Monthly Archives: July 2009

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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The dictionary according to Shane Warne

During my stint as over-by-over text commentator for Times online yesterday, I was asked to listen out for a few “Warne-isms”. I’m not quite sure I know what the dictionary definition of a “Warne-ism” is but there were a couple worth the retelling here, if not in a national newspaper.

In his first commentary stint since playing in the Poker Ashes in Las Vegas, the former leggie, articulated this cracker when Mitchell Johnson didn’t quite get it right. “He’s dropped a bundle,” said Warnie, leaving Athers, his co-commentator, bemused and requesting an Anglo-Australian book of slang to be passed along to the box.

“It’s the same as throwing your toys out of the pram,” the Victorian wizard further explained, before later using the word ‘technique’ uniquely as a verb. ” I like the way he techniques it,” he offered as an explanation of Kevin Pietersen’s, er, technique.

The cameraman extended his lens to the kangaroo enclosure at nearby London Zoo and Athers asked the Aussie if he felt at home.

“Aw, look mate,” he responded, as most Aussies will do when asked a question, “England’s like my second home.”

But then, in the final over, his true colours shone through.

As Johnson stepped up to bowl it to Stuart Broad, he had Warnie’s words of encouragement ringing in his ears – a veritable collection of Aussie cliches.

“Come on Mitchie,” he prompted. “Make it a jaffa, make it a peach, let it rip. Give him 95mph.”

It’s good to have you along Warnie. And don’t let us wait too long for more classics. We’ll be listening out.

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Seatwave goodbye to your hard-earned cash

I’ve looked at it with some consternation on the cricinfo site and now the beggars have gone and dropped one into my inbox. Well, two inboxes if you count the email account I keep for those extra special moments (only joking).

Yes, there it is, at the top. Delivered at 9.35pm. “Buy your Ashes tickets on Seatwave”. Sounds reasonable, there aren’t too many about, and why should we settle for watching it from home. OK, I fancy getting down to Lord’s on Saturday, so let’s see how easy it will be for me to “relive 2005” (I’d probably relive it better if England stopped losing clusters of wickets in the second half of the day).

I press the green “view tickets” button and, blimey, there are only 11 for sale. Row J Edrich Stand, quite a nice view, if a bit distant. £375. A bit steep for a couple of seats. A couple of seats? No, £375 each. So. you mean that’ll set me back £750? Well it would do, but then there’s the Seatwave commission. What’s this, like a booking charge you get at a theatre. Hmm. Not quite. That’ll be another £129.38 please. What? It includes VAT. Oh.

Oh and then there’s the delivery charge: £12 if you don’t mind guv. So that’s a total of £891.38. And the face value of your tickets. Um, £75 each.

Well, you get what you pay for.

Or do you? Who the hell are Seatwave anyway?  “An online fan-to-fan ticket exchange”.

Fan-to-fan?

What fan, finding himself suddenly unable to attend one of the great sporting contests of the summer rips off his fellow fan by charging him more than six times the face value of his ticket?

Is this not just a form of touting? And wasn’t it the ECB who said they were clamping down on the secondary market, particularly the auction sites such as eBay, to the point where tickets bought that way would be declared void.

So, what do the ECB have to say about this? I’d love to know. And why is a site such as cricinfo opening its pages for Seatwave to advertise on. Its Wimbledon Debentures writ large.

And it’s just not cricket as far as I’m concerned. I’ll stick to my Sky subscription.

Memo to cricinfo marketing department, however: Do not insult my intelligence by sending me more of this crap.

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Ashes update, second Test, close: England stunned in game of two halves

It was like a game of two halves at Lord’s today, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook putting England into a very comfortable 2-0 lead, and at that point there was only one team in it, but Australia struck back and once Cook had gone, the weaknesses in England’s spine was cruelly exposed.

And  we must acknowledge Mitchell Johnson’s similarity to a wayward and wasteful striker, who looks for ages very ordinary in front of goal, but, boy, when he gets into the right position and looks up, he picks out the top corner from a good 22 yards and slams it home with quite some style. If and when he gets some consistency, he’s going to be hard to stop. So, from an English point of view, – and perhaps that of Matt Prior, who got the day’s killer delivery – let’s hope he’s some way from that.

And early on today,he was. It was as woeful a bowling performance as I’ve seen from a player at this level, let alone one who’s ranked No3 in the world. He simply had no idea where each individual ball was going to land. Unfortunately he is not a bowler with a captivating aesthetic. At the best of times, his action is like that of an inelegant clockwork toy. At the worst, it’s a slinging embarrassment.

Ben Hilfenhaus was altogether a different proposition, probing from deep, setting up opportunities, exploting weaknesses and giving some balance to the side.

The Tasmanian was a bit of a hit in South Africa, but this is my first genuine sighting of him – take away a meaningless one-day international in Hobart against New Zealand where he did little to catch my eye while being endlessly cheered by a parochial crowd – but a straight reading of his figures from Joburg, Durban and Cape Town does little for his case: seven wickets while conceding 366 runs.

However, he has doubled that haul in three innings here. Some draw comparisons with Terry Alderman. Well he may not have reached that level of accuracy, but when he’s not taking wickets, he’s precise enough to keep a tight economy rate and you can always sense that the slightest mistake will be punished.

As the naive Ravi Bopara found out when he launched himself at a series of outswingers – one of which he sliced just short of backward point – before being pinned by the inevitable straight one. The Essex batsman has much to learn and Shane Warne’s doubts over his temperament may have something to them.

A sound temperament is certainly not lacking in Andrew Strauss who, after two failures and some quite carping criticism of his captaincy, especially his field placing, hit back in fine style.

It seems churlish to point out that it wasn’t a great innings – how much more than 161 not out do you want – but there were plenty of pleasing shots amongst others without so much grace, yet what was most notable was the way in which he carried on at his own steady pace when all around were falling.

As I type, my part of London is under siege from thunderstorms, and if Lord’s is taking a similar battering, Strauss’s progress may have to be delayed tomorrow morning. However, surface water drains quickly at St John’s Wood and the better part of the weather is forecast to come in the morning session. After that, persistent rain is expected to set in.

Maybe the pitch will sweat enough to liven it up for England’s bowlers, even if not before Saturday. It is hard to be definite about what is a good score here, for, as at Cardiff, the team bowling first has appeared to have found life in the ball – and less so the pitch – in the second half of the day. What meteorological explanations there are for that remain undisclosed.

So it’s nicely poised – again. Although Australia’s batsmen may make England pay for their soft centre.

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Reverse Sweep on over-by-over duty for Times Online

If you’d care to join him, access the Times website from about 10.45am.

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