protagonist to question Australia’s aura, would Ian Bell get a run, would Brad Haddin prove misguided in his bizarre assertion that Mitchell Johnson “is still taking wickets for us” (he quite clearly isn’t  – see his figures at Lord’s and against Northamptonshire) and would the captain’s stated intention to stand by his leading paceman be excellent man-management or an indication that Ponting has finally lost his marbles?

And, perhaps most important, would Johnson’s mother turn up to barrack him from the Edgbaston sidelines in the best you-almost-couldn’t-make-it-up-Australian-cricketer-versus-mum-story since Shane Warne’s mater pressed something from a blister-pack and handed it to him, saying : “This should help you get rid of those few extra pounds, darlin’.”

But now it seems those questions will remain unanswered, for at least the first couple of days, anyway, because of England’s finest impediment to top-class sport (apart from lack of ability): rain.

Cricinfo is claiming to have been told that there is no chance of play on the first day, it’s not looking too good for the second, despite sunshine forecast for both, and by the third and fourth showers will back to do their worst. And to back up its claim is a picture of a puddle-strewn outfield. Is there any point in any of the many previews that will come from the wise and wordy in newspaper or blog? Might those attending be advised to cancel their hotel bookings?

I can’t remember experiencing such a depressing build-up to a Test match, especially one that has so many intriguing subplots. The England players had barely returned bladdered to their hotel rooms at 4am on the Tuesday morning before Steve Rouse, the Warwickshire groundsman, was covering his arse with claims that the weather had already put him three days behind on preparation.

Days later, he was explicitly stating that the pitch would be a bowler’s graveyard, encouraging us to think in terms of enormous scores and bore draws before a ball was delivered in anger. And now we are given to understand that Edgbaston, despite being first on the case many moons ago with the ‘brumbella’ and four super-soppers, is one of the slowest drying grounds in the country.

The word ‘marshy’ has been used more than once and not just in passing mention of the great former Australian wicketkeeper. In fact, so unsuitable it seems has the Edgbaston outfield become for cricket that one might expect the local council to move in and designate its alternative use as a wildlife sanctuary.

Sadly, the only ducks we are likely to see will not be those in Mitchell Johnson’s wickets column but ones that have flown in for the duration.

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Ashes chat: Troy Cooley – maybe the ECB played a blinder

As we head into another Ashes week, there is a question that I think needs answering.

Is Troy Cooley all he’s cracked up to be?

I ask because all the perceived wisdom is that he was instrumental in turning England’s fast bowlers from also-rans to world-beaters, almost in the space of one series: England v Australia in 2005

Then, he went back to Australia and while it is not suggested that he had much input into the Australia attack – Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne weren’t  ones to take to coaching too easily – it is thought he had a  part in convincing Brett Lee to shorten his run-up in the 2006-7 series. That it seemed, brought some immediate success in that Lee continued to pick up useful wickets but stopped leaking the enormous volume of runs that his spells tended to.

It was, though, thought that England missed him. Harmison went off the radar (literally and figuratively) and James Anderson failed to pitch anything further up than halfway.

Funnily enough, it has recently been suggested that Jimmy ‘in the form of his life’ Anderson has only rediscovered his form since coaches, and by implication Cooley, left him alone to do what comes naturally  (even if that means staring somewhere between your boot and mid-wicket as you deliver the ball).

Now it has been suggested that his advice might be behind Mitchell Johnson’s loss of form, perhaps putting too much emphasis on his ability to bowl the inswinger. The inswinger might in theory complete the armoury, give the batsman more to think about but even if he could only bowl outswingers,-so long as he bowled them consistently well, he would be more than a handful.-

No one should believe that those who have not done well at the highest level cannot make good coaches. The ability to know what you are doing wrong is no guarantee that you can  put it right in yourself. But I was quite shocked when I looked up Cooley’s statistics.

In 33 first-class matches for Tasmania, he took only 54 wickets at an average of 61.35 and never took five wickets in an innings. Maybe the ECB were playing a blinder when they let him escape back to the land of his birth.

Fact of the matter is that England would almost certainly have lost that series anyway – the brilliance of McGrath and Warne with the ball ensured that – but now Cooley has been given time to work with the new generation, maybe his true abilities are becoming apparent.

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Kevin Pietersen struck down by the Reverse Sweep Ashes hoodoo

The curse of  Reverse Sweep’s Ashes astrological predictions has struck again: having seen off Michael Vaughan and Brett Lee, in association with cricket’s finest clairvoyant, Mystic Mags, we correctly foresaw that Andrew Flintfoff would have injury problems at Lord’s and give the pedalos another workout

We also crystal-balled that Jimmy “in the form of his life” Anderson would come good in St John’s Wood (to coin a snappy phrase) althought admittedly he didn’t return the expected ten-fer, and suggested that KP would be “at his most crotchety throughout 2009, blunting his creativity.  Those looking for new strokes to add to his personal batting lexicon of ‘flamingo’ and ‘switch shot’ will be disappointed”.

Well, now we know why he was crotchety: because his achilles was giving him gip. And he certainly won’t be adding to his personal batting lexicon because he won’t be doing anything creative with a bat for quite some time.

* Reverse Sweep is now available for personal astrological guidance, but reminds potential clients that it might all be a complete load of boll*cks.

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Ashes comment: Those Kevin Pietersen replacement operatives in full

The pundits have been racing to their lap-tops since the news broke of Kevin Pietersen’s exclusion from the rest of the Ashes, throwing out so many names about a possible replacement that we would need a whole series of rings to contain them.

But we know that the only man who will be stepping into KP’s enormous shoes come next Thursday, unless Geoff Miller has another of the kinds of brainstorm that brought Darren Pattinson to the fore last summer, is Ian Bell. Extraordinarily gifted batsmen; or classic flat-track bully? Still hard to say and Reverse Sweep wishes him well, simply because whichever he is, he’s the most attractive batsman to watch  – I’m almost tempted to say on either side, but Michael Clarke might like to take that argument up with me.

Yet it is fun to speculate and even put contingency plans in place in case the England Lions captain were to come down with an ingrowing toenail in the intervening period. And so, to the alternative names proposed in other realms of  Joe Denly, Mark Ramprakash, Eoin Morgan, Stephen Moore – aw, he’s already got a hundred against the Aussies so let’s squeeze him in despite an average this year in the middle 20s – Owais Shah and absurdly and hopefully, Marcus Trescothick, let me add my own favourites – all risky, but, as someone once said, life – and the Ashes – is about risk.

First of my contenders is Jonathan Trott: actually I think he got a mention on Line and Length, and has had a taste of England action in the one-dayers in 2007. He’s aggressive and pleasant to watch, one of those players who you know within a few balls has got something about him and a clean striker of the ball. What’s more, he was brought up in South Africa, so would be almost a straight swap for KP – and that very fact could be guaranteed to get up the noses of the Aussies.

Second up is Michael Carberry: the Hampshire left-hander has been in prolific form of late, has the willingness to battle when the going isn’t that good and is perhaps the best outfielder you would see even if you watched a game of cricket every day from now until global warming sends us into the final big bang. His determination is borne out by his desire to make a professional career of cricket in the first place, having had to journey round the counties before finding the Rose Bowl a suitable venue for his talents. Think Ian Ward, but probably better – and he played for England.

And third, although not necessarily last, is James Hildreth, the earliest triple centurion of an English season, superb through the off side and, cricinfo informs me, rated as an “extraordinary talent” by Justin Langer, who has known a few good batsmen in his time (he’s just overtaken one too). He has age on his side – he’s still only 24 – and leaving him too much longer might lead him to atrophy. And, as a former public schoolboy, he’ll provide literate company for Straussy in the dressing-room. The one downside is that this year most of his runs have come in the homely environs of Taunton and he hasn’t travelled too well.

So in the end I would lump for Trott, who might even find the jelly of his home ground to his liking.

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Ashes update, second Test, final day: History made thanks to Flintoff and the flying fish

An England victory at Lord’s – especially over Australia – is about as common as a force of giant flying squid terrorising the California coast But when both happen in the same week, you know you are living in fairly special times.

And with a perfect sense of timing, it was Freddie Flintfoff who inspired it – the England victory, not the flying squid (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the jocular Lancastrian had some hand in that) –  laying to rest any fears that the announcement of  his retirement from Test cricket would overshadow England’s attempts to cast off their backs the  monkey of no Ashes victory at the home of cricket for 75 years.

Ricky Ponting had suggested that that announcement might dictate that England’s minds were not fully on the job – and that might have happened had his attack, most notably its leader Mitchell Johnson, not bowled so gruesomely for the first half of the opening day. Yet, given that momentum, which Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook grasped so gratefully, England never really looked back and would have finished the job much earlier had it not been for the class and determination of Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and to some extent Johnson on days four and five.

In the event, Freddie’s announcement had an effect opposite to that which Ponting hoped, pain-killing injections to the wearing knee ensuring that he left everything he had out there – his last Test at Lord’s as Nasser Hussain must have reminded us on a minute-by-minute basis – on the sloping  pitch.

An early first wicket on the final morning was vitally important and Flintoff got it, Haddin fending one to the reliable Paul Collingwood at second slip in the paceman’s opening over, and with Jimmy Anderson also delivering a testing six balls at Clarke first up, the Australians may have regretted taking the light option on Sunday night, when they seemed so effortlessly to have re-established control.

Yet even with Haddin gone, it was not a foregone conclusion. Everyone knows Johnson can bat and although he was lucky to survive at first, he grew quickly in confidence. So, the introduction of Graeme Swann was equally crucial, especially with the rough outside left-hander Johnson’s off stump to play with. 

Funnily enough, though, it was Clarke who fell to the off spinner, bizarrely playing down the wrong line of one that was well-tossed up and he tried to make into a full bunger. That was probably the final defining moment, and Johnson seemed to sense it, opening his shoulders to attempt a few big shots.

However, before England get too confident, they must remember that Australia will probably not bowl as poorly again as they did in England’s first innings here, nor bat with the blithe air their middle order displayed in their first-innings reply.

As Ponting said, the game was really lost in the first two days and if Mitchell Johnson fails to find form in the tour game at Northampton, Brett Lee, if his injury troubles have improved sufficiently, must come back into the equation and if not, Stuart Clark, unlucky to have missed out so far.

Maybe Australia suffered a little from the hangover of failing to force victory at Cardiff. But in ten days, a lot can change. And remember, when England won the Ashes in 2005, they hit back from going one-down at Lord’s.

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Ashes update, second Test, final day preview: England’s doubts are creeping in again

It’s self doubt time again. Andrew Strauss somewhat gave the game away with his spontaneous huddle shortly before the new ball was taken. It might have looked business-like and determined but I think Australia will have taken a lot of comfort from it.

What England may have taken comfort from is Australia’s desire to come off only a couple of overs after the floodlights were put on. Because Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, make no bones about it, were batting brilliantly. The interrpution to their concentration, meaning they have to start fresh again this morning, may be England’s best hope. An early wicket in the style of Andrew Strauss’s dismissal to Ben Hilfenhaus on the second day will be what they’ll be looking for.

That said, and perhaps because I’m such an English pessimist, I’m backing Clarke and Haddin, maybe with determined support from Mitchell Johnson, to finish the job with a world-record chase today.  The match seems to have taken another turn, this time towards Australia, and their middle-order resistance will have renewed doggedness on their balcony.

At 121-5, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey sat out on it alone, right up next to each other, but looking as if they daren’t share their deep and darkest thoughts with each other. By the time Clarke and Haddin had finished that balcony was almost full again, those too timid  to show themselves earlier gradually emerging from the dressing-room dimness.

Perhaps should Australia make it, it will be justice. It  certainly looked as if they got the wrong end of two – maybe three- decisions on the fourth day, and would be a massive boost after the let-down of Cardiff.

If England fail to pick up the final five wickets, those who felt Strauss should have imposed the follow-on will make their voices heard again. Personally, I think he made the right decision to bat again, especially if he is having to ensure careful handling of Andrew Flintoff’s knee.

My only argument would be whether he should have batted on for half an hour yesterday, raising the target to nearer 600, but that would have left him open to criticism from those who have accused him of too much caution in this regard in other recent Tests.

If Australia do win, though, from the position that they found themselves in mid-way through yesterday afternoon, I fear that it is going to be a kick in the guts to England of the strength they felt in Adelaide in 2006. Perhaps even a lower blow. And one you could not see them recovering from.

Session one, this morning, then, to my mind, could be the one that decides the destination of the Ashes.

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Ashes update, day 2, close: Are Australia the new England and is Jimmy Anderson really that good?

Falling to well-set fields, wide long-hops and ill-advised bravura pull shots, only one possible conclusion can be drawn about the second day’s play at Lord’s: Australia are the new England.

For there was a wholesale dereliction of duty in the tourists’  batting ranks on a par with what England supporters have grown used to in recent years. Or could it be that they had all just come out in sympathy with the hapless Mitchell Johnson so he didn’t consider himself the only one to be doing a  poorly disguised impersonation of a Test cricketer?

Even when Brad Haddin seemed to be brashly and confidently compensating for his team-mates’ shortcomings, he succumbed to the English disease.  Stuart Broad has been compared to Glenn McGrath in some quarters. But that is nonsense. McGrath has never looked as pretty – or as pretty ordinary – and he would tend to get his wickets in the proper manner, caught behind, lbw, uprooting the stumps. Broad, dispiritingly disappointing with the ball in the first Test, had to rely on poorly executed attempts to thrash his short balls for the boundaries they deserved.

England have a habit of making opposition bowling attacks appear more threatening than they really are, but this time it was Australia’s turn to do that.

Besides Broad’s brace, Jimmy “in the form of his life” Anderson picked up four for 36, but one was to a long hop – a delivery that Jimmy has never been a stranger to – and one wasn’t out.

Nevertheless, nothing was going to stop England’s bipolar media from displaying their most manic tendenciess.

The Saturday reports are fullsome in their praise for the Burnley boy – Anderson has finally arrived, trumpets Cricinfo; Anderson finally arrives as a cricketer of substance, lauds The Guardian; Anderson is the main man, the go-to-guy, claims The Times.

But, hang on, hadn’t he already arrived? Wasn’t he one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year?

Truth be told, that was a bizarre selection by Scyld Berry, even if the bare statistics of 46 wickets in 2008 look impressive. For 27 of them came against one of the weakest New Zealand batting line-ups in living memory, four more came in four Indian innings and of the remaining 15, against South Africa, he never picked up more than three in one outing. 

And when Michael Vaughan would have swapped Freddie Flintoff’s right arm for the dismissal of Graeme Smith as South Africa chased 281 for victory in the third Test at Edgbaston, when an England victory would have squared the series, how did he respond? With figures of 13-0-60-1.

Where, of course, Jimmy has found the form of his life, though, is in his batting: his four most recent Test innings have brought him 90 runs at an average of 30 – by contrast his fellow Lancastrian Flintoff has 67 at 16 – and he has scored those under a great deal of pressure.

Don’t get me wrong: nobody will be happier than me if Jimmy goes on to take his first ten-wicket Test haul at Lord’s this weekend, but I will not be bracketing him with the greats until he has swung the ball both ways on such a regular basis that Australia are begging for mercy before we get to the Oval.

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Ashes update, day 2, lunch: Ponting’s innings Rudi interrupted

Do two wrongs make a right? In the hands of Rudi Koertzen they probably do.

There was no way on earth that Ricky Ponting was caught at first slip by Andrew Strauss, although the ball did rebound off his pad to be well clutched by the England captain, but he almost certainly was leg-before, which is what Jimmy “in the form of his life” Anderson was appealing for all along.

Anyway, it’s made for an interesting morning, but why are England’s tailenders, especially Nos 10 and 11, having to do all the hard work. “In the form of his life” and this time Graham Onions did superbly well to get us up over 400 after the three early wickets.

Could be an exciting afternoon if the rain holds off, but I’nm not expecting that, and if it does, I’ve a feeling that the Australians will find this quite an amenable track to bat on.

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