Ashes Panel #008 – Jonny Be Good, Chris Be Well

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First of all, I’d like to echo TLG’s tribute to Clive Rice. The 1980s were my formative time when it came to cricket, and Clive Rice’s Nottinghamshire loomed large on the scene. As someone put on the comments, he used to win those all-rounder competitions that were the rage in the 80s if memory serves. He was a fine cricketer and that’s all I need to know.

It’s been another funny day. Lovejoy has been on Aussie media doing a no doubt hilarious impression of Kevin Pietersen. I’ve read the transcript and I’ve just got back from A&E to sew up my sides. Needless to say, those who adore to hate Mr Pietersen think it’s really funny and that we don’t get the gag. I’ve been here before. We’re as mad as the moonies. Classy.

So, on to the main business, and that is Ashes Panel #008. First up an apology to Dr Melf from Twitter land as I left him out in error (and I wasn’t well yesterday so didn’t e-mail him the questions) while asking the Great Bucko to go twice. If Sean would like to contribute that would be fine by me.

So who do we have? We The Bogfather for the poetry, we have Rooto, we have Oscar da Bosca, we have Colonel Blimp (David Oram) and paulewart. Legends all, panelists to be revered, and comments to read. As always, my huge thanks for their participation, and for the time and effort they put in, including waking up before the kids to contribute their efforts. It’s seriously amazing. A bit like the Moonies!

Fire away:

1. I’ve asked all the panelists so far, so why not you too? Your reactions to the 2nd Test result and the way the match went.
Colonel – Awful. I was there for all 4 days, and being an unrepentant one-eyed English optimist it was painful – but I also thought it was a poor advert for cricket. The first day was the most mind-numbing I’ve witnessed in person since Day 1 of Nottingham 1989 (Aus 301-0). Subsequent days were more interesting and I enjoyed our fightback for the most-part of the first 2 sessions on the Saturday. Sunday’s capitulation was abject, although not boring in the way the Thursday had been. I had a super time at the Test catching up with family and friends and boozing heartily, but the cricket was a major disappointment. Australia were thoroughly professional; England weren’t. I hope they’ve got it out of their system quickly like a dodgy biriani and return to the rude health of Cardiff.
Oscar – Awful, just awful, I work from home and tend to watch the first hour or two of the test before the guilt takes over and I start working with TMS on (and the SKY feed handily a few seconds later so that I can turn and watch the delivery)… I watched for about 6 overs.  Rogers tried to hit the cover of everything and looked vulnerable, but the bowling was so ordinary from Anderson that any pressure from Cardiff was gone in an hour.  Broad bowled well throughout the match, but was the only one of 5 bowlers to do so.  Warner gifted his wicket in such a manner that it showed the placid nature of the pitch and only a mistake was going to get a batsman out.  Smith has clearly decided to milk Ali which doesn’t help as no pressure is created by him if the fast bowlers are bowling well at one end….
That said, if England had won the toss I am not convinced that Australia would have done much better in terms of runs on that day, (but probably for 5 or 6 wickets).  Scoreboard pressure is real, and the collapsibility of our top order just adds to the pressure on a decent middle order.  It was abject, but this England side post no 1# status has shown they are capable of really abject matches let alone sessions or days.

Sometimes they collectively appear to give up….Perhaps a captain should be a leader of men and capable of inspiring with words as well as deeds, it would appear that if the deeds aren’t done by either the captain  or the FEC at number 5, then the rest of the batters give up.   The bowling is more complex, whilst I don’t agree with Metatone completely, we do struggle on flat pitches as we haven’t ‘mystery’ or pace (although I think Wood has potential, but he clearly cannot maintain his pace over back to back test matches).

PaulEwart – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The ECB press and their acolytes look more and more foolish by the day. If Captain Dimwit identifies a pattern before you do, then you really are in trouble. How can anyone take these people seriously?

The 1st Test was a pleasant surprise, but I fully expected a snarling response from a wounded Australia and they didn’t let me down. The selectors identified a weakness and rectified it without ceremony as I suspected they would Talk of a crisis in the camp was, as usual, overplayed. I found the contagion here more perplexing: some of you lot engaged with it! Happily normal service was resumed last week both on and off the field.

As for the match itself, well it was a pretty spineless performance wasn’t it? And the media’s response to our best player was predictably mean-spirited. I’ve got a bad feeling about Ben Stokes’ future given how every misstep is scrutinised by relentless churls, curmudgeons and deracinated medium pacers.

The only worry, from an Australian perspective is Pup’s form. Then again Steven Smith’s record as captain’s none too shabby. I’d expect a more competitive England this week, but I’d still expect Australia to win and if the pitch has any pace in it, it could turn nasty. Strauss’s e-mail shenanigans suggest that all may not be well in paradise. Let’s hope the nauseating honeymoon’s over. I’m still not comfortable with either his role or his ubiquity. There’s a real sense of lines being crossed/blurred at the moment.

Rooto – The second test unfolded predictably (for a pessimist). I was pleasantly surprised by … no, sorry, nothing there. On the other hand the second innings collapse was less surprising, and showed how little Rodders has managed to instil any steel core into the team. He really does captain for himself. I’m inclined to be indulgent about the under-performance and say “these things happen with young teams”, which perhaps helps to explain the over-performance in the first test a little bit too. The team doesn’t have to be so young, but that’s not the players’ fault.

Poetry Corner With The Bogfather…

Trampled underfoot from day one

Caught in the pace-place headlights

Crumpled in a heap, as pressure won

Fraught thinking, courage an oversight

Rankled with me, so tactically undone

Day four, no resistance, no fight…

2. Ballance paid the price, and the second panel had their say in #007. Let’s look at his replacement. Any thoughts on Jonny Bairstow’s selection and views on how he would do?
Colonel – Bairstow should have been picked from the start of the series. THE form batsman in England, with the renewed confidence of his match-winning ODI innings behind him should have played ahead of one of the 3 passengers in our top 6. I hope he will succeed in the 3rd Test, but this will be as much a test of his character as his technique. I think he’s up to the task – but we shall see.
Oscar – We are paying the price of Cooks awful form last year and the decision not to blood Lyth in the West Indies.  We are also doubly paying as if Trott was going to come back into the side it should have been in his position at 3.  A lot of judges better than I thought Ballance had a technical issue last year, and that better bowlers would expose it.  This has happened since the WI tour and the decision to drop Taylor just before the WC and rely on Ballance at 3 in an ODI side without any form whatsoever is now biting us.

We may have known whether or not Lyth has the temperament for Test cricket.

We would have had an experienced no 3 (who may or may not have done well, but we ended Trott’s test career in the WI by making him open).

We have a problem with the top order but we are bringing in another middle order batsman.

I hope Bell succeeds at 3, but I fear his eyes may be going (it may be form, but he reminds me of Vaughan’s last days, lovely strokeplay, but missing straight ones).  As for Bairstow, well I would have bought in a more experienced no 4 (with a great record against Australia) and left Root where he is, however I wish him well, he is scoring bucket loads in the county championship and probably deserves his another chance (particularly after that innings in the ODI v NZ).

PaulEwart – I haven’t seen enough county cricket to comment (don’t tell wctt), but in KP’s absence he seems to be the next cab off the rank. He, like so many others, has been treated shabbily by England thus far. Let’s hope he’s ironed out his technical difficulties and can make a go of it. Whilst its always good to see successful county cricketers rewarded, I do sometimes yearn for Duncan Fletcher’s left of centre hunches (though he had a much better record with batsmen than with bowlers!). I liked what Jason Gillespie had to say about Bairstow, but am reminded of Geoff Boycott’s noting that he saw himself as a wicket-keeper batsman rather than a frontline batsman. Time will tell. It may be that he and Jos Buttler swap roles in the long term.

Rooto – I’m happy with the batting rejig, as I’m a Bellophile. I remember getting up at 3 just to watch the last rites of the Perth test 2010, purely because Bell was still in overnight. Of course he got out straight away. I think this Bellophilism may be closely connected to my pessimism. Anyway, Big Johnny B. I wanted him in the team, as I’ve followed the county scene from afar, and he is without doubt its star this year. I hope he will walk out with enough confidence to belligerently turn around any 30-4 situations, in much the same way as Stokes has done twice already this year. If he can’t thrive now, at the top of his form, no-one can. I’d be interested to see if a successful Bairstow puts pressure on Buttler to score more runs, too. (And if there’s pressure, how he responds to it).
Poetry Corner from The Bofgather –

To pick a player in form is so rare

Yet to replace a 3 with a 5 shows panic

With Bell promoted to next man hanging

Selectorial nonsense seemingly manic.


Where is the middle order solidity?

If Root fails at 4, where’s the glue?

Will Bairstow dig-in’ for a day?

Or will we still swing without a clue?


Shifting the deckchairs is not a plan

Nor is it fluid or organic

Captain Cook may seek his Bounty

But sadly he skippers the Titanic…

3. I really worry about the way Jimmy Anderson has started the series. Do you share my concerns, or should I just relax?
Colonel – Absolutely! Anderson has been a shadow of himself for 18 months. I entirely agree with those who felt that mammoth performance in the 1st Test of 2013 was the final drawing from his well of quality, and if he can’t raise his game in the last 3 Tests than his time has come to retire. Having said that, he bowled with more purpose, zip, fire etc in the 1st 2 overs of the 2nd innings at Lord’s than I’ve seen in a while. Viewing from a mid-on angle at the ground, he briefly demonstrated an extra yard of pace and energy. England had had a quite intense huddle as the took the field 2nd time around and were busy and purposeful – they were clearly determined to give it a ‘real go’ – which disappeared immediately when until Adam Lyth dropped that catch. It was the 2nd time in 2 innings that abysmal cricket from Lyth entirely deflated the whole team. With the debilitating effect Lyth’s 2 moments had on England’s mindset I’m surprised he wasn’t dropped. But I think his card is marked.
Oscar – Nope, whilst I admire Dennis Loves Cricket I think the arrant nonsense that he has spouted about Jimmy for the past few years was undeserved.  I am not so sure it is anymore as something has gone awry, he seemed to lurch towards 400 wickets (I am sure they were talking about it when India were playing last year, but that might be my memory).  He seems to have lost a bit of zip and doesn’t seem to gain the swing he used too.   Hopefully the wicket at Edgbaston will suit him.  I fear that he was (alongside Swann) bowled into the ground during the last years of Flowers regime and we are now paying for the 4 bowlers “give it to Swanny/Jimmy” mentality of those years.  People commented on this at the time, people commented on this after the fact… we are now seeing what 3 years of a ridiculous schedule with only 4 bowlers does.
PaulEwart – He’ll succeed if conditions suit, he won’t if they don’t. He may have lost the capacity to threaten without the right conditions. Wasn’t Selvey grumbling about his being down on his speed in the Caribbean? It could be the dreaded “loss of nip”. Again, time will tell. It’s not as though anyone’s banging at the door.
Rooto – The acid test is coming for Jimmy. Edgbaston and Trent Bridge should suit him more, or at least people expect them to suit him more. Therefore if he doesn’t get the wickets, there will be media pundits and fans wanting him to make The Oval some sort of swansong. But he’ll play all three tests. I can’t comment on any technical problems, as I’m mostly just listening.

Poetry Corner With The BogFather…

The slow decline continues

No longer able to lead the attack

Still carrying an injury?

A slight action change, stiff backed

Becoming a one trick/track pony

Without a plan B, he lacks

The pace to worry a batsman

Or the skills to thrill, alack.

4. Both test matches have surprised in the gap between the two winners. Do you see another one-sided match or is this going to be closer (let’s ignore the weather reports for now)?
Colonel – God knows. I’d hazard a guess at a closer contest, but after the relative unpredictability of the first 2 games it’s anyone’s guess. I suppose most will predict another emphatic Aussie victory – so I’ll be contrary and predict an England win. But if I were putting a bet on it would be a rain-affected draw.
Oscar – I think that Australia are the stronger team both on paper, however I do think if England bat first in any match and score 400+ it allows the bowlers to create pressure and Australia’s middle order is slightly suspect for me.  Voges and Marsh remind me of Marcus North, good players but not frightening, and if Clarke continues to score 30 and then get out we can win matches.  The problem is if Australia bat first and do the same thing I think the pressure will get to us more.  I do think that the series is evenly balanced in that a coin toss may decides the destination of the Ashes (especially if we get more flat pitches).
PaulEwart – I can see Australia dismantling England if the pitch has any life in it. They opened some old wounds at Lords, despite what Moeen may say. I can’t see England doing the same, the 1st Test was just the kick in the pants Australia needed. Let’s just hope we’re competitive after the mauling at Lords. Still, we are a very odd team at the moment, and Root, Stokes and Buttler can take the game away from any team. I don’t think they will, though. The Aussies have rediscovered their collective mongrel/ticker (delete as appropriate). A draw is the best we can hope for.
Rooto – I feel that England’s chances will depend on the performance of the pitch. We have seen that Australia have brought out their best game, and can take 20 wickets inside 2 days of bowling. England will need some assistance to do the same, so (assuming not more than 1 day lost to weather), if it’s flat, it could be a similar style of result to Lord’s – not necessarily of the same magnitude – but if it’s spicy then we have a puncher’s chance, and the match will definitely be short enough to reach a finish.
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather

We don’t do close anymore

As the results since ’06 show*

So the gap is no surprise

Winning margins continue to grow.

Is this first day initiative?

Or just a period in time

Or perhaps it’s just because

They’re no longer able to bat time…

Has ODI and T20

Led to a loss of application?

It seems a world problem

Not just for these two nations.

Yet the quality of bowling in general

Is lower than 20/30 years ago

So when true pace or spin arrives

Technique is the first thing to go…

5. Chris Rogers would be a great loss to the Australian batting line-up, wouldn’t it? Do you think it might potentially cost them dear?
Colonel – Yes and maybe. But then again in the medium term Australia will have to move on from Rogers, so why not now? Many England supporters were delighted to see the back of Harris, Haddin and Watson – but then look at how well Hazlewood, Nevill and Mitch Marsh have done. Shaun Marsh is unlikely to match up to Rogers’ runs, but I think the injection of younger players into their side, even though enforced by injury, are actually working in the tourist’s favour. A few fresh faced Pikes in place of seasoned soldiers like Corporal Jones, Frazer and Godfrey is bringing Dad’s Army renewed energy.
Oscar -Ireally like Rogers, he is a perfect counterpoint to Warner (who knew a dasher and someone solid as an opening combination would put pressure on the opposition??).

I think potentially he could be a big loss, because whilst Warner will probably get a lot of runs, his style makes him suspect to getting out early.  Marsh is an odd one, great heritage, but he has been knocking on the door for a long time and I think he is in his early 30s.  To me, given that Watson has opened, Warner was picked in 2012/3 from T20 with very little FC experience, I have to presume he isn’t the answer long-term for Rogers.  On a good pitch (with a good toss lost!!) they could be 30/3 before they know it and suddenly under pressure.  That’s why cricket is such a brilliant game, because 30 minutes in 6 hours of play can turn a game.  I still remember sitting at Edgbaston behind the bowlers arm with Freddie bowling to the greatest allrounder the game has ever seen (Kallis – I thought I would stir a debate btl that isn’t Ashes related J).  For a two over spell the game almost stopped and became just a duel between two men, the atmosphere at the ground was so intense it was eerie.   Plus Collingwood got a place saving century with a 6 (Pieterson was criticised the previous day for trying to do the same (plus ca change)), I also like to forget that Graham Smith batted for the whole of the last day to save the game.

Enough digression, Rogers is a big loss for Australia, their middle order’s suspect…what could possibly go wrong (I am betting it is called Mitch).

PaulEwart – He would, he’s in sparkling form. But so is Shaun Marsh. The middle order is looking a little vulnerable with Clarke and Voges yet to catch fire, but Mitchell Marsh looks promising and Mitch, Warner and Neville look in good touch. He will be a loss, but I expect a strong performance from an Aussie side on a roll. It must be that ‘deep momentum’ or is it that mysterious but vitally important ‘luck’ thing…….

Rooto – Warner’s been surprisingly quiet so far. Rogers’ form has put him in the role of junior opener. He was warming up at Lord’s, though, and if he becomes senior partner to Shaun Marsh, then this could be a big influence on the match. Aus would miss Rogers, but there could be compensations. Boom!
Poetry Corner from The Bogfather –

A player well versed in our conditions

Providing solidity at the crease

Who bats for the team and his partners

Allowing them freedom and release

He’d be a loss to any team

And though It pains me to say

I hope he’s passed fit and well

And is able to play…

So, there you have it. TLG’s excellent match preview, an Ashes Panel, and tomorrow, weather permitting, Act 3 in the 2015 Ashes.

Ashes 3rd Test: Preview

Perhaps to begin with, a few words about the sad death of Clive Rice.  Like so many of his generation, he didn’t get to play Test cricket due to South Africa’s banishment from the international game.  With a first class average above forty and nearly a thousand wickets at a bowling average in the low twenties, had he been able to perform at the highest level, he would have been a great addition in the era of the great all rounders that bestrode world cricket in the 1980s. Indeed, such was his ability, he could have been viewed as the best of them all.

An entire generation will remember seeing him play for Nottinghamshire over many years, and the Sunday League matches were required watching on Grandstand for a child rapidly falling in love with the game in the early eighties.  And while that shortened form of the game may not have quite shown him at his peak, he was plainly one of the main men in the sport.  Nor should it be forgotten that Rice brought an unknown 19 year old offspinner over to England, and was instrumental in Kevin Pietersen’s development.  14,000 international runs later, English cricket can be grateful for that too.

His early passing is a deep blow for the game, and it is to be hoped that a suitable tribute to a genuinely great cricketer can be arranged for the fourth Test, so those where he played and coached for so many years can pay tribute.

Turning attention to tomorrow, England have at least one change with Bairstow coming in for Ballance.  The news today is that there could also be disruption to the bowling attack, with Mark Wood’s fitness in question.  Should he not make it, then Steven Finn will be the replacement.  It was notable that in talking about that, Cook said Finn had been “bowling well in one day cricket”, an oblique reminder that the English summer now limits the first class opportunities to excel when the main Test series is on.

The pitch is of course part of the debate, and Australia have lost few opportunities to play mind games, with Mitchell Starc the latest to lob a grenade at England saying they didn’t know what they wanted or what they were doing.  There’s little doubt from the words flying from the Australian camp that they feel on top of England at the moment, it’s been a remarkable turnaround from the uncertainty afflicting them after the defeat at Cardiff.  The Lords pitch unquestionably offered up a lifeline to Australia, a team that were showing signs of fragility after the first Test defeat.  That Australia grabbed it with both hands and then demolished England entirely merely demonstrates that giving a good team a break like that is as daft as it always is.

The recent rain has hampered preparations in Birmingham to the extent that heaters have been used on both pitch and outfield to assist in drying the surface.  What that means is that even if England had wanted it (unlikely) the wicket could not have been prepared with pace in mind.  What is far more obvious is that after the Lords debacle, it will offer something to the seamers, something the Lords track unquestionably didn’t.  However, what this debate around wickets does show is that for all the noble words upon the appointment of Strauss about it being all about the future, the same short term thinking applies.  English wickets have been extremely slow for a few years now, the idea the Australians have that they are specifically slowed down for them is simply wrong.  But it is still true that they are slow, and looked at over a longer period than the last five years, that isn’t typical of English grounds.  That’s largely because of the recent desire to ensure matches go the full five days to ensure a maximisation of earnings, but it’s hardly likely to benefit England’s development in that longer term to keep doing this.

In times past, the pitches offered a much greater level of variety, one that simply isn’t there any more with a uniform turgidness about them.  That Strauss, according to Nick Hoult at the Telegraph, sent an email requesting that the pitches be slower rather than faster as a general rule makes it abundantly clear it’s about the here and now.  The contradictions between what England say and what they do never seem to stop.

England will certainly have to play much better than they did at Lords to even compete, because any kind of similar performance is going to result in another hammering.  Yet there’s no reason they shouldn’t do.  Cricket teams do sometimes have matches where everything seems to go wrong for no apparent reason.  England are not as bad a side as they looked at Lords, and Australia are not as good either.  One of the recent trends in Ashes matches has been for them to be one sided, whoever wins.  Even the narrow Trent Bridge win of two years ago owed more to a freak performance narrowing a gulf between the side than anything else.

What England do have to do is come up with a method to combat the left armers, and that means showing a degree of aggression.  This is the test for England’s brave words about the way they want to play the game, because no side reacts well to being successfully attacked.  An England who try to sit in will play into Australia’s hands, as they rotate the bowlers knowing that wicket will follow.

That said, Australia have to be seen as favourites, and if they get their noses in front in the series, it is hard to see England coming back, especially after two consecutive defeats.  This Test is likely to prove pivotal in the series, how England handle the challenge this time will tell us much about where they are going as a team.