Monthly Archives: August 2009

Ashes update: Why the Ashes will be decided at Headingley

I notice that another ticket broker – on this occasion viagogo – are offering vastly overpriced seats for the final Ashes Test at the Oval (those of you who are not familiar with my rant about seatwave should see my blog entry for July 16 https://sportwriter.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/seatwave-goodbye-to-your-hard-earned-cash/).

Their cheapest offer for Day 1 is £249 per ticket and to take a friend, with fees and handling charges of over £90, it will set you back the best part of £600.

However, my advice is to save your money and if you have no other way of securing a ticket, buy instead the much cheaper ones on offer for this coming weekend at Headingley (even if you’re venturing north or south from distant climes it will still cost you less). Because Leeds, mark my words, is where this series will be decided, short of a mass vole invasion under the strip in Kennington.

It is true that neither Surrey nor Leicestershire have strong bowling attacks but that surely cannot be the only reason that four days’ toil (give or take 50 overs for rain on Saturday) in the shadow of the gas holders in the division two championship game between the two counties produced only nine wickets at the expense of 1,224 runs.

That must be some batting track and, of course, those who are regulars at the Oval will know that over a course of a season there are plenty of those. People may point to last year’s victory over South Africa, in which the tourists were bowled out for under 200 on the first day. But that was after a series had been decided and featured Steve Harmison, until then ignored by the England selectors, out to prove a point.

Harmison, has, of course, only recently said that he has “unfinished business with Australia” and should the result go against us in Leeds, the selectors will probably be forced to give him his shot at redemption, but with the batting talent that Australia have at their disposal, it is hard to envisage him putting that business to bed when it really matters.

So Headingley, where England capitulated in four days against South Africa last year, is probably the venue at which the destination of the coveted urn will be decided – with victory for England ensuring a 2-0 success and victory for Australia tying the contest and an Ashes win by proxy.

Brett Lee is expected to come back into the reckoning and if he can immediately recover the form that he showed before getting injured against the England Lions, England’s still flimsy batting could find themselves in a bit of a showdown.

 It was the home team’s lower middle order that set up the prospect of a last-day victory at Edgbaston, with Prior, Flintoff, Broad and Swan making important contributions.

But it would be optimistic to expect them to do exactly the same again: England are in greater need of runs from the upper middle order and that, specifically, means Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell. Bell played some sumptuous strokes in the fifty that marked his comeback in Birmingham, but looks no nearer finding the solution to his problem of getting out when well set and could, some say should, have been out twice before he got to that landmark.

At least, though, he looks good, however brief his stay at the crease. Much more worrying is the return from Ravi Bopara – 104 runs from five innings at No3. The Essex player has batted like a man who begun to believe all the publicity he received after three hundreds against a fairly innocuous West Indies attack. He seems to be dining out on Graham Gooch’s repeated claims that “there is something a bit special about him” and has failed to realise that it’s his turn to do the cooking.

So the pressure will be squarely on them this weekend, especially if Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook fall to get us off to a good start. And with Australia’s own batting unlikely to fail for a third time in the series, my money is on the Aussies to claim victory there and bat themselves to safety in South London.

I can only hope I’m wrong.

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Ashes update, third Test, fourth day: Ian Bell, Andrew Flintoff, Matt Prior, Mitchell Johnson, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Graham Onions and Shane Watson we salute you

Crikey; I can’t imagine a much better day’s Test cricket than that. Can you?

In fact, apart fromwhen Australia’s batsmen were thumping England’s attack to all parts of the Swalec Stadium on the second and third days of the first Test, I can’t remember a predictable session in the entire series so far.

Today was a perfect example of team cricket: by that I mean that picking an outstanding player of the day would not only be pointless it would be grossly unfair to the many who played their parts so well and ensured that a game rudely disrupted by the weather goes into its final day with at least two results on the cards.

First of all, there was:

Ian Bell: another delightful fifty, which he failed to convert into something greater, but there was enough sweet timing to engage the purist and then he had the decency, just as he was beginning to get bogged down, to get out and leave the stage clear for….

Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff: Prior continued his bullish approach to batting in this series with a number of crisp strokes at a crisp rate, while Freddie, on his favourite ground for batting, at last played something more than a cameo, perhaps reminding Ricky Ponting why he left it 65 overs before bringing on Shane Watson. And when these two departed there was….

Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad: among the best No8s and 9s in Test cricket already, Broad played a series of magnificent shots, one down the ground off the back foot on the up to Mitchell Johnson coming round the wicket really taking the breath away and Swann matching Johnson boundary for sledge and word for word, but…..

Mitchell Johnson: had the last laugh, switching to round the wicket and fooling Swann with a slower ball which brought an end to the most entertaining over of the day and, by adding the Nottinghamshire spinner to Ian Bell as a victim, suggested his worst struggles are over and he will still have an important part to play in this Ashes. And continuing to make his mark was…

Graham Onions: who celebrated earning a partial central contract with another burst towards the end of the day which got rid of Simon Katich and troubled Mike Hussey after Australia had threatened to wipe off their deficit and opened the way for….

Graeme Swann: again, who bowled one of the finest overs of off breaks at Ricky Ponting which, had Rudi Koertzen’s radar not been out of synch would have resulted in the Australia captain being dismissed leg-before, but not allowing that disappointment to affect him my plundering his middle and leg stumps with a ball that turned perfectly between the stretching batsman’s bat and pad two balls later, and finally….

Shane Watson: who may not be experienced in the opening slot, but looks more comfortable than many in that position. He had a solid, attractive technique and he could steal the man-of-the-match at the last from any of the above if he can turn that into a long, long innings tomorrow

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