Daily Archives: July 20, 2009

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 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/17/giant-squid-attack-san-diego-divers. 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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