Ashes Panel #004 – Surprise Surprise For The Dad’s Army….

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Here is the 4th in our series of panels, and with one glorious exception, they seem to go down well. As I could run just two before the Lord’s test, I’ve expanded the invitation list and secured a new contributor to boot. So, without further ado, let’s introduce our guests..

We have Keyser Chris (KC), David Oram (DavidO – the man behind Roland Butcher’s Hook), Steven Melford (SM), The Great Bucko (SeanB), and Paul Ewart (PaulE – a regular round these here parts). We also have newbie, Martin Payne (MP – who I’ll let off being a Hammer for now), who is a debutant and I’m sure we’ll make him welcome.

So, off we go… Fire Away. Apologies if we lose the formatting, it always happens!

1. Well, that was a surprise. Or was it?
KC – Yes, that was a surprise. I had a sense this team could play like that, but didn’t expect it to actually happen. Just goes to show that simple things like pitching the ball up with fielders on the drive works. Who knew…
SM – The question for me was always could England carry the aggressive mind-set kindled in the New Zealand ODIs into the tests. The answer was yes. I was worried this would be choked. For for too long we’ve had a team that was ‘less than the sum of the parts’. That’s no longer the case and we have a team playing to their full potential. The fact that these players at their best can challenge the Australians is not a surprise. The fact we’ve turned the approach around so quickly is a surprise. And not a great reflection on the previous ‘leadership’.
DavidO – Of course it was. But isn’t it amazing how many people, subsequently, now say they could ‘see it coming’ after the event? Those are the people I’d want to hear from about what will happen next at Lord’s!

Pre-series, on these panels, and in the wider print and broadcast media, the consensus was ‘more of the same’ from down under 2013/14. I have a personal sense of cosy smugness right now as one of the few believers backing an England series win in Ashes Panel 3 – but I am realistic enough to know that Australia may come bouncing back and still stuff us. But I am thoroughly enjoying the moment! I can go to Lord’s next week knowing the worst I can see is Australia level the series.
PaulE -Yes. I didn’t expect England to play so well or Australia to play so badly. Hats off to Farbrace and Bayliss, it just goes to show how much untapped potential there has been in this poorly led team.
MP – Very much so. I came into the series thinking the worst (a built-in mechanism for me when it comes to the Ashes) and both teams have surprised me. Australia perhaps are not as strong as I gave them credit for, although I expect them to bounce back at Lords. England have carried on their attacking intent from the NZ one-dayers which is good to see. Could have been very different if Haddin had taken that catch though…

SeanB Well Watto getting out LBW twice and then referring was a pretty nailed on certainty. I’m not sure if it was a surprise or not, mainly because i couldn’t really call the series before the start (think i went for 2-2 in the end), that said, it was a very encouraging result for England and we played some really positive cricket. I think the Australians were caught cold by the pitch and spent most of the first innings banging it in halfway down (something England generally aren’t immune to doing), but i think my main concern would be their batting unit as it crumpled in a heap twice in the test with some very ordinary shots. We all knew that they would try and attack Mooen, but some of the shots were just outright slogs, so i think they will need to reassess how they play him for the rest of the series. I think England winning the first test is what the series needed as i would have been worried about old wounds reappearing had it been the other way round.

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2. A lot of conjecture about the pitch, which I’ve heard more than a few complain about. What were your feelings about it (presuming you saw the game)?
KC – I don’t think the pitch was anywhere near as bad as made out. Last years at Trent Bridge was far worse. It seemed like the media getting excuses in really early on day one by going on about that. 300-350 seemed par for the wicket, which is good for result cricket – it was Roots ton that slanted the game massively in our favour.
SM – So Australia would prefer a pitch that plays more to their strengths? Who knew! 40 wickets fell; one team scored over 400; one team scored their runs at over 4 runs an over; spinners and seamers took wickets. It was fine.
DavidO -It was a poor pitch on which excellent cricket was played. Scorecards do not always accurately reflect the state of the pitch. We’ve all seen days when twenty wickets fell on a shirtfront in three sessions. But this was not the horror track some attributed to it e.g. Boycott and George Dobell. It IS a bad thing to have balls bouncing in front of the wicket-keeper on the first day – but let’s be honest, we do not want to produce fliers for Johnson and Starc! Surely we were all jumping for joy when we saw the pair of them dig it in early, and it scuttle through to Haddin on his knees!? They did still manage to get the ball around the ear-oles on occasion, so they weren’t entirely neutered, but the pitch did reduce their potency.

Jarrod Kimber was spot on in his assessment – home advantage is an important part of the game, and visitors SHOULD find it hard to adapt. And they didn’t. Uneven surfaces and indifferent bounce make for far more interesting cricket matches than ‘roads’. But ultimately, an England Ashes win is of far more importance to me than ‘bright’ cricket. And yet, despite the sluggish track, we had both! More pitches like this will try the patience, but I want the Aussies to come back to England next time still never having won an Ashes series here since 2001.
PaulE – Don’t like it. If the rumours about groundstaff brushing the wicket are true then it’s doctoring, pure and simple. I wouldn’t mind so much if we didn’t whine quite so much when ‘shifty foreigners’ do it. Play up and play the game and all that.
MP – I think the description of the pitch as turgid is probably a fair one, but still the Test failed to reach a fifth day so perhaps some of the criticism has been over the top. It seemed like a fairly typical Cardiff wicket to me..

SeanB – Pitch wasn’t great in fairness, although it did just produce a result in 4 days as a caveat to my first statement. I’m slightly old fashioned in that i like to see something there for the quicks and when someone bowling at 90mph can’t get it above head height in the first morning, then it’s a little bit disheartening. It was an obvious ploy, that as England felt the Australian bowling unit is their main strength and hence ensured that the pitch would be fairly slow and low to negate this. We were never going to see a green seamer or a quick bouncy wicket, just as we would never see a raging turner at the Gabba; however it does mean that it will be harder and harder for away teams to win away series when the pitches are doctored to suit the home side in such an obvious way (i can’t remember the last truly quick wicket produced in England). I would suggest we will see similar pitches throughout the series

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3. Are you of the view that this test goes to show that Australia are an old team and this could get messy in a hurry for them?
KC – I reserve all judgement until after Australia have played on the pace and bounce of Lord’s. They may be ageing, but there is also a lot of experience in english conditions in that side. I thought their bowling looked slightly undercooked as well; in two weeks that’ll change. That’s not to say I wasn’t a little smug overnight to my Australian friends.
SM – I think they have at least one crumbly too many and it’s time for change. We now have definitive proof (again!) that the Watson experiment is not working. Not sure Haddin is justifying his place. There were also other things didn’t come together for Australia in this test. Harris being ruled out; Starc not at full fitness; Johnson and Warner not firing. I think they will come back fighting & pose a much tougher challenge at Lords.
DavidO – Yes, and yes. Though it is more likely they will rally, ‘dig deep’ etc. and be much tougher at Lord’s – including bringing out the old bad mouthing etc. I suspect they’ll win the 2nd Test – but that they haven’t got enough in their legs and aging bodies for the full five Tests. But of course I would love to see them unravel again like they did at Lord’s two years ago. As I said before, a good team on paper is capable of folding.
PaulE – Could do but as well as they bowled at Cardiff, Jimmy and Broad(y) aren’t Mitch and Rhino. I expect a snarling response. Let’s remember, had Haddin not dropped Root we’d have been in a sorry state. Fate, gossamer threads and all that.
MP – Not really. I would expect them to play a lot better at Lords. I would expect Johnson to have a more productive time on a presumably faster wicket and if Starc regains his fitness in time that will be a boost for the Australians. I can’t see Smith and Clarke going too long without big innings either. I think the main question is can England continue to play at the same intensity that they showed here.
SeanB I think this test shows that Australia also have weaknesses if Warner and Smith don’t fire, but to write them off at this stage would be foolhardy as they have had a lot of success over the past 18 months. I do think it is a series too far for Haddin and for me Watto is the epitome of wasted talent (though i find his continued struggles with the straight ball sidesplittingly hilarious) and i’m not sure they have got the right balance to their team – it looks like Harris could be a bigger miss than we all thought it would be. I would expect Mitchell Marsh to come in for Watto next game and maybe Siddle to get a game if Starc pulls up lame, but i still expect Lords to be a closer game and i think this series will ebb and flow. I might be wrong, the wheels might come off and England might hammer them, but i just can’t see it.
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4. Joe Root was man of the match, and it was hard to argue against that. Who would have been your runner-up?
KC – Goes against the grain, but Chris Rogers is certainly worth a mention. And for pure comedy value, Shane Watson. Why Australia still persist with him is bizarre (sorry, but any chance to have a dig at Shane will be gleefully grasped by me…!)
SM – Broad and Moeen both had strong tests. After a tough time, Mooen proved critics wrong with both bat and ball. Broady just edges it though because of the comedy value of 1) getting Watson to review an LBW decision and 2) for ‘walking’ only to be recalled to the crease. Root’s hight point for me was being in utter stitches when Cook took one to the plumbs. Future captain material for sure.
DavidO – Moeen Ali. Had a super game, and he proved he can take quality Test wickets, despite bowling his fair share of rubbish, and still bat like a Test top order player from number 8. England are blessed with having three proper ‘all-rounders’, men who are genuine top-6 batsmen, who also bowl or keep wicket. Add Root as a more than useful bits-and-pieces bowler and we have so much more depth in batting and variation in bowling options than we had a year or two ago. If we were brave enough to add Rashid instead of Lyth, Bell or Ballance (and bat Moeen in the top 5) we’d have even more bowling options, and I’d back Rashid at 8 to still score quality runs. We have some super cricketers, who proved how good they can be when they play to their potential – but in our euphoria let’s not forget that they have already previously proved to us just how crap they can be too.
PaulE – Stuart Broad or Moeen Ali, vital wickets at vital times. Too close to call when you consider Ali’s runs.
MP – I would go for Moeen Ali. An important innings to get England over 400 in their first innings and chipped in with some vital wickets, particularly the Warner LBW.

SeanB – Broad for me was very close to being man of the match and it was the best i’ve seen him and Jimmy bowl in tandem for a long while. Their bowling on the morning of day 4 was brilliant and although they didn’t get the wickets they deserved, i thought it set the wheels in motion for the afternoon. Broad for me, is a painstakingly frustrating bowler, sometimes looking like a world beater and sometimes looking like a clown, but one thing we know is that he has periods when he goes on a hot streak and takes wickets galore, which is something i’m hoping will happen over the next 4 games. One other point on Broad was that he spoke very cogently to Ian Ward at the end of the test around the game plan they had for the Aussie batsman and how he struggles to bowl full and straight as it sometimes comes out too floaty but realised bowling wicket to wicket was the answer in this pitch. I think the England bowling coaches have really done their work on the bowlers, now that David ‘bang it halfway down the pitch and look hard’ Saker has since thankfully departed and it shows in the fact that all the bowlers have been more consistent this summer.

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5. Do you think this marks a vindication of sticking by Alastair Cook as captain of England?

KC No. This looks far more like a continuation of the change in thinking in the ODI team, with added Bayliss. Alastair Cook doing things right is automatically deemed “innovative” by certain sections of the press. The real reason England won is because the bowlers pitched the bloody ball up. But that won’t suit the narrative.

SM – No. It was his best test as captain but I’m reminded of the saying “even a broken watch tells the right time twice a day”. If I’d captained England for what seems like a decade,  I’d have had one good day at the office! Cook’s captaincy is much better when the team is well on top. When we are up against it, he is poor. Let’s see what happens when things are not going so clearly our way.

DavidO – Vindication is a horrible world. It’s too near a relation to vindictiveness for my comfort. I wish we’d all get away from this situation where everyone seems to have some point to prove about Cook/Pietersen/ECB etc. What’s done is done (and it was a disgrace) but I want to focus on the cricket now please.

Cook captained well – but let’s not get carried away. He will have good and bad games in the future, like Clarke has always done. I’ve never agreed with the received wisdom that Cook is a bad captain, and Clarke a great one. They both have had their moments! Clarke is undoubtedly better tactically, but he is not Bobby Fischer or Julius Caesar. Neither is Cook George Custer or Lord Cardigan. Besides, many past captains have agreed that the on-field stuff is the easy bit. Well, we seem to only compare Cook and Clarke in that arena. Having the players ‘with you’ is something in which Cook has hugely out scored Clarke, in both good times and bad.
Cook has not been an especially good, or especially bad captain – but as the incumbent he is certainly the best-man for the job right now. Root may prove to be a superior successor, but he would not be better NOW at this moment in time unless he’d already had 6-12 months behind him. This may yet prove to be Cook’s last series as Skipper, and I like the idea that we may win the Ashes, and he stands down as leader anyway. He might see that as VINDICATION, but personally I have no interest in either petty self-absorption or brick-batting.
PaulE – No. Whilst its heartening to see someone learning after 115 test matches, England could and should have been playing like this for quite some time. The recent improvement merely highlights how much time and potential has been wasted under Cook’s craven stewardship. This is Joe Root’s team, if you’re still in doubt read Jason Gillespie’s piece today: Yorkshire tactics, Root and Farbrace.
MP – I probably have a more favourable view of Cook than most on this blog but I don’t think so. He’s had some shocking moments over the last 18 months and has certainly received more second chances than captains of old. Having said that I thought he got most things right in this Test and has certainly improved as a captain but one swallow does not a summer make.

SeanB – Hmmm – not sure how to answer this one. I have been a bigger a critic of Cook’s captaincy as anyone on here – I think i called for the Investec Zebra to be given the gig at various points last summer. Credit where credit is due, Cook has his best game as England captain (though some runs would be nice too) and he tinkered with the bowling and the field and it paid off big time. My biggest criticism of Cook is that he lets games drift and after plan A fails, plan B involves trying to bounce out the opposition and plan C – well there is no plan C, but this wasn’t in evidence in this game. Could this be the input of Farbrace and Bayliss? Is this a new Alastair Cook, trying to get England playing an aggressive style of cricket? Only time will tell, but it has been a positive start and also means the Root can concentrate on his batting (and we are massively reliant on him) rather than being constantly linked with the captaincy this summer.
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So, there you have it. My thanks to the contributors, who, once again, have put a lot in and gave up their time. I’m also thinking of five more questions to put to the next round of the panel, so look out for the e-mail later tonight. If I could have responses for Wednesday on those, then I’d be really grateful.

As usual, be gracious in your comments, even if you disagree. I thought the chaps put in a great show and I want them back!!!!!

Pugilism

It’s aggression. Face up to your tormentors and go back with positive intent and a happy demeanour. Don’t take a backward step, but play positively and everything will be all right. It’s really that simple.

A penny right now for the thoughts of Peter Moores. He’s being made to look a bit foolish isn’t he, and that’s got to be hard to take. Once again, though, we’ll be told that he brought all these players on, and that his successor has a lot to thank him for.  But it must eat away that the key was that simple. Get aggressive players to be positive and we’ll be fine. This is being decreed as some wonderful new discovery. As if things are that simple. Already we see the fawning articles about Trevor Bayliss, and Paul Farbrace – who appears to have had his faults absolved by one series. We’ve really been here before, people……

I’m content with the win, of course I am, but this is a five test series and Australia are not a bad side yet. I thought it telling that I felt no nerves at all on Saturday, which is different to any other England performance. I was utterly confident we would win it on Saturday. Totally. Australia to chase 400+ on that pitch with an undercooked line-up was never going to happen. Look at my early tweets that day if you think this is hindsight talking. I think it’s because I’m more dispassionate about Team England. To quote 10cc Mr Dobell “I’m Not In Love”. (Been listening to the Switch Hit from a couple of weeks ago on the way to work, where George thinks we are all (mostly) back on side. Erm, not quite…..).

So, we have a quick turnaround for Lord’s. The blog will be getting you in the mood for the 2nd test with a number of things. We have Ashes Panel #004 which will be up later this evening. There are currently six respondents, so it will be a long one. No change there. My thanks to all the contributors. The five questions are:

1. Well that was a surprise, or was it?

2. Your thoughts on the pitch?

3. Are Australia an old team  and this could get messy?

4. Joe Root was MOM. Who would be your runner-up?

5. Was this a vindication of Big Al?

These are paraphrased questions, and PLEASE PLEASE respond when I put the panel up and not before….. sort of spoils it if you don’t. I’m hoping it will be up at 9pm.

The Leg Glance has said he will be able to put some more stuff up this week, which will be terrific, and I’ll do another Ashes memory, accompanied with photos. Then, of course, there will be my on the ground report. Yes. I will be in the citadel on one day of this test. Keep an eye out!

I’ve been invited to a press screening of Death of a Gentleman. I haven’t been able to make the nights suggested, so I may have to miss out and watch it when it’s out on general release.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to relay this piece of brilliance from Selfey…

“Cricket Australia’s immediate response was to put its finger in its ears, go “nah nah nah” and announce the dates of this year’s Big Bash in time for its morning bulletins.”

Priceless. From him, especially, priceless. I couldn’t have summed up the ECB or his reaction to the 5-0 loss any differently.

Have a good day, and look out later!