Monthly Archives: August 2009

Ashes update: Essential reading for depressed Australians

Remember when you last won the Ashes. This is what it felt like for English supporters there. You may now identify with it:

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Ashes update: Lock up your pedalos, England have won!

….and well-urned, in the end!

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Ashes update: Australians let the press hounds loose in rush to get their excuses in first

I wondered how long it would be before someone from Australia started to moan about the pitch having been favourably prepared for England and it’s the Sydney Morning Herald’s  Peter Roebuck, the anti-English former Englishman, who has got the ball rolling with the following:

“Although they are loath to admit it, England ordered and prepared a dodgy deck. As it turned out the talk about producing a typical Oval pitch was all smokes and mirrors. England provided a track as dry as a camel’s tongue and as eager to spin as Gandhi.”

And then Malcolm Conn, never one known for biting his tongue in a fit of impartiality, moans in The Australian:

“There is the danger of a slow death on a wicket manufactured to ensure the result England so desperately needs to regain the Ashes….Bill Gordon should get an MBE.”

To be fair after the events of the second day it was always going to be more entertaining to read the Australian press than the English. At least they’re getting their excuses in early so it won’t sound so much like sour grapes when the urn is earned on the third or fourth days. And then, of course, should Australia mount a stunning comeback (and pessimist that I am I still won’t rule that out), they’ll look even more heroic.

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Ashes update: It is all about Stuart Broad actually

When, after taking a Test “career-best” six for 91 in Australia’s innings at Headingley,  Stuart Broad left the field looking moderately smug – at least he showed enough humility not to raise the ball to the crowd – I felt more like slapping him across the face with a shovel than congratulating him. Unfortunately, from my position in the East Stand, I would never have got across to him before he got to the sanctuary of the dressing-room or I’d been arrested for impersonating a groundsman.

For that was one bad six for 91. I’d even go as far as to say it was the worst six for 91 I’d ever witnessed. And, to be fair, if that performance was to go on and define him as an international bowler for the rest of his days, simply because it was a “career-best” and therefore had to be recorded in the official statistics, then that would be a pity.

Well, after today’s display at the Oval, where he single-handedly blew away the Australia top order, there seems no danger of that (although, to be accurate, his five for 37 will appear only anecdotally as his career best, because those pesky stats from Leeds will still hold sway in the scorer’s lexicon).

But make no mistake: that was a stunning performance; stunning, mainly, because it was so unexpected. We expected Flintoff to get some life out of a testing pitch, we expected Harmison to crack a few knuckles, maybe feather a few gloves on the way through to Matt Prior and we expected (or maybe, more realistically, hoped) that Graeme Swann would find the turn that would rip through a bamboozled Australia line-up.

What we didn’t anticipate is that the bowler with the flowing blond locks and sweet looks that raise more questions about his gender than that of Caster Semenya, should play the macho role – especially after being left to linger at long leg for most of the morning session.

Maybe the rain that preceded lunch by only minutes helped uncross the wires that had engineered a change in Broad from promising, McGrath-comparisoned quick bowler at the start of the series to frontline batsman as it draws to a close.

Or maybe the moisture in the air disturbed so many atoms and molecules in the Oval environment that he discovered the art of swinging it late (his movement hitherto had usually started from the hand, negating its danger) to dismiss Brad Haddin and Michael Hussey, while still being able to rip the ball off the pitch sufficiently to nail Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting.

And if it was his idea to stick the short extra cover in for Michael Clarke, may he be awarded another brownie point, although Clarke must surely be regretting the arrogance of reaching so far for another drive before he was settled.

Perhaps, though, the plaudits should go to Andrew Strauss, the captain whose hunch to bring him straight on after the rain delay worked to perfection. And hopefully, if Strauss the batsman, one of the few to have looked comfortable on a pitch that is slow and now turning alarmingly even for an occasional off spinner, can continue where he left off this evening, it will be to Broad the bowler rather than batsman we will be turning to later in the day or early on Sunday.

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Ashes update: The most telling of statistics

One of the statistics to earn widespread coverage in this Ashes series is the fact that while England have notched up only one century amongst them in the five Tests so far, Australia have merrily danced down the pitch to claim seven. What has been generally overlooked is that four of those were wasted in one innings of a Test they didn’t even win.

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Ashes update: why it’s not all about Stuart Broad

Although today was all about Stuart Broad, by public demand it falls upon Reverse Sweep to return once more to the subject of Paul Collingwood.

Paul Collingwood, you may remember, is the gritty England batsman who had a Facebook group created in his honour – Paul Collingwood for Prime Minister – after his fine battling performances at Cardiff enabled England to escape with a draw which, in light of the extraordinary events at the Oval this afternoon, seems likely to prove crucial to the destination of the celebrated Ashes urn.

So what if since the second innings at Lord’s he’s looked like a man holding, in the words of the celebrated Duckworth and Lewis Method CD, a contrabassoon instead of a Slazenger I Blade, contributing only 42 runs from five innings, his limp plop to short leg this evening a ready reminder of his technical shortcomings?

His Facebook page has reached the dizzy heights of five members, which is approximately zero members more than it accrued immediately after it had been  established.

But there is still time for you to rectify that. And wouldn’t you rather have him running the country than the effete, prostate-gland challenged slimeball that is Peter Mandelson.

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Ashes update: First mission impossible accomplished, then England self-destruct

It was fairly obviously to those even with only half a cricket brain that England’s sole hope of reclaiming the Ashes was to win the toss and bat on the first morning at the Oval. First mission accomplished, Andrew Strauss making the correct call, the second was to put as many runs on the board as possible and, with a wearing pitch and the surface expected to take some spin, put the pressure on Australia and hope that they would succumb. Those by necessity were fairly optimistic appraisals because typical Oval pitches normally take a considerable time to wear – sometimes, as Surrey and Leicestershire could testify from their recent county championship match that produced more than 1,200 runs for the loss of just nine wickets, not until after the final ball of the match has been bowled.

Yet this does not quite seem the archetypal Oval pitch, the ball several times going through the surface, and with the part-time off spinner Marcus North getting some purchase on the first day – notably when he rotated the ball between Jonathan Trott’s driving blade and the off stump, and left Brad Haddin rooted to the spot as well – there were signs that every first innings run would be even more important than usual.

So it was a great disappointment to see the England batting order again unable to profit sufficiently from a good start. The statistic is stark but sums up the extraordinary failing of this line-up: in 10 innings so far, only Andrew Strauss – and he only once – has passed the 100 mark, while the Australians have seven centuries to their names.

At tea, on 180 for four, England would have snatched an offer of 300 for six by the close from whomever was tendering it. Alas it proved to be worse than that, but only because Australia, despite the 1-1 scoreline going into the decider, stuck superbly to core skills, from where they were perfectly placed to add the odd embellishment: Mitchell Johnson’s slower ball that did for Matt Prior, Simon Katich’s stunning reactions at short leg that left Trott stranded.. That is what the better teams do.

 Unfortunately, they were also able to take advantage of England mindlessness, which had Andrew Flintoff as its flagbearer. Having been forced back by three straight, short deliveries from Johnson, it shouldn’t have taken the experience of 78 previous Tests to have worked out what was coming next: a full, widish one that should have been left alone. Sadly Freddie could not resist temptation and it was the ugliest of ends to the all-rounder’s penultimate Test innings.

In the end, thanks to another impressive performance with the bat from Stuart Broad – surely a batting all-rounder in the making – they made it to past the 300 mark, but with only two wickets remaining, their chances of reaching a minimum 350 seem slim. But crease occupation for the remaining batsmen is critical this morning as it would be to England’s advantage to have Australia batting when even more damage has been done to the surface.

As it stands, the tourists’ line-up has enough about it to surpass England’s first-innings total, unless Graeme Swann., on whom great expectations will rest, bowls to his potential and the seamers back him with the discipline shown by Hilfenhaus and Siddle. And if England have to return to a deteriorating crease in arrears it could signal  carnage on a Headingley scale.

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