With thanks to Sir Peter, a few pictures from today at The Oval. My gratitude for letting me use his memory card and I’ve picked some (not all) of his good ones. He doesn’t have as powerful a lens as my Lumix, but these are brilliant with the tools at his disposal.
It took as little time as anticipated for England to wrap up the fourth Test, and with it the series and the Ashes. It has been an extraordinary win, all the more so for being so unexpected. Yet in that sense it isn’t quite so different to last time, when Australia won 5-0, a result no one (apart from Glenn McGrath, who always forecasts that) expected either.
England are rightly celebrating, they thoroughly deserve to as well. With the exception of Lords, which looks ever more peculiar in retrospect, they have battered Australia. England did something in response to that defeat that much of the media failed to, which was to accept the pinch and move on. England’s resilience following that hammering is something that they can rightly take pride in, and is the sign of a good team, or at least one that might become a good team.
Yet the danger in responding to this victory is in being wise after the event. It isn’t vindication of the last two years because England didn’t play how they’d played over the last two years. Cook is to be thoroughly praised for his captaincy because he didn’t captain the side how he’d done so up to this point. That isn’t proof that those backing him as captain previously were right in any way, but it is a recognition that for whatever reason, he seems to have dramatically improved – something those supporting him didn’t demand he do. And that is a fascinating development. Cook was dreadful in Australia, he was worse against Sri Lanka, desperate against India, and a disaster as one day captain before his more than slightly hamfisted sacking. In his interview after the game’s conclusion, he acknowledged that, admitting to being stubborn (not necessarily a bad thing), and to having made an effort to be more proactive and positive in this series.
Trevor Bayliss too chose his words carefully, saying that Cook had been excellent in this series, with a fairly clear implication when talking about how this had been done that he didn’t think he had been previously. And that is about right – the only rational way to to respond to any situation is to adapt a view as the facts change. Cook has been really good as skipper this series, and it is immensely to his credit that he has been prepared to take input from outside and learn. After having been captain in the same rather plodding and defensive manner for quite a long time, that is perhaps the most welcome and unexpected development. Being wise after the event means refusing to admit that no one saw this coming – and no one did.
Bayliss himself had come into the England set up at the start of this series, but he wasn’t present for the New Zealand one, which gave the first hint at Cook’s England adopting a different approach. It was such a sudden switch after the West Indies series and the miserable World Cup that the removal of Peter Moores would seem to point to that being the major change. Yet it is probably a little more than that – Moores’ style of coaching was similar to Andy Flower’s in one area, that it was prescriptive, with the coach directing the team rather than the captain. That was seen time and again where England would come in after a session, and resume with entirely different tactics – the captain was the cipher for a coach telling them what to do.
The appointment of Bayliss, and the retention of Farbrace, indicated that this type of coach was not how Strauss saw the best interests of England – and that decision was a wise one. Whatever anyone thought of Cook’s captaincy, it was frustrating to see him not actually captain the side himself. It is therefore a possibility that the change in coaching set up allowed Cook for the first time to captain the side how he wanted to. England have been the only side where the coach has been given such power, and Bayliss and Farbrace are more in the Fletcher model, where the coach stands in the background to support the players and the captain runs the team.
It’s no coincidence that England players have quickly felt the freedom to back their own ability under this kind of structure, nor that the previously rigid set up limited that freedom. Playing without fear is an easy thing to say, but it requires a system where players aren’t berated for their failures. England under Moores and Flower certainly had success, but the team became ever more hidebound, negative and restricted, terrified of making a mistake – and it was that attitude that Australia pounced on in 2013/14.
Equally, the early season series against New Zealand may have acted as the dropping of the scales in front of English eyes; if that is the case, then England may well owe a debt of gratitude to Brendon McCullum, though perhaps Australia would have been equally well advised to have had a chat to Kane Williamson about how to play the moving ball. The one day series too, with England playing scintillating cricket, showed a break with the shambles of the past, in intent if nothing else – which is why no one greatly cared if England lost that final match, they were far too wowed by the style of play. The point is that it is easy to blame Moores, but he was simply continuing an approach that he himself started and Andy Flower continued. It worked for a while too, but signs of problems were there long before the implosion in Australia if only some had paid attention to those pointing them out.
The hardest part of coaching is being able to keep out of the way. Bayliss, when responding to questions about Cook’s captaincy, demurred at the idea he’d given instructions, saying all he had done was to offer options, and it was up to Cook to then choose – and that he chose wisely.
What happens next is the key, because harder challenges lie ahead, in the UAE and South Africa. At the start of this series the feeling was that this would be Cook’s last as captain – the appointment of Root as his deputy and the end of cycle feel about Ashes series indicated that win or lose, it might be time to move on. The nature of England’s win has changed that somewhat, though Cook may still feel that he could go out on a high by doing so. Yet the change is that he now can choose himself, rather than circumstances dictating. It isn’t the win that has done that, it’s the way England won, and the way he himself led the side. Let’s make no bones about it – it was quite impressive, and all the more so for being so unexpected.
There has been a clear shift in so many other ways too. The England players made a point of going around the ground after each win and meeting the supporters, posing for selfies, signing autographs. The interviews have been much more open and honest – all things that have been areas of deep criticism for the England of the last 18 months and beyond. There is not a chance of the ECB ever apologising for anything that they’ve done, but this at least is a start and a move in the right direction. Whether it is mere lip service or something more, is down to the ECB.
One of the most striking things about this England side is the clear joie de vivre that the young players have brought to the team. There has been a changing of the guard in many ways beyond the obvious, a recognition that in order to get the best out of them, letting them free to do their thing is the way to do it. Stokes, Root, Moeen and Wood have been the most evident examples, and even the grumpy old curmudgeons like Broad (OK, that’s a touch unfair on him) and Anderson have bought into it. The England dressing room appears a much better place to be than it has been for quite a long time. The idea that this win is a put down of all those who have been calling for exactly this is somewhat bizarre. This is not the England team approach that received so much criticism. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that one particular player would have thrived in such an environment, given it is exactly what he wanted to see in the first place.
Certainly Joe Root has benefitted, and has gone to number one in the Test player rankings as a result. It may be that it is a purple patch of form and nothing more, but there are signs that he may be becoming a genuinely fantastic batsman. He scores so quickly, without apparent effort. Technically, he is getting out to the ball much better than he did when he was dropped in Australia, where he hung back in the crease. His weight distribution now comes forward into the ball, hence the glorious drives – but more than anything, his approach is one where he is first and foremost looking to score runs. This too is an expression of a change of mentality in the side, and one in which he’s thriving. That England now have a set up that is seeking to get the best from their players rather than berate them and keep them in line, amazingly enough seems to work.
The bowlers too have performed admirably. Broad has been underrated for quite a while; yet his record in recent years has been very good, even in the Ashes meltdown of 2013/14 where he along with Stokes was pretty much the only player who could hold his head up high; the biggest issue with him is when England insisted on playing him through injury. He is now number two in the bowling rankings, with Anderson just behind him. Yet those two are a known quantity, what is welcome is seeing how the support bowlers have performed. They’ve not always got the results that might mark them out as being special, but they have shown immense promise. Stokes blows hot and cold, as young players tend to do, Wood looks like he has pace and the ability to move the ball. They have potential, if correctly managed. As for Finn, one fine match and one quiet one is fine as long as he continues the upward trajectory. He too is indicative of a different approach from the England side, allowing him to bowl rather than micro-managing him. Again, it is to be greatly welcomed, and with a degree of luck, the results should follow, and the pace return.
All of the others contributed. Lyth may not have had a great series to date, but the way he set about the small target at Edgbaston extinguished Australian hopes early, while his catching was very good. He won’t be content with his series, and nor should he be, the Oval may signal a last chance for him, but he has had an effect on the outcome. Bell batted superbly at Edgbaston but has had a quiet series outside of that. The jury remains out for Bairstow, but he did bat well at Trent Bridge, while Buttler has had a poor series with the bat, but kept extremely well.
And Moeen, well Moeen has bowled just about adequately, but batted very well indeed. Which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given he’s a batsman first and foremost. Two spinners will be needed in the UAE, and while Moeen might well be the best off spinner England have (depending on whether Panesar can continue his rehabilitation), the Oval could well be the opportunity to introduce Adil Rashid.
For Australia, the big news was the announcement of Michael Clarke’s retirement. At many times he has been a prophet not honoured in his own land, but the warmth of the reception he got from the Nottingham crowd showed the esteem in which he is held. He has had a year of unimagined highs and tragic lows, and perhaps that finally proved too much for him, in which case that would be completely understandable. He has been a fantastic player and an often inspirational captain. But over the last year, what he proved more than anything else was that he was a leader with whom few could compare. When Phillip Hughes was tragically killed, Clarke managed to speak not just for a nation in shock, but the whole cricketing world. He became everyone’s captain, one who all who have picked up a bat would have followed to the ends of the earth. In terrible circumstances, he stood tall.
Sport is cruel, and doesn’t often allow fairytale endings. But Clarke will undoubtedly receive a standing ovation on both his last visits to the crease in international cricket, and few England supporters would begrudge him a century if the cricketing gods were to smile just once more on this supremely talented player. There is so much more that can be said about him, but one must defer to Jarrod Kimber, whose article captured it perfectly. It is outstanding:
In this series, Clarke himself was a paradigm for the batting woes of his team. Apart from Chris Rogers, and to some extent David Warner, they all struggled. Steve Smith had one fabulous Test, but apart from that looked horrifically out of form, demonstrating how quickly confidence can turn to despair in a batsman. The middle order has had a calamitous series, with only Adam Voges’ unbeaten half century in heavy defeat offering up any kind of contribution. He did enough to save his career for a further Test, but beyond that, given his age, he may not have much further to go.
Rogers will finish at the Oval, and with Clarke going too, plus Haddin’s and Watson’s careers being likely over, there will be major changes to the Australian team after this series. Shaun Marsh has yet to look a Test cricketer, and is 32, while Mitchell Johnson absolutely is a Test cricketer but is nearly 34. And perhaps that was always likely to be the case even if they had won. Right at the start of this series, this blog made the argument that you never know if it is one tour too many until it actually happens. This has indeed turned out to be one tour too many, yet although that possibility was acknowledged pre-series, there wasn’t much in the way of evidence that it would happen, more a feeling that there was the potential for it, and nothing stronger than that.
With so many players likely to move on, the management of that shift is going to be critical. The reason for including Johnson in the above list is that it would be criminal to lose him at the same time as all that experience elsewhere. He is bowling quickly and well, and has shown little sign of age catching up with him.
The home summer coming up for them comprises New Zealand and the West Indies. It’s going to be a tough first half for a new team. The blow of losing Ryan Harris on the eve of the series perhaps did more than anything to wreck the plans for a last hurrah for the older generation.
For England, it has the potential to be a firm base from which to build. The talent has always been there, it’s how it was harnessed, and the reality is that it was harnessed extremely badly for much of the preceding 18 months. That they have managed to get a basic grip on it now is to the credit of all those behind it. But it doesn’t excuse those 18 months, and it certainly doesn’t excuse the ECB for their wider failings. If used properly from here, they could genuinely reclaim their position in the hearts of all England fans, but it would be a mistake to think this Ashes win will do it and make everything in the garden rosy. Cricket in this country is in trouble. Cricket in the world is in trouble. The alignment of England’s undoubtedly rousing victory with the release of Death of a Gentleman makes it foolish to believe that this solves everything, because it doesn’t. But it could be a first step used wisely. The doubt is whether that wisdom exists, that it will be used as a smokescreen to cover all the other issues that exist. England have won, but those Outside Cricket have been merely waved at from the ivory towers.
For now, let us appreciate the return of the urn, and the efforts of an England team who have surpassed expectations. For a Sunday, that is more than enough. But the wider issues will not go away.
2015 Ashes – 4th Test Day 2
So, after a Goring, what will we see today?
I kept off the newspaper sites last night.
I think people do get carried away. Stop and smell the roses. It’s great we are winning but what’s happening here?
I find this a rather curious state of affairs. Two years ago we were routinely winning a series 3-0 against an Aussie team that at least put up a fight. This is supine nonsense. We’re really not in a position to be giving it “all that” after 2013/14’s debacle, but the one thing about being totes “loyal supporter innit” is not having a memory. “Just enjoy the now, you miserable old prick” would be some retorts.
Don’t get me wrong, don’t confuse my approach with sympathy for Australia. They don’t deserve any for a display like that, and for some of the pain they’ve put me through. But this is like putting an old animal out of its misery, isn’t it? They came for one last dance, and found the music had stopped. I’ll mix my metaphors and won’t care.
So England are 214 in front with six wickets in hand and a long batting line-up that will have Moeen Ali coming in at 9. Dear God. Top teams can pull themselves out of mighty holes, but to do so they need belief and confidence, and have undoubted top players. Australia are showing none of those qualities. Their bowling has been found seriously wanting in these last two tests. Their batting, Smith and Rogers apart at Lord’s, hasn’t been anything to write home about (Warner’s second innings digs are not relevant here). I would love us to win one of these tests in a balls-aching, close, tense encounter. This is rubbish.
If this test pans out, it will be the fourth one-sided match in a row. There’s been little tension. The result has been known, pretty much, by the end of day two. We’ve might have had the flow, but there has been precious little ebb.
All comments on Day 2 here, please. Have a good one. I’m in the office all day…..
2015 Ashes – 4th Test, 1st Day
While I’m in a ranty old mood, remember when a test match finished and you had over a week to wait for the next one? OK, those players would not rest but play county cricket, but international fixtures are another thing entirely. These matches are just coming too quickly. The second half of back-to-back games can produce extremely poor quality matches.
But we don’t care. It’s all about England winning. So post away. Enjoy the game. Add your comments below. It’s cricket. It’s the Ashes. Enjoy. It’s just the 14th test between the two teams in 24 months! It’s special! Let’s have more of it…..
Comments below. I’ll be at work. SE London doesn’t have an underground network. Life is a laugh, ain’t it?
Ashes Panel #010 – Bucko Kicks My Arse… I Am #StayHumble
Sean B, aka the Great Bucko, kicked my arse on Twitter last night. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, he prompted me to raise an Ashes Panel #010, and despite the shortness of time, a number of you came through for me, and here it is. A million thanks, people.
We have Sean B, Hillel (big thanks, I know how busy you are), PGP Chapman (sans end of piece rant – I’m sad), Paul Ewart and Colonel Blimp (David Oram). And at the last knockings, it’s Man In A Barrel too!
We put this together at short notice, so forgive errors and maybe the questions, but let’s play ball….
Hillel – Michael Clarke’s dip in form is certainly temporary; it is flippant to suggest a batsman of his calibre has been found out, and neither (as with Tendulkar’s eyesight) does there seem to be a sign that he has lost his touch. His two vital 50’s in the World Cup is testament to the latter. Let us also not suggest he is by any means the difference between the two teams, for if Australia have been hosting an out-of-form batsman in every Test this Ashes, so too have England in the form of Adam Lyth. Nonetheless, I worry for Clarke: he looks morally beaten by years of being underappreciated by so many of his country for his efforts. There is also evidence that even if he recovers, the Australian selectors may not see a future in which he plays a part. I fear that even though this is a temporary dip in form, Michael Clarke’s time is up.
Hillel – England seem to have realised that swinging pictures work to their advantage, especially with an in-form Steven Finn returning to the attack. To change the formula that won England the last Test would be dangerous, not to mention highly unnecessary. Furthermore, the momentum (dare I breathe the word) is with England, and even the ECB will realise that to prepare negative pitches now (pitches that detriment Australia, rather than advantaging England), will be inexcusable. The pitch will a traditional English pitches, Trent Bridge will swing as usual and that should suit Mark Wood perfectly.
Hillel – On the surface of it, a terrible blow – despite all of Finn’s heroics, Anderson played a huge part in victory at Edgebaston. However, scratch a bit deeper and England should (the famous last word) be alright. Broad has been bowling superbly, and has until now gone largely unrewarded for his efforts; it is almost certain wickets for him are imminent. I need not go into detail about just how well Finn is bowling at the moment. There is room to suggest Mark Wood’s record at Trent Bridge means that he can replace Anderson there as well, despite the fact that he is not a like-for-like replacement as someone like Jack Brooks might have been. Where England will be hurt is if Anderson remains injured for the final Test; with England unlikely to go with the experience of Jack Brooks, they could find their attack rather depleted.
Hillel – Not particularly. Jos Buttler did score good runs against New Zealand (only three Tests ago!), and stick with him for long enough, he’ll do so again. It’s worth mentioning as well that whilst Jos should be performing, England’s success will not (or should not) be decided at the number 7 position.
Thanks to the contributors, once again, and to Sean for unknowingly rising me from a bit of a stupour. Great answers, showing that this gang aren’t some sad pathetic bunch, but passionate about the game. I might be a broken record on this, but until those arrogant little —— think that cheerleading is not the only way to follow this sport, and actually stop and read some of this stuff, then I’ll keep banging the drum. Well done all. Of all the things I’ve put on this blog, getting you to participate in the panels is one of the best. I thoroughly enjoy them!
Ashes: 4th Test Preview
A bit busy this week and travelling the country, so the posts will be much briefer than normal. I’ll try and get reflections on the play up as and when I can at the end of each day, but it might not be so detailed, or indeed so argumentative! Thursday is the day that will represent the biggest challenge, so bear with me.
As for this forthcoming Test, I’ve got to confess, I haven’t got a clue. This series has been thoroughly ridiculous and making predictions is guaranteed to leave egg on faces. You would think that England have the upper hand, and you would think that Australia are showing signs of distress. But given the Lords hammering they dished out, that’s a dangerous belief to hold.
Of the items of side interest, Michael Clarke’s form is a concern for Australia, but it so often tends to be the case that the moment the media notice is just about the time a huge century is about to be delivered. He’s clearly more than got the class to do it.
For England, it’s about how they cope with the absence of Anderson. Broad looks more than capable of stepping up, the expectation is that if fit Wood will return, and he has made a decent enough start to his career, while Finn will be looking to show his performance in Birmingham wasn’t a one off. The assumption is that the Trent Bridge pitch will offer something to the seamers, but previous pitches there have been dreadfully slow and low, not just two years ago. For the sake of the game, let’s hope it’s not that.
The batting line ups of both teams looks as brittle as ever, so we arrive into the match having no real idea what is going to happen. And actually, that’s a very good thing, because sport is always at its best when there is uncertainty, even if that uncertainty here is based on the flawed teams rather than excellence in both parties.
So having gone through all that, and having thought deeply….we’re no closer to having any idea what will happen. Probably a tie.
UPDATE FROM LCL – Do go over to The Full Toss and listen to James Morgan’s interview with Jarrod Kimber if you haven’t already done so, and not just because our humble little blog gets a mention (oh well, just because it gets a mention). Seriously, very interesting stuff, and well done to James for getting Jarrod to speak to you on all things blogging and film making.
Ashes Panel #009 – Through Tired Eyes, And Scrambled Brains….
I hope you appreciate this. A quick summary. At mid-day yesterday, I developed an awful headache. Pain right behind my eyes. Had them before, and they take a couple of days. I’ve been popping pills and at the moment I feel OK. But my job incurs a lot of laptop time, and the eyes don’t recover and the pain returns. At the moment it is tolerable. I’m sticking up the Ashes Panel results for the latest round.
Due to my limitation on laptops during the evening, I won’t be pursuing the remainder of you not in this loop for a panel session until after the Trent Bridge test now. If those of you who are on the panel (and those who haven’t volunteered) and would like to answer the five questions then feel free in the comments, or you can e-mail me them at email@example.com .
I sent the latest out to seven panellists, and I think I have a full house. I have Oscar De Bosca, Andy In Brum, CricketJon, Metatone, MD Payne (ironic name given how I feel), Dr Melf and Keyser Chris. As always, many thanks for their time and effort. There are some superb answers coming your way….
Cricket Jon – Firstly what a wonderful advert for entertainment. After all, we are, are we not in the entertainment business? (This reminds me of Downton stating post WC that he was not aware of social media. Stop and imagine the Chief Executive Officer of Disney Pixar et al uttering the same? ) I digress but not for an impetinent reason. The last knockings of Flower, Saker, Cook,Bowling Dry, Big Cheese and all that have been exposed. Firstly before this summer and now even more so during this summer.
It was a great Test match in that the crowd genuinely gained the team some home advantage. Birmingham Tests are unique in that it is the only insight for an Australian cricketer to see how it is for England players at ALL five venues in Australia. I have lots to say about the game but I shall confine it to the following for this queston – in most circumstances you do not come back from 136ao after winning the toss.
Madness. My one test a year live and I get those first two days (we genuinely thought when Warner went that we may see the denouement within 2 days). Two bald men fighting over a comb springs to mind..
There are issues with both sides, our openers cannot seem to put on more than 50 exposing the #3 too early, but we have a middle order prepared to (or forced to by circumstance) counter attack and each member (barring Buttler) has put their hand up so far and responded well. Their top 3 is excellent but their middle order is woeful.
I thought their bowling was better before the series, but Starc appears to be the same Starc that was dropped in 2013 after Trent Bridge, and whilst his ODI form is excellent, he appears to lack the consistency for the longer format. Hazelwood looks like he could be a great bowler, but appears to be a bit too slow to trouble batsmen in form. Lyon is excellent. Johnson was worrying me until day 3 at Edgbaston, where he appeared to let the crowd get to him…More of that please Trent Bridge crowd.
Our bowlers appear to be equal (or a little better) in our conditions, Broad has bowled excellently since the start of the NZ series, none of this faux ‘enforcer’ nonsense, good lengths, good pace, the occasional short ball. I was worried about Anderson (see last Ashes panel), but that was because I felt he had lost a bit of his nip, his brain remains the same, and that pitch with those conditions shows that you don’t need to hoop it round corners, just a smidgen of movement one way or the other and you create doubt. Finn was a revelation, before he took his first wicket I noted to a friend in the stands, how smooth he looked coming into the crease, and his action seems nicely geared (and more importantly repeatable). Ali has regressed to bowling darts (or at least 3-5 mph too fast), we were behind him on Thursday, and I noted that not one delivery got above the batters eyeline, so whilst he gets good spin, it doesn’t seem to be in the air enough to drift and subsequently grip. However he is a batsman who bowls, and he just needs to gain more experience bowling (so that he worries more about taking wickets than conceding runs). It was a great game of cricket, but it didn’t seem like a test match until day 3.
I think we have to accept that it is ‘just the way he plays’, I accepted that regarding another England #4, I will accept it with our new #3. I am glad to say that I was wrong regarding his eyes, and it was just a run of form as it was quite dark even with floodlights on day 1 and he seemed to see everything (apart from the fielder when he mishit off Lyon). Ironically Bell at #3 would allow a ‘Compton’ like opener (if Lyth were to be dropped for the next series), as the problem with Compton and Cook is that they took so long to score, you could be 20/1 after 15 overs. Bell at 3 negates that concern.
MDP – I think the replacements chosen were probably the correct ones. Footitt has been knocking on the door for a while so his inclusion wasn’t unexpected. I’d be surprised If anyone other than Wood is picked, though.
Keyser Chris – My first thought was Onions as he deserves the shot (caveat – I haven’t a clue if he’s getting wickets or even fit at Durham at the moment. I know Rushworth & Stone were getting plaudits though). If not Onions, then pick the best opening bowler in the CC, so Finn can be left as first change. A bit of pressure for that player, but try to keep replacing like for like should be the thinking. As it stands, Footit & Plunkett have got the call. Plunkett seems to be selected on pace. I’m guessing England are hedging bets in case Trent Bridge is low & slow yet again. Footit I am glad to see. Left-armed & in form. About time a lesser county player in that form was looked at. But it will be Plunkett.
MDP – Sounds about right to me. Both teams certainly are having problems with the bat. England’s batting line-up is looking the stronger at the moment, despite Cook, Lyth and Stokes not in the greatest form. The Australians look in trouble the moment they go two wickets down – their middle order look devoid of confidence and their back-up players don’t instil much fear, either.
Andy Brum – A pitch more shitter than the Indian test.
Keyser Chris -Trent Bridge will be low & slow for the 3rd year running, especially if they haven’t insured against loss of earnings. Surviving the Johnson bombardment & keeping Smith and Clarke out of the runs will be the likely route to victory. I think one of those two will get big runs though, and we will sorely miss Anderson’s great record at TB. Australia to win by 3 wickets… So it will be down to a nail-biter at the Oval.
Ashes: 3rd Test review
When the intellects of Sartre, Russell and Machiavelli considered potential locations in which to contemplate life and the unfairness of being, it is safe to say that somewhere around the Banbury junction of the M40 probably didn’t figure too highly in their considerations. Yet it was here that a revelation was to be found, a dawning horror, and a mind forced to express a desire never yet felt by an English cricket fan.
The miles were eaten up, the air conditioning was keeping the cabin cool and pleasant, yet a painful thought kept surfacing as the TMS team chirped away in the background. The previous day’s work had prevented watching more than the first morning of the Test, although it had been closely followed in mounting amazement. Australia had won the toss, and though it was felt not to be a bad toss to lose, no one expected the carnage that would follow. The pitch had offered a bit to the bowlers, but with the exception of Rogers, the lack of discipline in Australia’s batting was the principal cause of a side skittled out for 136. Certainly England took advantage of what help there was, but a succession of dire shots had led to the pre-series favourites being bundled out in just over 36 overs. Anderson might have been the chief destroyer, but while he might be nowhere near the best bowler in the world (he is very good – the Henman rule applies*), he is one of the cleverest. A little bit of swing, a little bit of seam, and an Australian batting order that has long been vulnerable to both allied to an apparent inability to graft in such conditions all led to a total that looked woefully inadequate at the time, and proved to be so as the game unfolded. Yet although Anderson rightly took the plaudits, the England bowler who caught the eye was Steven Finn, not because of how many wickets he took, but how he looked.
Finn has been in the highly promising category for many years, and perhaps more than anyone else still available to play has been the subject of ire directed at the management and coaching staff. Finn is a wicket taker, first and foremost, and back in 2010/11 he was dropped from the England team because he was too expensive, despite being the leading wicket taker in the series to that point. The frustration that the England set up preferred economy to wicket taking prowess was strongly felt at the time, and only became ever more magnified in the years following.
Finn has a Test strike rate of 46.2; he is in 16th place in all of Test history (minimum of 2000 balls) with that, and that takes into account a lost four year period when his run up was messed with, panic set in about his habit of occasionally striking the stumps with his knee – and the ludicrous rule change resulting – and a general focus on what he can’t do, not what he can. Finn will go for runs sometimes, deal with it. Two of the best fast n’ nasty bowlers of the last decade, Shane Bond and Dale Steyn, both have poor economy rates. Better than Finn for sure, but neither of those have been comprehensively mangled by well meaning coaching staff. That Finn goes for runs is of little relevance if he takes wickets. The age old choice of whether 5-100 off 20 is better than 2-60 off the same shouldn’t even be a debate. Yet for the England of the last few years it clearly was, and if the current approach is just to let him bloody bowl, that in itself is to be celebrated. Strike bowlers are so rare, so valuable it is of incalculable frustration that England have spent years trying to wreck their one bona fide example of it in years.
How a bowler of such talent could have ever reached the point of being “unselectable” was disgraceful. It’s also entirely unfair how Ashley Giles is now being criticised for saying so, when he was clearly right at the time, and his comments were rather obviously borne of annoyance it had reached that point rather than a dig at Finn himself.
As Warwick approached on the right, and an eye glanced down at the fuel gauge that visibly dropped with every passing mile (note to self – rotary engines and fuel economy don’t go well together), that mind considered England’s reply. Having been so panic stricken at Lords, England instead did exactly what they said they would in the build up to the game, and went on the attack. Lyth may be having a bad time of it at present, but nicks to wide half volleys are not evidence of a flawed technique but one of a simple mistake or a mind that feels under pressure. Like with so many of the Australian team, it was poor batting, but not in itself an inherent fault in his game. He is starting to run out of time to make an impact, even if it is entirely right to stick with him for the rest of the series.
Cook had been simply unlucky, but he hasn’t had a great series so far. There’s an irony here, he’s never captained better in his whole time as England’s leader, yet the runs have dried up. His game still looks far sounder than it did, so it shouldn’t be a concern in and of itself, but it’s there in the background. What is somewhat startling is that almost everyone, me included, thought that for England to have a chance in this series, Cook would have to be the one who led the batting. It’s not turned out that way so far, but there are two Tests to go to make an impact.
Bell and Root responded by decisively going on the attack. For all the ups and downs of England’s performance, it is pleasing to see that the intent is still there, and they set about turning an initially strong position into one where England could ram the advantage home. Much has been said of Bell being promoted to number three, and after the match he himself referenced that it felt good to have been backed. There’s been a school of thought that Bell is somehow a reluctant number three, but this re-writing of history does him a disservice, not for the first time. When Trott’s troubles first appeared, Bell was the one who said he would be happy to do the job, and was roundly ignored. Pretending that it didn’t happen and using it as yet another stick with which to beat him is sheer mendacity. He clearly needs to feel valued, and it is no good brushing that off and saying he should be able to handle it; different people have different needs – good management is in accounting for that.
Bell’s dismissal at the end of the day was simply him going a touch far and picking the wrong ball to hit. It is the same for him as it is for anyone else, if you want a positive approach, this is what is going to happen sometimes. A Bell who counter-attacks is an outstanding asset.
On the morning of day two, as I headed for the car, tickets for day three safely secured, a horrible nagging thought surfaced. With Australia dismissed in less than half a day, this could be a short match. That nagging thought became loudly ringing alarm bells as Johnson produced two terrific short balls in the second over to account for Bairstow and Stokes. Bairstow may or may not be good enough ultimately to hold down a Test place, yet the reaction to a ball that had “out” written all over it was excessive to say the least. A player 80 not out might ride the bounce, one at the start of his innings, and also at the start of the day, might not. It was a very good ball, as was the one Stokes got. It doesn’t say a thing about the batsman except that he was unlucky to receive it.
Yet while England were ahead, they were losing wickets. Before even reaching the motorway, Root had gone, and so had Buttler, in the latter case needlessly given a review would have saved him. Buttler has thoroughly gone into his shell with the bat, though it must be said, he is keeping extremely well, and seems subdued by the problems he is having outside off stump. It may just be one of those things, but such a destructive player prodding and poking isn’t going to do him any good. It is to be hoped he is encouraged to go out and play his shots, and then be backed on those occasions it goes wrong.
As the variable speed limits on the M25 showed first 60, then 50, then 40, indicating that the never ending joys of a traffic queue were ahead, England were only 50 runs ahead, with Moeen and Broad at the crease. Two thoughts sprung to mind, one strategic, and one utterly selfish. In the first instance, England were throwing away their advantage with abandon, and on the second, the weather was good, and I needed England to get a grip and bat for as long as possible. With the two of them going after the bowling, the latter seemed ever more unlikely, but the former was a possibility. Broad’s batting woes over the last three years have been well documented, even if in far too many cases it’s simply been dated back to when he was hit rather than the way it had tailed off long before then, but there have been signs of improvement recently, even if the runs haven’t always reflected that. He’s less legside of the ball, doesn’t flinch as he did, and is looking to play shots, not simply slog.
As for Moeen, he is peculiarly unappreciated. To date in this series he has 9 wickets at 45. Not great figures, for sure, yet perfectly comparable to those Swann got against Australia, and Swann was without question the best England spinner since the 1970s. Simply put, he’s doing a job with the ball against a team who don’t tend to struggle against English finger spinners, and doing it well. Australia clearly want to attack him, yet when they do, they get out. I remain unsure what people expect of him.
Of course, a big difference between him and Swann is that Moeen can bat. There is an innate desire to see him succeed anyway, because he’s so gorgeous to watch. His batting is highly reminiscent of David Gower – if not quite in quality – and when batting at number eight, provides a source of quick runs, stylishly scored. It appears also that he relishes batting with the tail, and it is in that his value can be found. A less attacking batsman would be left high and dry all too often as the bowlers were dismissed, but a curiously counter-intuitive point is that Moeen is usually dismissed when attacking as the wickets fall around him, which is both unselfish and oddly maximising his contribution.
As Oxford Services hove into view, England had extended their lead to one that might prove decisive. A pause for coffee ended with England having been dismissed 145 ahead, and Australia were back in.
At this point, rebellious, naughty thoughts were surfacing. Surely Australia couldn’t bat so badly a second time? Yet that wasn’t the worst of it. For the first time, the need for Australia to bat well was apparent. As England came out to field, a sudden rooting for Rogers and Warner could be felt. A sudden wish for Anderson to lose his radar, preferably with wide balls outside off stump that were left alone but were no threat to anyone. As the key was turned in the ignition, I reached for my cork hat, bedecked the cabin with green and gold and launched into a chorus of “Come on Aussie, C’mon”.
Over the last couple of years England – and more specifically the ECB – have enraged me, infuriated me, and led me to chuckle as the latest self-induced disaster unfolded. Yet never before had England led me to actively become an Australian. As Rogers played back, and Jim Maxwell announced with that gentle sorrow he does so well that the opener was on his way back to the pavilion, a loud expletive filled noise could be heard by anyone with half a mile of the silver car pulling onto the motorway slip road. Even at England’s lowest moments, the incompetence and duplicitousness of the ECB included, never did I imagine myself actively cheering on Australia. Australia for God’s sake! As Finn roared in, his pace up, causing the top order no end of problems, a nagging feeling that now would be a good time for his hand to brush the stumps requiring him to go off and have it repaired for half an hour kept popping up at the back of my head.
There was hope. David Warner seemed to be playing a different game to anyone else, but with the first day curtailed by rain, play could be extended until 7pm, meaning there was still four hours of play to go. Finn beat Smith all ends up, and in came the captain. Surely, despite all his problems, now would be the moment Clarke regained his mojo and made a game of it.
Not even the most ardent of Aussie fanatics let out as heartfelt a moan, as passionate an “oh no”, as angry an “Oh FFS” as I did when instead, that utter bastard Finn instead took out Clarke and Voges in consecutive balls. Looking ahead, there were no signs of the violent thunderstorms now wished on Birmingham, all was sunny and pleasant. That’s the trouble with tornadoes, they don’t happen when you need them to.
By the time Warner decided to play what I now considered the most irresponsible shot in the entire history of cricket and Mitchell Marsh had regarded the defence of his stumps to be an optional extra, the five stages of grief had rattled past the bargaining stage and had settled thoroughly on depression, occasionally leaping back to denial concerning the implausibility that buying a day three ticket could possibly be a risky enterprise.
By this stage, I’d also thoroughly blamed my friend Graham for suggesting we go to the Test in the first place. Edgbaston is not exactly on my doorstep, so wincing at the £70 handed over to my best mates at Shell to get up there was looking the worst investment since Mr Enron had rung up offering a sure thing.
Having picked him up from his office, we headed to the hotel, just in time to see Mitchell Johnson conclusively prove he hates the English by hitting the ball aerially 180 degrees away from his intended destination. 23 runs ahead at the close of play, three wickets left.
What to do?
Well, we were there, so we might as well go and watch the conclusion. Over a curry (what else? It’s Birmingham after all) the decision was made to check out of the hotel in the morning, head over to Edgbaston and watch the last knockings of the game, before driving home. The principal debate was whether it would be 100% refund for fewer than 10 overs, or just the 50% for fewer than 25. Plus a disagreement as to whether the two overs lost for the change of innings would count or not.
Having consumed the world’s biggest breakfast (Graham’s colleague Dave Tait finished his before I’d even started – honestly, I’ve never seen anyone demolish a plate that fast) that comprehensively removed any desire for a £10 soggy burger at any point, we headed for the ground, idly wondering how many would be there. It was packed. Clearly, everyone had bought tickets in advance, but not everyone is local to the ground. Still, England were going to win, and there were few empty seats.
And so it came to pass that Mitchell Starc became the hero of the day, along with Peter Nevill. Australia certainly fought hard, and nearly got to a point where they had a chance of a highly unlikely victory. Nevill himself was the subject of a fair bit of barracking for refusing to walk when he edged one down the legside, and then instantly reviewed one he’d middled. None of this was serious, but made the endlessly repeatable point about the ludicrous hypocrisy of the Australian attacks on Broad for not walking in the 2013 Ashes. Sauce for the goose.
It certainly didn’t feel a tense ground as England embarked on the short run chase, perhaps because those present were simply delighted to have seen so much play in the first place. Cook and Lyth’s dismissals continued the match pattern of batsmen getting out to poor shots – the ball that bowled Cook was decent enough, but had more to do with playing back when he should have been forward than anything else, while Lyth simply played across the line.
It was Bell who removed any question of the chase being a nervy one by going out and playing his shots. With a small target, teams get into trouble when they become fearful; each boundary knocks a significant percentage off the target, and Bell knew that and took the calculated risk of ensuring that the runs came sufficiently quickly to prevent that fear setting in.
And so instead of it being a short and sweet visit to see an England win, it became two full sessions to see England win. The track had certainly flattened out, as evidenced by the relatively little difficulty Australia had in the morning. The sun was out – the fourth of our cohort Paul Godfrey finished the day with an exceptional case of panda eyes due to leaving his sunglasses on all day, to much amusement – and the crowd was thoroughly involved in barracking Mitchell Johnson.
It’s actually an important point too. When the crowd got on his back, even given the match situation of England being about to win, his bowling fell apart, and the lengthy delay to his run up to make the crowd wait, plus running through the crease, were indications that he was listening to the crowd rather than concentrating on his bowling. A note for the Trent Bridge crowd to pay attention to.
Two and a half days of play, and an England win. A crazy, ridiculous match, which bore little resemblance to the norms of Test cricket, but a 2-1 scoreline after three in England’s favour. Where next?
After the first Test, there were signs that there were cracks in the Australian side. The hammering they dealt out to England at Lords didn’t change that, but it did show that they are no toothless tigers either. After all the attempted cleverness about conditions that might suit England but not Australia, what this Test showed was that in English conditions, England can do well. Who would have thought such a thing? Of course, those conditions do also bring Australia’s bowlers into play too, but if you don’t back your own players to perform, what is the point in even competing?
The injury to James Anderson is unquestionably a blow, but Trent Bridge hasn’t swung quite as much as it used to, possibly because of the new stand built there – though the vagaries of swing make assuming correlation to equal causation as being even more unwise than normal. England do have a chance to put the series and the Ashes to bed though, at a ground where they tend to perform well. Certainly Australia are the side that have questions to ask of themselves after this one. Mitchell Starc bowled poorly throughout which may be just one of those things, and the middle order in particular looks downright flaky. Yet England are setting new international records with their habit of winning a game and losing a game, with the sequence now at seven matches. It would be no surprise whatever if England were to repeat the dose by losing in Nottingham.
There is some talent in this England side, and like a lot of unformed talent, it is inconsistent. If they want to become a good side, finding that consistency is going to be the difference. But the momentum is all with England……and that makes as little difference as it ever has, though it won’t stop some saying that it does, or being wise after the event should England win.
It is almost impossible to draw conclusions from such a ridiculous Test match, except to say the series is being played by two flawed teams, and anything could happen.
Hopefully one thing that won’t is having to cheer on Australia, because that felt dirty. And wrong. So very, very wrong.
*Reaching fourth best in the world is not failure
A Brief Review Of The Madness
In the city of Birmingham, starting with a grey day on Wednesday, Australia were made to shut up, having put up a performance that could best be called an embarrasment, hoping all along for one better day, but being destroyed in our house, the house of fun, our fans braving the sun and the rain, and with England going one step beyond the Aussies in the test race. They may think that tomorrow’s just another day, but Australia were riding the ghost train in this match, and although my girl is happy there’s no play this weekend, there’s a suspicion that the visitors may be yesterday’s men.
Yes, it was madness alright. I’ve seen some daft tests in my time, but this one is up there. Where do we go from here? I would fancy Australia to come back strong again, but just like after Cardiff, there are major distress signals. The captain is in appalling form (hey ho, we know that feeling) and you have to wonder why the Mitches are so damn inconsistent. Meanwhile, England are weathering one opener having a Weston, while finding enough from their line-up to eke out the runs when needed. This is a 2009-type series, lacking in consistent quality, but with enough to keep the fans engaged.
TLG was there today, so I’m not going to cut across his piece over the weekend, but this was sheer lunacy. Like Michael Caine in Jaws 4 madness.
OK, I mailed that one in, but that’s the effect this series is having on me.
I thought, while I was here, that I’d offer a little comment on the furore on The Full Toss over Maxie’s inclusion of the picture with Cook and a dead deer. I saw that picture a year ago (for the first time) and it filled with me revulsion. It looks like someone pleased to have killed a junior deer, posing with the gun etc, and smiling. I’m sorry, that really doesn’t float my boat, and yes, at a time when I was being told what a lovely guy he is at regular intervals, as against you-know-who, I thought it was hypocrisy. But I didn’t add it on to a post. I’m one of those that doesn’t like seeing pictures of dead animals on my Twitter or Facebook timelines. They horrify me, and in the same way I don’t watch horror movies, I would love not to see them. So for me to put it on here would be something I wouldn’t want me to see. But I’m not criticising TFT for putting the picture up.
What some of the malcontents, and yes Nash again proves that stupidity and wild accusations are her watchwords, don’t realise is that bloggers put in massive efforts to bring the blogs to you (she asserts that TFT does “shock” for money – she’s as off beam about that as she was about my motivations when she snitched to Steve James a few weeks back). You’ve seen the sheer volume TLG and I have put up in the past few months, and what I did at HDWLIA. We do it, well I do, because I enjoy it. I love it (most of the time).
I have never questioned the people who disagree with me’s passion for the sport. You know I’ve told you that many times. I therefore don’t think it is right to be accused of some of the crap I’ve been over the last year or so, and the sort of stuff flying about our motivations, our secret agenda, our cultish, yes cultish, tendencies. I’m not Uncle Sam….
The people moaning that Maxie’s post is clickbait, then going on to the site to say how horrified they are, and then replying to those who say they disagree is about as daft as it gets if you genuinely, moronically, think it’s clickbait. You fools.
I get so angry when our commitment and our love of the sport is questioned. We, like those who oppose my view, are entitled to them. I’ve been privileged to meet Maxie and TLG, and would love to share a beer with many more of you one day, but I’m pleased there’s a community here, and if you think I stray off line, you’ll tell me, and I will always consider it carefully. But as I put on the comments on there, if the main driver of writing a blog is to write for others, then you lose the thing that got people there in the purpose. You have to be you. Maxie was, in short, being Maxie. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to read it.
Edit: TLG here – just adding my wholehearted agreement with Dmitri on the above. We write what we think, not for other people. Dmitri and I write differently, and have different perspectives. Maxie does exactly the same and read him on that basis.
Ashes 3rd Test, Day 2 Review
C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas le test cricket: c’est de la folie
If Pierre Bosquet were alive today he might have uttered those words…. the French Army general wasn’t too familiar with the suburbs of Birmingham, but if he lived another 150 years and had perchanced upon one of the ECB’s phenomenally expensive match tickets, he’d be shaking his head at this nonsense, every much as he might have done at Cardigan’s finest. Well, maybe not.
But it has to be said, this is madness cricket. We have a slightly helpful wicket, two teams who know their weaknesses are their batting, and with some ridiculous macho bullshit drivel of positivity and aggression come what may. This nearly resulted in a two day test match, the surest way to make a cricket board and a TV station tear their hair out. Two teams playing as if they want two days off, and looking like they’ll do it with something to spare. Someone ring the Belfry and block off those Saturday and Sunday tee times to ruin their weekends!
My phone alert for wickets are going off mid-meeting so that the person sitting next to me thinks I have a nervous tick. I’m looking at the phone constantly, not believing there isn’t an alert within five minutes of the last one. These appear to be two teams who refuse to slow down.
Is it entertaining? Of course it is. The two team’s weaknesses are as stark as their strengths. You can’t predict this nonsense. There are several players nowhere near permanent test class on either team when it comes to the bat. If you get the gun players cheap (Aussie’s top three, The Deer Hunter, FEC and when he’s on Ian Bell) then the rest of the team seem to fold. Moeen Ali being a glorious exception for England, and so far, Peter Nevill for the Aussies. At Lord’s Australia’s batsmen won them the game by applying the scoreboard pressure and putting the wind beneath the bowler’s wings. At Cardiff, we outbowled Australia, and we are doing it here. It’s lovely to see Steven Finn back on song. Some people should be hanging their heads at this. The same theory applied to Thorpe (what else does he bring to the table but runs) was applied to Finn, and the rest is history. He fell apart at the seams after he was dropped and became unselectable (I was screaming at the TV when he was bowling at Trent Bridge in 2013). Now he’s back with a little ole bang, with five for in this innings (and three more on offer) and the England bowling cupboard does not seem so bare – except for the worrying injury to Anderson which is not clear in its severity just yet.
I’d also like to take time out to praise Stuart Broad’s knock. He dug in, supported Moeen Ali, and put on a massively important 87 with our bearded wonder. He’s taken an amazing amount of stick, but he’s responded. Fantastic to see, because he could be really, really useful if it his batting prowess is coming back.
So, Australia are a few ahead with three wickets remaining. TLG has tickets tomorrow, so may have some time off to explore local hostelries. This may not last until lunch. If it’s still going at tea, we might have a right old test match. They somehow eke out 100 more runs, and our mettle will be tested.
But, let’s face it. England’s position est magnifique, and this match has certainly been a folie. Pierre would have been doing his pieces.