England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Five

After the fireworks yesterday, today ended with more of a damp squib than anything else. The rain which removed another seventy minutes of play from the game made the draw seem almost inevitable from the start. Stokes and Buttler made it through the truncated morning session unscathed, which made the possibility of an Australian win vanishingly remote. England then declared on a conservatively high total, meaning nothing less than a miraculous spell of bowling would manage to take ten wickets in the space of just 48 overs.

Archer did rise the hopes of England’s fans early on though, taking the early wickets of Warner and Khawaja with his customary quick deliveries. He followed that by hitting Smith’s replacement Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet with just the batsman’s delivery at the crease. The South African substitute batsman recovered though and, together with Cameron Bancroft, steadied the ship until Tea.

Leach struck in the first over after Tea, trapping Bancroft LBW, but Labuschagne again buckled down and defended well. It wasn’t until the last hour that England managed to break through the Austrealians’ defences, with Leach taking the wickets of Labuschagne and Wade in successive balls. But, even with these dismissals, England simply ran out of time to press for a result.

With the next Test starting on Thursday, all eyes are already turning to selection issues. Jason Roy didn’t do himself any favours by dropping a slip chance which bounced off his chest, but it seems unlikely that England would make a change to their batting lineup at such short notice. Perhaps they could swap Denly and Roy’s batting positions, but that seems like a pretty marginal improvement to me. Archer and Leach both made themselves seem indispensible in the game, which raises the headache for England’s selector about who to leave out if Anderson is ‘fit’.

In truth, most of England’s batting lineup should be in the firing line. Other than Rory Burns, who averages 56.50 in the two games so far, it’s been a lacklustre couple of games for the specialist batsmen. Root (24.75), Denly (21.25), Buttler (12.25) and Roy (10.00) should all consider themselves lucky that the quick turnaround and the fact that county batsmen have been playing T20 for the last few weeks makes it unlikely (but not impossible) that England will ring the changes in Leeds.

For Australia, the situation is more serious. Steve Smith was finally diagnosed with a concussion this morning, which left him unable to play today and unlikely to be available for Australia in the next Test too. There would be no guarantees beyond that either, as concussions can last for an indeterminate length of time. Marnus Labuschagne did a fine job filling in for Smith at short notice, but there is also Marcus Harris and Mitch Marsh vying for the open spot. It would be a huge blow for Australia if Smith wasn’t available though, as he virtually won the first Test single-handed for the tourists.

I have what I acknowledge is an unusual viewpoint when it comes to cricket. Whilst I love watching it, I often view it through the prism of being a workplace rather than wholly a source of entertainment and drama. So, for example, I don’t expect a player to be any more ‘loyal’ to his team and fans than someone working behind the counter at McDonalads would be to that huge corporate machine and its customers. Another, more pertinent example would be the low regard with which teams, journalists and fans often regard the health and wellbeing of players when in pursuit of short-term glory.

I missed most of yesterday’s play, and so I didn’t see Smith’s full batting performance personally, but his dismissal to Woakes and his subsequent review did not seem the actions of a batsman with all of his faculties. There is an attitude in cricket (and many other professional sports) that it is necessary for players to ‘man up’ and play through pain, risking further injury. Those who choose to leave the field of play or make themselves unavailable for selection to seek treatment are called ‘weak’ and ‘not team players’ in the press, and can have their card marked in terms of selection.

Concussion is an incredibly serious condition, one which can become significantly more serious if it recurs soon after the initial blow. I cannot imagine any other workplace in the Western world which would even consider allowing an employee to return so soon after taking a blow like Smith received to his unprotected head. It is a decision which should have been out of his hands, regardless of how much he wanted to get on the Lord’s honours board.

Cricket Australia justified their actions in a press release by saying that 30% of concussions don’t show symptoms until 24 hours later. If that is the case, considering the strength of the blow to an exposed part of the head, why didn’t they wait 24 hours before allowing him back on the field? Cricket is just a game, or a job, and not worth risking someone’s life over.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.


England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Four

For England to win this match, they probably need to be bowled out sometime around the middle of tomorrow, for the chances of them declaring with any kind of reasonable target are minimal, particularly given their position 1-0 down in the series.  It is fortunate then that the batting line up did their part to remove the possibility of a tricky decision by (yet again) getting out early.  So much has been written about the flaws in the order, and the second innings was little more than a rinse and repeat of the first – Roy getting out early, Burns looking the part as a Test opener without going on to a big score, Root struggling at number three, Denly getting in and getting out again.

Buttler and Stokes arrested the slide batting to the close, but with England just 104 ahead and with only six wickets in hand, posting a challenging score is going to be difficult. As to what would offer a passable chance of victory, anything around 200 would be likely to be less than easy to chase, because although it is really only a two and a bit day pitch, there will be the added pressure of a run chase. Yet it is by no means certain England will get there, it is going to require some support from the tail, and at least one of the remaining batsmen to make a significant contribution.  If more than one does so, then the chances of a definitive result will start to recede, but these are wild fantasies given the batting performances so far, even if the lower order have done well.

Undoubtedly the biggest talking point of the day was Jofra Archer’s duel with Steve Smith.  It was a riveting, thrilling passage of play, with Archer’s speed rising into the mid-nineties and Smith for the first time look genuinely discomfited.  First the blow on the arm, which eventually resulted in Smith going for an X-Ray (fortunately showing no break), and then a sickening blow to the neck which left Smith on the ground, to retire hurt, and then to return for a frantic brief stay at the crease.

There are so many issues arising from this – firstly that Test cricket is testing, and that a fast bowler intimidating batsmen is entirely part of the game, and those who complained about that part are simply not worth listening to.  The next element was the reaction of Jofra Archer, based on he and Jos Buttler smiling and sharing a conversation a good five minutes after the event, but while Smith was still being treated some distance away.  Archer’s reaction was deemed in some quarters to be showing a lack of care, a lack of interest in the welfare of a player hurt.  This is unfair and presuming knowledge of the inner thoughts of another person.  It’s also something to which I can relate to some degree.  Some years back I hit a straight drive back which hit my batting partner (who wasn’t wearing a helmet) flush on the side of the head.  I can recall my reaction to it all too well – yes, absolutely I went to see if he was OK, but I was also utterly bewildered and confused by it.  That initial reaction was not so much to rush to his aid (as it undoubtedly is when a bystander rather than the perpetrator), but a confused one, denial that it had happened, and absolutely nervous laughter and attempts at humour.  It is entirely normal to be so uncertain in terms of reaction, and not to behave in the way that those on the outside might imagine someone should.  The mind in those circumstances is a maelstrom of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

As my batting partner left the field to go to hospital, I carried on batting, entirely on auto-pilot.  I lasted about 5 minutes before the dawning terror of what had just happened came through, and at that point the cricket field was the last place I wanted to be.  I spent much of the rest of the afternoon with a rising sense of concern and became progressively more upset.  I have no idea what was going through Jofra Archer’s thoughts, but I do absolutely recall my own state of mind when something not too dissimilar happened, and I am not prepared to act as judge and jury because someone didn’t react in the way that the court of social media wanted them to do in the moments following a genuinely sickening incident.

The ground did go completely silent as it happened, as grounds do when there is shock and concern, but when Smith came back on to resume his innings, a largely supportive crowd gave a standing ovation, but the ground also contained a few who booed.  Those who did are idiots, but it doesn’t take very many to do it out of a crowd of 30,000 to be extremely noticeable.  And while they might be idiots for doing that, there have been enough instances in Australia, England and elsewhere of related fools to forestall any attempt at claiming the moral high ground by anyone.  That’s not to defend in any way those at Lord’s who booed a brave and fine batsman, it is to acknowledge that morons exist everywhere, and selective outrage either in England or Australia when some in the other country are guilty of it remains endlessly tiresome.  More than that, it operates as a feedback loop, and doubtless there will be some in Australia next time around using that as an excuse to berate English players.  And so it carries on, with some pretending they are the good guys and the opposition supporters are not, with no grounds whatever for such a view.

Those present at the ground reacted with some surprise at the strong reaction on social media, suggesting that the boos that were clearly audible through the TV speakers probably were not indicative of a wider response within the ground.  Either way, it was unedifying and didn’t reflect well on those who did it.

As a passage of play though, it was utterly beguiling.  And there is the additional point about what it means for the remainder of this series.  Extreme pace makes any batsman, no matter how good, uncomfortable.  Smith has looked to be playing on a 25 yard pitch thus far this series, so much time has he had to play the ball.  For the very first time, he looked in trouble, and that means that he’s going to get a whole heap more of the same for the remainder of the series, which is no different at all to the way England players have been targeted by short pitched bowling by Australia, and something Smith himself will both expect and be up for the challenge set.  It means it’s going to be exciting, and intimidatory, and entirely within both the laws and the spirit of the game, just as it was the other way around.  When England were being bounced out by the likes of Mitchell Johnson, the frustration was that England didn’t play it better, not that there was anything at all wrong with the tactic.  In Archer, England have a weapon of not just pace, but extreme pace.  Given the number of overs he bowled this innings, the danger is in him being overbowled rather than used as a strike bowler, and his 25 overs in Australia’s innings ought to be a concern.

Smith aside, England had chipped away at the Australian batting order all day.  Archer was explosive, but Broad had been his usual efficient self with the ball, and collected four well deserved wickets.  Broad continues to be somewhat underappreciated, despite his 450 Test wickets, but his enforced rest over the winter gave him the opportunity to work properly on his bowling, and the results seem fruitful.  At 33, and without quite the athletic physique of his long term opening partner James Anderson, he may not be too far from the end, but his attempt to prolong his career reflects well on him – even his batting appears a touch more confident than it has been, albeit a long way from the days when he was verging on being a genuine all rounder.

Tomorrow might be a depressing day, a dull day or a thrilling day.  And the 98 overs scheduled will have to be bowled, which will make a delightful change.

Same old: England vs Australia, 2nd Test, Day Two

To the surprise of no one, England posted a modest total having been put into bat by Australia.  In itself, being inserted might have been a slight surprise, in that both teams said they would have bowled first, and perhaps reflects more on the fragility of both batting orders than the conditions in which this match is being played, for there appears nothing wrong with the pitch.

Bowling a side out on day one having put them in is always the hope, if not the expectation, and even if the surface offered some movement, it wasn’t one to cause palpatations in a decent Test batting line up.  The trouble is that England don’t have a decent batting line up, and haven’t done for some years.

Sure, there were some mildly promising knocks – Burns looks at home in Test cricket now, with the mental aptitude for the scrap.  His innings of 53 wasn’t without luck, being dropped twice before a superb catch from Bancroft at short leg sent him on his way, but he did at least look prepared to bat multiple sessions.  At this stage in his career it would be overly harsh to expect him to be the bedrock of the England batting order, but the reality is that if it’s not him, who else would it be?  Roy went in the first over, another poor shot from a player being asked to do a job to which he isn’t suited.  Roy has talent in abundance, but he’s not a Test opener – it’s not just that his technique isn’t particularly tight against the new ball, it’s that his mentality at the crease is that of a one day opener.  There’s nothing particularly outrageous in having someone who looks to attack at the top of the order, Warner and Sehwag made successful careers out of it, but while their own techniques have been questioned at times, their shot selection tended to be far better than Roy’s at this stage of his career.  He’s been given a poisoned chalice, made particularly acute by having him opening while Denly bats at four.  Whether Denly is worth his place in the team is a separate question, but he’s surely better equipped to see off the new ball than Roy is.  It’s a confused batting line up that doesn’t get the most from the talent at its disposal.

Root came and went, and with him disappeared England’s chance of a significant total.  Root attracts much comment because he is so far and away England’s best batsman, but he’s shown little sign that he’s more comfortable at number three this time than he was the last attempt at pushing him there.  It’s easy enough to say that anyone who can bat at four can bat at three, but they are slightly different roles, and some players are simply more comfortable in one position than they are the other.  Compromising the best player to compensate for the shortcomings elsewhere is a strange way of getting the most out of the batting order.

Buttler and Stokes didn’t last too long, and while the latter has plenty in the bank and looks the most technically adept player in the side, Buttler is struggling.  Again, this is only partly a matter about him, for Buttler coming in at 250-3 – or even 180-3 in this side – is a slightly different prospect to him coming in at 92-3 with the pressure on.  It’s just not really his game, and highlights the confused thinking concerning what is being attempted.  It’s not to say that he shouldn’t be able to adapt, but it is to point out that England are hardly likely to see the best of him when he’s permanently coming in in a crisis.

At 138-6 the writing was on the wall – that Australia recovered from an even worse position in the first Test is neither here nor there – but England did recover to some extent.  Bairstow often looks freed by having to bat with the tail, compiling a well made fifty thanks to sterling support (again) from Woakes in particular.   Australia reverted to the short bowling tactic, which worked well enough, for England do seem peculiarly vulnerable to short pitched bowling.  Bairstow was the last man out, trying to get some runs against Lyon with just Leach for company.  He got some criticism for his dismissal, but trying to hit fours in those circumstances is surely what he’s meant to do – fiddling around with a single at the end of the over won’t take anyone very far.  Execution certainly can be questioned, but runs were needed, he was trying to get them.  Blaming him for being the tenth wicket to fall seems harsh, irrespective of Leach’s last innings at Lord’s.

Hazlewood and Cummins were the pick of the Australian attack, bowling with pace and accuracy, but again England didn’t make them work overly hard for their wickets.  Siddle had two straightforward catches dropped off him – enough to drive him to a burger this evening – while Lyon extracted significant spin considering it is a first day pitch.

If 258 doesn’t remotely look a par score, it does look a par score for this England team.  They simply don’t have the batting currently to expect much more, and tend to be reliant on the lower order even to get them to that kind of total.  And scores in the 200s don’t win many Test matches, unless the bowlers do something special.

Broad did his best to do exactly that, removing Warner for the third time in three innings.  Warner looks somewhat all over the place with his batting presently, head falling over and bat coming down at an angle.  Smith’s preposterous return to Test cricket has made it look as though a year out shouldn’t have an effect, but both he and Bancroft look rather out of sorts, and it’s understandable.

Archer opened the bowling with Broad, and certainly showed pace, regularly clocking over 90mph.  He had the crowd with him too, for little in cricket is quite so box office as a genuinely quick bowler in a Test match.  Whether that is converted into wickets is, naturally, the big question, but he does have all the attributes.  It is to be hoped he is used in short spells as a strike bowler rather than ground into the dirt as a stock performer.

The last hour of play England did look dangerous, suggesting that they are by no means out of this match.  But they are once again reliant on their bowlers dragging them out of the mire, something they do reasonably often, but cannot do all the time.  It remains to be seen if they can perform the miracle tomorrow, but with this England batting order, a lead of 100 is needed before even a modicum of confidence is there that England can press for a win.

As the saying goes, the first session tomorrow is crucial.  Because it is.

Finally, the day finished five overs short.  This is a constant factor, but if the authorities care little normally, to do nothing about it when an entire day has already been lost to the weather is nothing other than abrogation of responsibility both to the spectator and the game itself.  We’ve lost 58 overs already this Test match.  Losing five more through tardiness is beyond careless.




England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Two (ish)

After yesterday’s washout, we should get underway today at last.  The match is reduced to four days, with the follow on target down to 150, and with 98 overs scheduled for each of the remaining days.  Obviously, in terms of the latter, they won’t get 98 overs in, but that’s de rigeur these days, and no one cares about it anyway, but even so if the weather stays fair then there is a reasonable chance of a result.

England made it pretty clear yesterday that Jofra Archer was going to play, and while they could always change their minds, there’s no reason to assume they will.  Pattinson is certainly out, rested, for Australia, while Hazlewood replaces Starc.

Other than that, it’s pretty much as you were – England are fretting about how to get rid of Steve Smith, who has moved from world class batsmen to batting God in the space of a Test, and will doubtless provoke wild celebrations just by showing signs of human weakness at any point.  The two batting orders still look fragile, the two bowling attacks still look like they might run through the opposition.  Australia have the upper hand largely because of Smith, but there is no reason at all England can’t skittle their visitors – the problem is the lack of confidence in the England batting order taking advantage of it.

There was some talk in the media about replacing Denly with Curran, drawing a furious response from Nasser Hussain about what that implies about the England batting order.  He was right too, either England choose batsmen or not, and selecting a bowling all rounder on the basis of more runs would be a savage indictment on the selection process.  Yet the wider issue is that even the suggestion of it already is that savage indictment – the possibility that an all rounder might contribute more to the run scoring than a selected batsman.  And that it might well be true.

Let’s hope we have a full day’s play today, not least for those who have paid the £150 a ticket for their inadequate seating and the privilege of seeing on social media how the chosen people get to enjoy the dining options.

Comments as always below.

Same Game, Different Bat – 1st Test Defeat

In the build up to the series, there was little doubt that England’s batting fragility was going to be a factor in the outcome of the series.  Australia’s too for that matter, though while the quality of Smith was well known, it might not have been factored in that he’d score nearly 300 runs in this Test.  The difference between the two teams can in no small part be put down to his performance.

Coming into the final day, it might well have been the case that there was no reason England couldn’t bat the day to save the game, but that didn’t mean there was any confidence they would do so.  The batting line up of a few years back would specialise in rearguard actions, and while they didn’t always succeed, they gave it a damn good go on most occasions, and pulled it off more times than their fair share.

Not this lot.

Hardly anyone can have had confidence England could bat a full day, just based on recent history.  The number of batsmen who can be counted on to graft session after session is very few, and one of the most likely candidates can be found down at number nine in the order – and in the event was top scorer.  The moment the first wicket went down, the sense of inevitability was already there, while Jason Roy’s skip down the track and abysmal hack at the ball was indicative of the inability to play traditional Test cricket.  Four down by lunch, all out mid way through the afternoon session.  It wasn’t even close.  It didn’t threaten to be close at any stage.

While Australia (or Smith, specifically) deserve huge credit for digging themselves out of the mire at 122-8, England still had a chance to put themselves in a powerful position when they were 282-4.  Their eventual lead of 90 was useful, but not overwhelming, and it should have been more.  It only got to that many because of Woakes and Broad, and England’s collapse otherwise presaged what would happen in the second innings.

There will be the usual handwringing about what went wrong, and why it went wrong, plus the calls for selectorial changes.  Moeen Ali will likely be dropped, as much for his own good as anything else, so shorn of confidence did he look.  Denly too might be removed, but it won’t alter the fundamental problems that apply, and which can be laid squarely at the door of the ECB and their determination to sideline first class cricket to the margins of the season.  Not only is it that a focus on white ball cricket leads to a white ball cricket style of batting, it’s that those who do play red ball cricket are playing in conditions that don’t suit long innings.  That’s not to say it’s a direct cause of a collapse today, but a line can be drawn from it to a diminishing number of players who might be deemed specialists in long form cricket, and the subsequent selection of white ball cricketers to play in the Test team.  Roy and Buttler are fabulous players on the attack, not so much in today’s circumstances, or indeed the circumstances Australia found themselves in the second innings where they too needed to grind down the bowlers rather than play as many shots as possible.

Root afterwards said that England had been got out today rather it being a poor batting display, and while that’s true to a degree, England certainly didn’t sell their wickets especially dearly.  Lyon bowled well on a fifth day pitch that played as a fifth day pitch should, taking spin, and even had England batted well, it might have proved too much to resist.  But England batted only half a day here – 45 overs.  Even in challenging conditions, against a good bowler, it’s pretty poor.  And it’s not even an outlier.  Would it be expected that England would have done so even if the pitch hadn’t been taking spin?  Not really.

Root himself seems to be suffering from declining performances – from an admittedly very high level to a still good level overall – whether due to the captaincy, due to the batting fragility around him, or some other reason.  Bairstow can barely buy a run currently, nor can Moeen.  Only Stokes and Woakes appear to have the nous to bat long in the middle order.  Rory Burns at the top showed he could do it and if he manages that a couple more times this series, that at least will be one position filled.  Cook never did manage the fourth innings saviour act in his career, but at least you thought he might do.

It’s hard to be angry about a batting collapse several years in the making, and repeated on a regular basis.  This is where England are, and if they are to get back into the series at Lords, it will likely be on the back of Australia being every bit as flaky, bar one player.

Defeat is disappointing.  The entirely predictable nature of it irritates.

In Defence Of Boos – and the updated day two preview

Given it seems to be the hot topic at the moment, a quick additional post to address the matter seemed appropriate.

There has, particularly in light of Steve Smith’s century, been something of a backlash against booing by many people in this game. Some people who purport to be cricket fans, and even a few journalists and commentators, have said that the English crowd shouldn’t boo at all. Or, if they do boo and jeer cricketer, that they shouldn’t do so when that player has just reached a milestone.

A few have even suggested that the people who continued heckling through thick and thin don’t know about or love cricket.

For a start, coming from professional cricket journalists, it might surprise them to learn that their wages come from avid cricket fans such as those who will have paid upwards of £60 to be in the stands at Edgbaston and are the most likely to subscribe to cricket magazines too. They might want to be careful before alienating them. Journalists paid to be there berating those who pay the often extortionate charges within English cricket grounds is rarely a good look.

But, more generally, I think they’re completely missing the point. Fundamentally, practically no one is booing Smith because he’s a great batsman and they want to distract him. I don’t think Kohli was abused by the English crowds last year, and he’s a great batsman. No one is booing Smith just because he’s a cheat. I doubt Faf du Plessis would get the same treatment at Edgbaston, despite his own ball tampering charge. No one is booing Smith just because of his nationality, as shown by the Australians who haven’t been the target of abuse by the Hollies Stand.

Smith and Warner are copping these boos because they are (and I’m moderating my language for the blog here) absolute pricks. They lie, they cheat, they insult, they’re hypocrites, and they’re smug and arrogant about it. They are, as people, almost completely loathsome individuals. And they’re unlikeable when they have zero runs, or two, or fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred and forty-four.

It is, you could argue, not entirely their fault. Jarrod Kimber wrote a long and illuminating ‘essay’ about how Australian club cricket moulds young players coming into the game into abusive, cheating pricks. By the time most Aussie cricketers reach the professional game, the die is already cast. But, even allowing for that, Smith and Warner are stand-out pricks within the Australian cricket team.

Some people try to make Smith and Warner sympathetic, saying they were harshly and punitively dealt with by Cricket Australia. That much is undoubtedly true. But that doesn’t make them not pricks. In fact, it was Smith’s cocky press conference with Bancroft after the end of play at Newlands which likely ignited the furore in Australia over the ball tampering and caused the bans to be so long in the first place. Many Australians don’t even like and respect them, so why should we?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that booing a player is always acceptable. When it’s based on race, religion, sexuality or some other protected status then I would say that was over the line. An example of that would be when Moeen Ali was abused by a portion of Indian fans for his Pakistani muslim heritage during a T20I in 2014, coincidentally at Edgbaston. I also think that verbal abuse should be moderated to not teach any kids in the crowd any new words which their parents might not approve of.

But beyond that? If you pay for the ticket, I think you’re entitled to express your opinion.

Whether that’s clapping politely or loudly vocalising your dislike, that’s up to you.

And to keep the content of Dmitri’s post last night, here it is replicated in this new post:

Panel Prep

So, to prepare those we are going to ask to be on our panel, we thought we’d give you a couple of questions to opine on before play:

  1. 284 – good, bad or indifferent? Let’s ignore the eighth wicket going down at 122 (alright, don’t) but as play stands now is this a winning score for Australia?
  2. Steve Smith – best test batsman at the moment, or is this bubble going to burst (or both)?
  3. On a level of 1-10, with 1 being chilled, your reaction to your premier bowler getting injured after four overs, having been injured in the run-up to the test?

We won’t be able to live blog today – or if we do, it will be intermittent, but please keep checking in to see if we do provide updates. That said, it was great to see the in-play comments from you, and also thanks to Sean and Danny for all the efforts yesterday. We will try to live blog when the occasion merits it.

Boring Stat Watch

Steve Smith made the joint 99th highest score for Australia in meetings between the two countries. He joins former captains Don Bradman, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting in making 144 in Ashes tests. It was the 314th test hundred by an Australian against England.

Stuart Broad took the 254th five wicket plus haul in an innings for England against Australia. These were the joint 207th best figures for England v Australia (Broad has the best figures by anyone not called Laker, of course). Geoff Arnold took 5/86 at Sydney in 1975.

284 is the equal 500th highest score in England v Australia matches. On the five previous occasions the score has been made, the team making 284 has won twice. Australia in 1895, and memorably, England at the MCG in 1982. On the three other occasions, the team making 284 has lost (England at the MCG in 1921, Australia at Lord’s in 1934 – the only time 284 was made in the second innings of the test and England at The Oval in 1972).

In 1982, Australia replied to 284 with 287. In 1972, Australia replied to 284 with 399. In 1934, England had made 440 before Hedley Verity did his thing. In 1921 Australia followed 284 with 389. In the only other time Australia scored 284 in the first innings of the test match against England, we followed up with 65 and 72.

Too Many Tweeters

OK. Statwatch done. Let’s look at ConnWatch…




Now for Shiny Toy…

Hyperbole Watch..


Four day tests

Birds of a feather

Did Selfey have anything to offer?

Blocked By Paul, Watching Paul

Paul Newman watch…

If there was any concern the Ashes might for once be forced to play second fiddle this summer to an extraordinary World Cup then we need not have worried.

This was a superb and eventful opening day to the biggest Test series of them all from the moment David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, two of the three members of ‘The Banned’, walked out to the most hostile of Edgbaston welcomes.


There was a totally hapless display from umpires Joel Wilson and Aleem Dar that was only partially rescued by the Decision Review System and, frankly, was simply not good enough for the highest level of the game.

There was an atmosphere like no other at any English ground, with the Hollies Stand loudly but never too nastily taunting the disgraced Australians and their captain in Tim Paine who had goaded them on the eve of this always epic contest.

But, above all, there was the controversial figure of Steve Smith, the captain sacked in disgrace in the aftermath of sandpaper-gate, defiantly and brilliantly rescuing his side from the brink of disaster and inspiring them to what looks like a highly competitive score.

and he’s not letting up…

And at the centre of it was the man who haunted England during the last Ashes with his idiosyncratic but world-class batting before his world fell apart when the poisonous culture that had infected his captaincy unravelled spectacularly in Cape Town.

This was Smith’s first Test innings since that cheating scandal 18 months ago but how he made up for lost time with an exceptional 144, more than half their score, that puts Australia on top in this first Test and could well have set the tone for the whole series.



Sadly, no Martin Samuel this time around.

Oh No, Not Him Again

Tom Harrison was on Sky and TMS this lunchtime, presumably because doing the rounds at a mere “warm up” against Ireland to bask in the glow of the World Cup victory wasn’t significant enough. I listened to it this lunchtime, well the TMS bit, and it was every bit as depressing as you would have thought. He did virtually everything he could to avoid mentioning the Hundred by name, but did mention Sky at every opportunity. There will be a massively enhanced partnership next year – I’m not sure what Sky will be doing to enhance it, more repeats of Masterclass? – and somehow in his haze of bigging up Sky, he said 13 million watched the World Cup and of all outlets Sky had the most. Can’t offend the chief partner. According to Tom we will be getting 100 hours of free to air cricket next year. If BBC have 10 matches of 3 hours duration and a couple of other games, where is the rest coming from? Someone tell me. There was more. Much more. But not much new. I saw Gower congratulate Harrison on the World Cup win. We are absolutely stupid. Partners indeed.

So, on to Day 2. Please fire away, please answer the day’s panel questions, please keep the fires burning. It’s going to be an interesting day. I leave you with this on the booing of the Sandpaper Gang..

I was at the Gabba that day. I heard Aussies around me tell him to stop being soft and get up, but then change their tune when he was stretchered off. However, I will never forget the weapons grade bell-end who spent almost the entire day calling Matthew Hoggard a wanker all day. The problem with us being sanctimonious about booing, pretending we’re a moral paragon, is that we’re not. Neither are England fans a bunch of scum, as those who tut tut in the comm box about this sort of thing make them out to be. Like everything, you pays your money, you takes your choice. I feel it is unwise for any ex-pro to criticise supporters on how they support the game.

Enough of that. Hope you enjoyed this mish mash. Comment away on Day 2.


World Cup Semi-Final – Australia v England

Morning everyone. It really doesn’t get much bigger than this. A sporting occasion for all cricket fans, a chance to see the old enemies fight it out for a place in the Final. In a repeat of 1975, these two meet at this stage, at Edgbaston rather than Headingley (interesting to note the choice of venue all those years ago, when the Yorkshire venue, I believe, had an automatic right to test matches each year, with the winners meeting New Zealand on Sunday. The only other meeting in knockout phases came in 1987, when England lost the Final. England haven’t beaten Australia at a World Cup since 1992, but in the last three Champions Trophy meetings in England, the hosts have won the lot. What does it all mean? Nothing really. It’s just filler.

I’m sorry, not really, to keep harping on about this, but I am taken back to a conversation a while back when someone from our media friends, a limited group we know, said “don’t you think if England make it to the semis, there will be a build up of interest in the country?” His reference point was the women’s team a few years ago, but the point was probably more to see an enhancement of that. Today’s game is one that could catch the imagination. 2005 is becoming a more distant image in the rear view mirror. The 2010/11 team, although not visible, retained some of those names, and again had people talking about the game. Today England meet their arch enemy in a semi-final of the World Cup, the first time they have been there since 1992, and it’s behind a paywall. What more needs to be said about the crippling decision to hide the game from public view than that? What a missed opportunity to bring the game to people who can’t see it. It’s a matter of great sadness. Today’s players get paid well, much better than their counterparts 15 years ago (probably substantially more when accounting for inflation), out of the Sky contract, but in doing so, the game become hidden, and the consequences are there for all to see.

I don’t think we’ll ever stop banging that particular drum.

The game today will, I hope, feature some live blogging. I am currently on leave, but it is with the little horror that is Teddy. My wife is back in the States and with her Mum (or mom as they say) and I have just me to look after a 9 month old border collie with serious alpha male issues. So I will update as and when I can (and the rest of the gang can join in too, if available). Looking at Rain Alarm Pro, there isn’t much nonsense in the Birmingham area, although. The forecast is for showers later in the day, but tomorrow looks OK if we need to come back.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the day. The best ODI bowler in the world, against YJB and Roy in great form. Will Buttler hit his stride in what has been a mainly disappointing tournament for him? What will Warner and Smith do? Have Australia got too many injuries to repeat their Lord’s triumph? Will Finch make his third ton in as many World Cup matches v England? Will we need free to air on Sunday? All this and more, to be revealed…

The winner will meet New Zealand, who triumphed yesterday because their quicks removed the top three, the Indian middle order got starts but did not go on, and then MS Dhoni played one of those mysterious innings. While Ravi Jadeja, a seriously under-rated, under-used cricketer for India was playing a brilliant innings, fulfilling his 9 runs per 6 balls quota that was required to keep up with the rate, Dhoni was pottering about like he had not a care in the world. While this was happening, I was always sure that the Black Caps were going to win. Especially when Jadeja got out. It was mad to me that the most experienced ODI player in the team dropped down to 7 as it was. To then put all the pressure on Jadeja was mad. That Dhoni was run out just after hitting a six left the legend of the master-chaser intact. It’s horse manure. He makes chases more difficult than they need to be, especially recently, and yesterday it got to the stage that they wanted 32 off the last two overs. And still people act that if a freak piece of fielding hadn’t happened, Dhoni had paced it perfectly. I am so glad I don’t go in for blind fandom these days.

I am going to leave it there, and hopefully update during the day. I have a couple of chores that need doing each day – the Teddy walk is the main one – which I will get in, hopefully, before the start of play.

Your comments below, as always. I’ll add mine in the text of the post. We are also on Twitter too, so hope you can keep up with us during the day.

My prediction? I am yet to be convinced by England’s big match temperament. On paper they should win. Between the ears, have they the belief to slay the dragon? Batting first might help. But who knows. It’s that great sporting contest. It’s what sport is about, despite the gimmicks, the nonsense, the corporatism, the ludicrous authorities that govern the game globally and domestic. Sport to watch. Sport not for all.


10:20 – OK, back from walking Teddy. While trying to teach the headstrong pup some basic dog skills, I got the note that Australia won the toss and batted first. No real surprises in either line-up, with Handscomb coming in for the injured Khawaja. However, as the camera pans over the ground, the stadium appears half full. Don’t know about anyone else, but if I have a ticket for this, no way do I turn up after 9:30, let alone 10:30.

10:30 – Warner booed as he comes out. Getting dull. Woakes opens up for England, Clarke opens up on the comms. Dear lord. Warner drives the first ball, a rank half volley, for four. As Scooby would say “ruh-ro”.

10:32 – No further runs from the over. Good comeback. Meanwhile, reasons to be cheerful / fearful.

10:33 – Archer opening from the other end. And strikes first ball, subject to review. Looked a bit iffy to me on first glance. Pad first. Three reds. Dead and a lost review. Hundreds in his previous two World Cup innings against England and now a golden one.

WICKET – Aaron Finch   LBW Archer 0 – 4 for 1

10:37 – Steve Smith in to a chorus of boos. Clarke says “Smith has been crying out for an opportunity” while ignoring that he’s not come in at 3 much (if at all) in this competition. Smith off the mark from his third ball. 2 from the over and it is 6 for 1.

10:41 – Warner looks up for it. Smashes Woakes over his head as soon as he pitches up. 10 for 1. And then a little shorter, and he nicks it off to first slip, and Warner goes. YJB is jubilant. England are off to a bloody flier. 10 for 2.

WICKET – David Warner   Caught Bairstow Bowled Woakes 9 – 10 for 2

10:43 – Peter Handscomb in at number 4, not having had a knock for a long old time. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, anyone? A man who has a technique opened up in tests. Massive appeal first ball. I thought it looked very close, and Morgan has reviewed. Umpire’s call, so not out. Erasmus, come on, you don’t like the Aussies, do you? Handscomb benefits from a misfield off the last ball to get off the mark. 11 for 2 after 3 overs. Clarke already getting on my nerves.

10:49 – One run from that over, and a play and miss from Smith in it. 12 for 2 after 4.

10:50 – Another close, close one from Woakes as Handscomb gets an inside nick to save him. He looks like an LBW every time, Handscomb.

Clarke doesn’t believe in a paucity of words, nor shying from hyperbole. Smith coming down less than straight and looks a nick-off waiting to happen, but we could wait a while. 13 for 2 from 5.

10:56 – I see Carey is due up next. About time. Handscomb runs the last ball of Archer’s over down to third man for the only run in the 6th. 14 for 2.

10:57 – “Can they build a partnership” says Nasser. Er, no. Handscomb hangs the bat out, he inside nicks it on to his stumps, and Woakes has the third wicket of the match. You feel that they are a Steve Smith away from taking this game away from Australia.

WICKET – Peter Handscomb   Bowled Woakes  4 – 14 for 3

10:59 – Carey in, and first ball he nicks it short of second slip, and off the ricochet, he gets a single to get off the mark. Smith has 1 off his first 14 balls. Make that 17, as there are no more runs from the over and it is 15 for 3 from 7 overs.

11:03 – Archer to continue, as we say goodbye to Nasser and Clarke, with Ian Bishop on the mic now. Carey punches down the ground for three, and the return is met with the duclet tones of Kumar Sangakkara on the comms. These two are like velvet, compared to the sandpaper we experienced for the first half hour. And there’s your only sandpaper reference for the day. Promise. Smith takes a quick single and gets away with it, from the fourth ball. The last ball is a vicious bouncer, and Carey catches his helmet before it can do any damage to his stumps. Actually great reactions from Carey, although he’s worn one. End of the 8th. 19 for 3.

11:10 – Carey has a nice plaster on his chin. After a few minutes of running repairs, we are back in action. Woakes with his fifth over. The last ball of the over is a wide half volley which Carey creams through the covers, and it is 24 for 2. Smith has 2 from 21 balls.

11:16 – Three runs from the 10th over, a pretty quiet one, and 27 for 3 after 10.

11:19 – Takes years of watching the game, playing it, and commentating on it to come up with analysis like this:

Woakes in his 6th over, and possibly his last for a while, concedes just one run to Smith and it is 28 for 3 after 11.

11:23 – Stokes replaces Archer. 1 run from the over. 29 for 3.

11:27 – Wood replaces Woakes. A bit rough and ready with two wides. Brilliant work on the boundary saves two leg byes. Carey’s cut still bleeding, and his other cut (shot) is half stopped by Stokes. A third wide off the seventh delivery is making this a pressure releasing over, but the last two balls were much better. 36 for 3.

11:34 – Malcolm Conn Watch. Crickets. Chirp Chirp Chirp Chirp.

Carey has some repairs, and now has a huge plaster. Stokes to continue, and Carey takes a single from the first ball. Smith pulls an ugly four, the first boundary for a while, and the first in his 35 ball stay. Mel Jones has been on for five minutes and made two errors – it was McCosker, not Gilmour, who broke his jaw, and the West Indies were not at the peak of their powers in 1995. 9 from the over, and it is 45 for 3 from 14. Building a recovery, maybe?

11:43 – A better over from Wood, and just two from it. 15 overs up and it is 47 for 3.

11:45 – Lovely.

Jonathan Liew would approve.

11:47 – Plunkett replaces Stokes, and his first ball is driven straight by Smith for four. Fifty up. 8 from the over and it is 55 for 3.

11:54 – Smith takes a boundary from the last ball of Wood’s over. 7 runs from it, 62 for 3 off 17.

12:02 – Rashid on for the 20th over, and Slater enters the Comm box for his stint. 72 for 3 at the start, and he’s bowling to Carey. A lofted drive off the fifth ball goes through the gap for four. Six from his first over, and it’s 78 for 3.

12:09 – 21st over yields two runs. 80 for 3 from 21. Inexorable feelings that England are letting Aussie off the hook a little.

12:24 – 103 for 3 at half-way. Got to take a bit of a break now. Looking like 250-280 on the cards unless wickets get taken.

12:33 – From absolutely nowhere Carey flips an innocuous Rashid delivery straight down James Vince’s throat (on as a sub) at deep midwicket and the partnership is broken. England needed that, and although the home fans are worrying, let’s face it, we’d be saying get a move on if this was England.

WICKET – Alex Carey – Caught Sub, Bowled Adil Rashid 46 – 117 for 4.

Smith brings up his 50, and accompanied by boos.

WICKET – Marcus Stoinis – LBW Adil Rashid 0 – 118 for 5

That looked outside the line, and with Finch blowing the review, Stoinis could not review. Stoinis played back and got done by the googly, but the appeal won Dharmasena over and I’ll be interested to see Hawkeye. Stoinis goes second ball. Maxwell time. Two umpires calls, so a little fortunate. Would not have been overturned. 118 for 5 at the end of the 28th over.

12:41 – Smith is looking in ominous form for the Ashes. Another driven four. Without him, the Aussies would be sunk. 127 for 5 at end of the 29th.

12:43 – Rashid induces an edge from Maxwell, but Root can’t nab him at slip. 2 runs ensue. 3 from the Rashid over, who has 2-34 from his 6 overs.

12:48 – Archer returns, and Maxwell nails a pull shot in front of square for 4. 5 from the over, 135 for 5.

12:51 – Maxwell hits the first six of the day over long-on off Rashid. But with only another single from that over, the damage isn’t that bad. 142 for 5 and it is drinks at the end of the 32nd over.

13:08 – Perils of solo live blogging. Missed the Maxwell wicket while taking the dog for a quick stroll and giving him his lunch. Archer makes him prop one up to cover and the catch is taken by Morgan.

WICKET – Glenn Maxwell    Caught Eoin Morgan, Bowled Jofra Archer 22 – 157 for 6

13:11 – Rashid finishes his 9th over, and the 36th of the innings. 161 for 6. Archer back for the 37th, and his 9th. 4 from that over and it’s 165 for 6 with 13 to go. Smith still there on 67.

13:16 – A beautiful googly somehow induces an edge/steer to Joe Root at slip, and Cummins goes. Rashid has his third wicket, proving his importance to this team, if indeed, it still needs saying. Mitchell Starc in to try to play the Nathan Coulter-Nile role. Rashid finishes with 3 for 54.

WICKET – Pat Cummins   Caught Joe Root, Bowled Adil Rashid  6 – 166 for 7

13:20 – Archer bowling out. Three singles from the first three balls. Woakes still has four to bowl, with the other 7 remaining due to come from Stokes, Wood and Plunkett. Archer finished with 2 for 32 and it is 171 for 7 from 39.

13:26 – Mark Wood bowls over number forty, and it goes for four runs. Entering the last ten overs, Australia are 175 for 7.

13:29 – Plunkett bowls over number 41. Four dot balls to start to Mitchell Starc. Make it five as he swishes at a wide one. A single off the last ball stops the maiden, but England will be pleased with that. 176 for 7.

13:33 – Mark Wood again. 2 single leg byes, followed by a single in his first three balls. Another whip to fine leg for a single off the fifth ball, and another off the last. Five in total off that and it is 181 for 7. 8 remaining.

13:37 – Plunkett again. Three singles, including a misfield/run out attempt from the first four balls. Clarke babbling on incessantly. Shut up. 2 off the last ball from a cut, and it is 186 for 7.

13:40 – Wood on for the 44th over. Starc smashes the second down the ground for four. I make it that Woakes won’t bowl his 10 now.  No runs from balls 1,3 and 4 in this over. A wide from the next delivery. A single to Starc off the fifth, and he moves on to 14. Six from the 45th and it is 192 for 7.

13:44 – Second six of the innings (?) from Starc as he reads the first ball of Plunkett’s oval and plonks it over long-off for 6. Adds a single from the next. Smith moves to 78, and brings up the 200 off the third ball. A wide, a single, and another vile looking pull for four round out a pretty rubbish over from Plunkett. 14 from it and it is 206 for 7.

13:48 – Woakes comes on, to bowl three of his four remaining overs – can’t help thinking Morgan gave Wood one too many, or Liam two too many. Starc dabs a single – there really do not look to be too many terrors in this wicket, this is going to be a purely mental challenge when it comes to the chase – and moves on to 23. Smith mishits another for a single from the second ball. Dot ball from the third. A mishit from Starc, and another dot ball from the fourth ball. Something might give here. No. Starc pulls a ball to deep backward square for another single. Big LBW appeal off the last ball of the over for Smith, which is turned down but reviewed. No real hope on this one, I don’t think. Height. Going to be umpire’s call at best….and it is. There was a leg bye, four from the over, and it’s 210 for 7. Clarke has a little laugh and I want to throw my mouse at the screen.

13:54 – Wood bowls a full ball, which Smith inside nicks for a single. Starc dabs a ball into the legside, and gets a smartly taken two runs. A good save by Plunkett means just two from the third ball. Starc on to 28. Dot ball from the fourth. This is the 47th over, so just 20 balls to go. Starc top edges the fifth ball but it doesn’t reach Plunkett, and he gets a single. 50 partnership up. The last ball brings another horrible looking pull, but Smith gets a single, keeps the strike and it is 217 for 7 with three to go.

13:58 – Buttler nails the stumps and runs out Smith after he tries to get through for a short legbye – brilliant from Jos. Taking off the glove he hits the bowler’s end stumps and Smith is marginally short of his ground. A vital knock if aesthetically like walking past a sewer. We’ll need to get used to it, I’m afraid. He’s just too good, even when he’s bad. Big wicket.

WICKET – Steve Smith  Run Out (Jos Buttler) 85 – 217 for 8

Woakes then gets a nick off an expansive drive from Starc, and he’s got to walk now. Thin nick to Jos Buttler and England feel a little better about life.

WICKET – Mitchell Starc   Caught Jos Buttler  Bowled Chris Woakes 29 – 217 for 9

Nathan Lyon in at 11 for the team hat-trick. Blocks the first ball. Risky single off the 4th ball of the over, and gets away with it. Behrendorff would have been out by miles. Dot ball from the 5th, one from this over so far. Dot ball from the 6th too, and one from the 48th over. Not going to matter, but we should have brought Woakes on one over earlier. End of the over, 218 for 9.

14:05 – Mark Wood bowling his 9th over, the 49th of the innings. Lyon fishes at the first, but misses. A run off the second, not sure if it was a leg bye or a single. I think given as the later.  Behrendorff dabs a ball to third man for a single off the third ball. Clarke saying it’s not Smith’s day because the ball went between his legs. He didn’t exactly bat with fluency, Clarke. Two more singles off balls four and five. Final ball and Mark Wood yorks Behrendorff and England will need 224 to win and make the Final.

WICKET – Jason Behrendorff    Bowled Mark Wood  1 – 223 All Out

So – Woakes 3/20, Rashid 3/54, Archer 2/32 and Wood 1/45.

OK. We would have settled for that at the start, no doubt. Smith made batting look hard, but in his own way, and while you may think from above that I’m having a go, I’m not. He doesn’t give his wicket away. He just doesn’t. It could be a long Ashes summer. There are not those devils in the wicket, but Starc is a danger. It appears a bit of a short of a length wicket, as most boundaries appeared to come from pitched up deliveries. But that’s a nothing score, and England will be livid if they can’t chase this down. This run chase will be 90% in the head. Don’t panic and it will come to you. See you after the break. Hopefully.


14:38 – Negative vibes, bad precedents, worrisome stats, fears pervading. This should be comfortable but we know that it won’t be. Roy to face the first ball from Jason Behrendorff. First three balls all good. Roy plods one down to third man to get his account under way off the fourth ball. First ball to YJB and he crushes it through point for 4. Exhale. A little. 5 for 0 after the 1st over.

14:42 – Mitchell Starc time. Holding my breath here, no idea why. I’m not as invested in this team as others. Four dot balls, the last one at 92 mph. Roy getting in line at the moment. Fifth ball a bit shorter, hits Roy in the midriff, timed at 94 mph. The sixth ball is a wide. So still no maidens. Solid behind the final ball – 6 for 0.

14:50 – Win predictor says that Australia have a 7% chance of winning. Does it feel like that to you? No runs off the first four balls, and then a beauty that goes the other way to YJB, who doesn’t quite nick it. A maiden. 6 for 0.

14:53 – A sensational drive off Mitchell Starc’s first ball of the fourth over by Jason Roy goes for 4, and then clips one through wide mid-on for two more. Then came a knock on the door, and back for the last ball of the over and it’s another magnificent drive through extra cover for four. 10 from the over, one parcel for someone I’ve never heard of, and Teddy has been woken up by the knock on the door. I bet the Guardian and Cricinfo never have that. 16 for 0 from 4.

14:58 – Behrendorff keeping it tight to YJB since that first ball. He appears a little frustrated, but off the third ball of the over he shovels the ball into the leg side for a single. Teddy laying down again. Roy plonks one through midwicket and the two openers scamper two runs. A little dance from Roy to the last ball yields no run. Three from the over. 19 for 0 from 5.

15:02 – Starc gives up a wide from his first ball to YJB. The next is a massacred square cut from the red headed raging Yorkie, and another four. Demolished. The ball screamed for mercy as it raced along the carpet, picking up friction burns before smashing into the boards. Two dot balls follow, the second seeing YJB hurtle down the wicket, but Roy giving it the No No No No No.  A glide down to third man off ball four brings up a single. Oh, we’re one ninth there….  Roy then hits an amazing six as he flips a leg side ball far too close to fine leg for comfort, but it sails over for a maximum. Hussain’s heart has been extracted from his throat. Roy blocks ball six, and there’s a lovely dozen from that over. 31 for 0 from 6.

15:07 – Pat Cummins comes on for Behrendorff. Two dot balls to start to YJB. Cummins being talked up. Teddy now moving on to his bed. No idea he has to remain in the same position. A bit of a false shot third ball, but no harm done. Sways out of the way of a shortish ball for the fourth of the over. Nice drive off ball five for no run, as it goes straight to cover. The final ball is mis-timed through extra cover for two runs, thus preventing a maiden, adding on another 1%ish of the total required, and making the score 33 for no loss after 7. Teddy moves again. He does have some Australian in his bloodline. I think it’s his grandad. Someone tell Conn.

15:12 – Behrendorff replaces Starc. Roy does one of his wanders and plays and misses, then blocks ball two. LBW appeal for ball three, which England get a legbye, and Finch ignores the appeal as it pitched several miles outside leg. Bairstow clips the fourth ball to deep backward square for a couple more. A little uppish drive, quite close to Behrendorff is timed superbly, and goes for four straight down the ground. A guide to gully off the last ball gets no run, and England are now 40 for 0 at the end of 8 overs.

15:16 – Cummins again. Roy on 19, YJB 18. Two dot balls to start. Third is short and Roy ducks underneath. Another dot for ball four. No rush, chaps. We’re all breathing really well right now. There’s a real lobby for Jason Roy being selected for England’s test team, which I still think is mad. The last ball of the over is another gorgeous shot as he whips a ball through square leg with a majestic piece of timing and it races for four. Maiden thwarted, another 3.6% of the total required knocked off, and England move on to 44 for 0 after 9.

15:21 – Behrendorff starts his fifth over, and YJB pushes one through square leg for a single. A repeat, slightly better timed, brings Roy another run. YJB repeats again, slightly in front of square for a third single. Two through the covers for Roy, as the two nearly collide when they run. Another single, as England take a run after it hits YJB’s bat. Conn starts to froth at England cheating, but up comes the 50. YJB plays out the last ball, and it is 50 for 0 from 10. A very decent start.

15:25 – On comes the Mouth of Adelaide, Nathan Lyon. Jason Roy facing. I feel sick. Then Roy smacks his first ball straight over long-on for 6 – there was a fielder on the boundary that it sailed over . Dear lord. He’s going to be KP ain’t he? Misses the second ball after a little fiddle outside off. Roy gives himself room to hit the next ball out to the sweeper on the offside for a single. Bairstow sweeps ball four for a single. Now Roy reverse sweeps for four. Good grief. A leading edge, a pirouette, and a single makes it 13 from the over and England are 63 for 0 after 11.

15:29 – Cummins to bowl his third over as he changes ends. Second ball, Roy hoiks it down to fine leg for a single and moves to 40. Hopeful appeal from the third ball to YJB, but Finch knows that’s a load of dollop and doesn’t review. Talking of dollop, Cummins bowls a short pitched load of rubbish, sails over Carey, and add a very welcome 5 to the total. Another short ball brings two balls as this time it is on the offside, but the bad news is YJB goes down in some pain as he slipped turning for the second. We’ll have a little break here. 71 for 0. On resumption there’s a shortish ball which hits YJB on the hip. No harm done. A firm drive, for no run concludes the 12th over. 71 for 0.

15:40 – Lyon bowls again, Roy makes room, hits it to sweeper, and gets a run. Now we have Slater and Clarke in tandem on the mic. Lord help us. YJB tries to sweep ball two. Nothing. Slaps the next to square, no run. Clarke burbles. A horrible wipe skews over third man and somehow gets four, as Starc’s dive is in vain. YJB plays straight to ball five. Straight to backward point off the last, no run. 76 for 0.

15:43 – Cummins induces an inside edge from Roy but it thuds into his pads and no run. A little surprised by the bounce from the second, and no run. A wonderful fine hip flick from Roy crashes into the fine leg boundary for four off the third. Short for ball four, but not deemed a wide. No run from ball five. Bunts ball six in the air, falls short of mid-off. 80 for 0.

15:47 – Over number 15, and the Lyon experiment ends. Mitchell Starc is back. YJB smashes the ball over mid-off first ball for four. A single down to third man, and I need to take a Teddy toilet break! As I open the door, Roy wallops one over mid-off for another four. A well-timed square cut is stopped, and that’s followed by a wide. Roy on 49. Given width, he smacks the next one through extra for another four, 53 off 50 balls. Conn will no doubt refer to his birthplace. A single off the last ball, and it is 95 for 0 off 15 and drinks. Teddy is now livening up. You feeling it, people? Fighting like cornered TV companies behind a paywall.

15:55 – Steve Smith coming on. Interesting. Someone puts an umbrella up. Roy smears a single first ball. Wide second ball. Brilliant fielding saves a boundary from the second legitimate delivery, and keeps it to a single. Roy gets hold of the next, clears Maxwell, and even though he doesn’t get all of the full bunger, it goes for 6. He hits the next one straight for 6 as well. File this under “not a great idea“. The next one went absolute miles, air-mailed to London, it may never come down. Finch is shopping at Louis Vitton here. And he still can’t afford it. That’s the metaphorical white flag folks. 21 off the over, the last six being 100 metres. 116 for 0.

15:59 – Stoinis on, and YJB clips for a single. A diving stop keeps Roy to two instead of four as he pulls a short one to mid-wicket. It’s going to rain a little bit, judging by my radar software but it won’t last very long. A couple of dot balls, and I get my first message saying that he’s waiting for the wheels to come off. There’s a wide to bring up the 120. Roy murders the last ball with a sort of swivel shovel for four to bring the total to 124 for 0. Hundred to go people.

16:04 – Mitchell Starc, 0/38 off four, is back. This is just the 18th over. YJB is nailed on the crease, and is given LBW. YJB reviews instantly. He’s not hit it. Looks dead. So he takes the review with him as well, which is a bit silly.

WICKET – Johnny Bairstow  LBW Mitchell Starc 34 – 124 for 1.

Joe Root in. First ball is short, hits Root’s glove, avoids Carey and goes for 4. Luck with Root there. Into line for the next one and plays it well. Starc’s 27th wicket. Record. Root glides a leg side ball very fine again for another four. Starc shopping at Harvey Nicholls at the moment. Wide outside off stump next, and Root smashes it through point for another boundary. A wicket, but 12 off the over. 136 for 1 from 18 overs.

16:10 – Roy belts Stoinis’s first ball for four through mid wicket, then dabs the next to third man for a single. Jason now on 84. A couple of dot balls. No tweets from Malcolm Conn. Another dot ball to Root. A sedate five from that over. 141 for 1.

16:13 – Roy nurdles the first ball from Cummins down to fine leg for a single. Joe Root then smashes one through backward point for 4, and the total needed is below 80. The next makes a lovely sound, but finds deep square for another single, Actually, it’s his first single, but another to the total. Roy is given out down legside, and is caught by the wicketkeeper. He believes he never touched it, and is furious. Save your rage for YJB. He has missed that by a mile. Roy goes for 85.

WICKET – Jason Roy  Caught Alex Carey Bowled Pat Cummins 85 – 147 for 2.

I told you YJB’s review was a nonsense. That’s what happens when you let your ego get in the way. Roy missed that by a mile. A shocking decision.

Roy shouldn’t have stayed around to argue. Morgan in. He’ll be up before the beak afterwards.

16:20 – Kumar’s got the memo on the umpires. Starc back on. This would be a hell of a choke from here. Root gets a couple from the fourth ball of the over. Off the last ball of the over, Root brings up the 150 with another couple. 151 for 2. 21 overs gone.

16:24 – Cummins on, and Morgan gets off the mark with a glide to fine leg. 72 to win. Root takes a single off the first ball he faces in the over, down to backward square. Cummins bowls a short one, Morgan sways out of the way. Morgan is like a jittery man at the crease, all movement. Lets another short one go by, dropping his hands. You feel he just needs to nail one to ease any thoughts. Wears the last one. Two from the over. 153 for 2 after 22.

16:29 – A bit more peace and quiet. Good fielding saves a single off the second ball. Starc in his 7th over. A nudge from the fourth brings a single to Root, who is on 23 from 21. Aaron Finch is now fielding at backstop, short ball outside off, Morgan flips it over square cover for four. Morgan is like a cat on a hot tin roof, but prods the last ball out. 158 for 2. 66 to win. 27 overs left.

16:34 – Cummins to Root, who gets a sharp single, aided by a misfield. Comes round the wicket to Morgan, who nearly spoons one up to Cummins off glove and splice. An edge gets the captain another run – a single to third man. A wide, harmless delivery to Root is pushed to sweeper for another run. Another bouncer to Morgan is too high, and is given wide. A fuller ball for the last one of the over is pushed over mid off for four, and heads drop just a little more Down Under. 166 for 2.

16:39 – Starc again. No point dying wondering. Three dot balls to Root. The fourth is full on Root’s legs, and another glance for four. A single to mid off off the last, and five from the over. 171 for 2. After 25 overs. Australia were 103 for 3.

16:43 – Bairstow and Roy to open in tests says Drug Cheat. Yes. YJB is our keeper, that will work. Lyon now on and Roy hits through square leg for a single to open up. 52 to win. An attempted reverse sweep from Morgan is missed. Morgan does try again, and he gets four to backward point / backward square leg. He then edges the next delivery for two, and it is 178 for 2. 46 to win.

16:47 – Behrendorff back, and Root gets a single straight away. Morgan gets done by a slower ball and gets lucky as it just evades Finch at mid-off. It’ll say 2 in the book, and there aren’t any pictures in there (Smith’s would be interesting). Morgan pulls a lolloping long hop for four behind square. Just a single pulled off the last ball and it is 186 for 2. 38 wanted.

16:51 – Morgan chops one late from Lyon down to backward point for a single off Lyon’s first ball. Root milks a single to long on second ball. Morgan sweeps fine for four third ball. Exhalation all round. They’ve got this. Morgan backs away and then drive/cuts in front of square for four, and by far his best shot. Gets away with the 5th delivery as Morgan dances down the wicket, and then glides just short of backward point. He takes a single off the last ball, 11 from the over. 197 for 2. 28 overs gone.

16:55 – I’m sure Aussie have won an ODI at Edgbaston since 2001, haven’t they? Anyway, Behrendorff continues. Morgan miscues the first ball. And the second. Doesn’t play a shot at the third. Defends the fourth. Both Root and Morgan are on 33. Nothing from the fifth, and nothing from the sixth. Bills have to be paid, so we take an early drinks interval.

One thing we should observe in the run up to the final. The old mantra that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. Let’s see that rush for credit.

17:01 – 197 for 2 from 29 overs. It’s brilliant to watch. I thought there were no demons in the wicket, and there haven’t been. The bowlers have won this game for England. No doubt. Root takes a single from the first ball of Lyon’s over. Morgan belts a shot over cover for four, and brings up the 200. Count them down. A shovel in front of square brings Morgan two more, so it’s now 20 to win. A single off the fourth ball. Root reverse sweeps for another boundary. 15 to win. Single off the last, 210 for 2. I’m thinking the ODI that they might have won was rained off (2005), but the Aussies belted us in a couple of series after that.

17:05 – Behrendorff’s eighth over. Those five wickets he took last time seem a long long time ago. Wide from the second ball. 13 to win. Root swats, as Nasser called it, a four in front of square from a lolloping long hop. 9 to win.  Root hits a full bunger down to fine leg for a single. 216 for 2. 8 to win. Root on 44.

17:09 – Before the end of the game, I would like to thank Teddy for being a wonderful dog this afternoon. He’s been calm and sound, and helped me to do this live blog. Thanks all to those who have followed it as well. We’ll do the final. Starc on, Root drives through the offside for a majestic four, and it’s down to two to win. They’ve been amazing. Root pulls to midwicket for a single. He should finish on 49 not out. Starc to Morgan….takes a single. Scores are level. Miscounted. 2 to win. Root on 49. Starc bowls, no run. 1992 was the last time, so they say, and there’s been nonsense since then. Just took common sense, picking the right players, changing the way they play. Root denied the winning runs by Maxwell. Over ends on a Richie – choo choo choo for choo. (222/2)

17:14 – Morgan smacks it over mid-on. Game over. Dame Edna, Paul Hogan, Skippy, Malcolm Conn, Rod Laver, Paul Keating, Men at Work, Icehouse, Guy Pearce, Boomer. Your boys lost. For once. Let England enjoy it.

Cheerio. Someone can write up the match report. England v New Zealand on Sunday at Lord’s. I have been Dmitri Old, and it has been my pleasure to watch an England team play like that.



World Cup Matches 44 & 45: Sri Lanka vs India, Australia vs South Africa (and a bit of TV, FTA and the ICC)

And so we arrive at the end of the group stage, and more by luck than judgement, there is even a little bit to play for in the last two games. Not in terms of qualification though, after Pakistan’s always likely to be vain attempt to gatecrash the top four ended in victory, but not by enough, against Bangladesh.

Thus, it’s merely the order of the top four that is in question, and the incentive, such as it is, of who plays whom in the semi-finals. The most likely outcome is that Australia will play New Zealand at Old Trafford, and that India will play England, once again at Edgbaston. It’s probable that India and Australia would prefer to play New Zealand, both because of their recent stumbles, and also because England are unquestionably a side everyone else fears somewhat, even if they would certainly feel they can be beaten. But it’s hard to see beyond victories for both the Big Three members playing tomorrow, and that the semi-finalists includes them plus England is unsurprising, if somewhat depressing. But then, the whole structure of cricket at a global level is intended to allow them to maximise their income and power, so it is exactly as desired in the corridors of power. In most sports, an unexpected outcome in a tournament is something to be celebrated, only cricket responds by trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Today Sky Sports announced that if England reach the World Cup final, it will be broadcast free to air. At present it isn’t quite clear what “free to air” would mean, but it appears highly unlikely it will be via a mainstream channel with a large reach. This isn’t so surprising, there are other major sporting events on the same day, such as the men’s Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix (another outstanding piece of scheduling for cricket), and clearing the decks for six hours of cricket at short notice is somewhat impractical, albeit it would be amusing to see the response if a main broadcaster expressed interest in doing so. What seems more likely is for it to be on something like Sky Mix, or even online via Youtube or Sky’s own app and website – the BT approach to screening the Champions League final.

Such an initiative is to be welcomed, but the focus and pressure on Sky to allow it to be shown free rather lets the ICC specifically, and the ECB more generally given this tournament isn’t in their purview, off the hook. The World Cup is behind a paywall because the policy of the ICC, as instructed by its members, was to maximise revenue in their TV contracts. The moment that was the intention, pay TV was always going to be the only outcome. The principal contract for England, India and Australia is held by Star Sports, who paid $2 billion back in 2014 for the rights to ICC tournaments up to 2023. It was for them to then sub-contract to national broadcasters and, naturally as a business, to maximise their revenue accordingly. Everything stems from that, the drive for revenue at every stage, and the reason why such tournaments not only won’t be on free to air, but effectively can’t be.

This isn’t Sky’s fault, they too are a business trying to make money, but it is the ICC’s for making the financial aspect the key one. To suggest, as some notable employees of Sky have done, that this is down to the free to air broadcasters failing to bid is a specious argument – they simply cannot financially compete on the same level as pay TV, and see little point in spending money preparing bids, or even considering preparing bids, for something they cannot win. It almost certainly is the case that the kind of wall to wall coverage required is now only in the purview of the satellite broadcasters here, but it’s still a matter of justifying the status quo by pretending that the creation of this situation is entirely separate from the bidding processes in the current market.

Where it does get more interesting is in the argument as to whether some cricket on free to air would benefit Sky themselves. This is one of those that only those inside broadcasting (we’re outside that too) can answer, but holding expensive rights to a sport in major decline cannot be a healthy financial position for them either, even if the fear in the future is that cricket sinks so far that Sky will be able to buy all the rights for a song as no one else cares. It seems unlikely this will happen for as long as there is more than one pay TV broadcaster, for cricket is a boon for them, filling lots of screen time for comparatively little cost compared to, say, drama. In any case, to say no one else cares about cricket is a weak defence. Firstly, the single positive of the Hundred, that there will be some shown on the BBC, implies otherwise to at least some extent, but more than that, if more cricket is of no interest to the terrestrial broadcasters, it’s because cricket isn’t of sufficient interest to them. But it was, at one point. And now it isn’t. For the ECB to have failed to nurture their broadcast partnerships over the last 15 years has been an abrogation of their responsibilities to the game. At another time, a World Cup the majority were unable to watch would have provoked howls of outrage. Now it is largely indifference whether they can or they can’t, and limited awareness that it’s even on.

Equally, there is the wider argument about the role of the various governing bodies. It is simply wrong to argue that all the ICC can possibly do is sell the contracts to make as much money as possible, because it isn’t what other sports do at all. Wimbledon could certainly make far more from selling off their event to the highest bidder, but refuse to because they value the exposure they get on the BBC. More pertinently, World Rugby, for their own showcase World Cup, specifically talk about finding free to air partners. Indeed, their wording is very precise:

“Securing deals with major free-to-air broadcasters who are passionate about sport is central to World Rugby’s mission to make rugby accessible in a global context. With each Rugby World Cup we are broadening the sport’s reach and appeal through a broadcast and digital strategy that is aimed at reaching, engaging and inspiring new audiences within existing and emerging rugby markets.”

This is completely alien to the approach taken by cricket, to the point that it is diametrically opposed in almost every clause in that paragraph. Very few people are so single minded as to believe that everything should be on free to air, irrespective of contract value, and given World Rugby’s activities and attitudes in other areas, it’s hardly that they can be held up as notable supporters of the common man and woman in every aspect. But it is a striking difference in strategy, to intend the widest possible audience for their blue riband event.

It is highly noticeable that Sky appear to feel they are on the defensive about this whole subject. It’s not necessarily why they’ve made the decision to offer the final conditionally free, but also how some of their staff appear to be spending considerable time messaging cricket supporters and blogs with impassioned defences of their position. It’s a different approach, certainly, and perhaps not a coordinated one, but the righteous indignation, when it isn’t even them who are bearing the brunt of the annoyance, is interesting.

What the viewing figures might be for any final, broadcast for free, with England in it will be interesting. It really isn’t just the free aspect either – buried away on a minor channel that only subscribers are aware exists is not going to cause a dramatic change, although in a perfect scenario, a very tight, exciting final might just allow word of mouth to spread, and for non-adherents of the game to seek it out.

For this is a positive, without any question. How big a positive is more debatable. If the stars were to align, then just maybe it could grab attention, even with all the competition. This is what every cricket fan surely wants.

One other small item. It’s been reported that the other counties are displeased with Warwickshire for offering guaranteed contracts with the Birmingham Phoenix franchise in an effort to lure them to the county. This is the kind of esoteric, obscure item that barely anyone notices, but has a big impact. For the Hundred franchises are meant to be entirely separate to the counties. But what did the other counties expect? That this would be adhered to? That it wasn’t really going to go down the route of concentrating power and wealth in the hands of the chosen ones? We get accused of being cynical too often, but to not see this coming is extraordinarily naive on the part of those upset by it. It’s more likely to have been a deliberate strategic approach by a governing body that has long disliked having 18 counties to deal with.

Update: the article concerning the recruitment for the Hundred has been pulled, and according to George Dobell, a retraction sought. Curioser and curioser.

Comments as ever below.

World Cup Match 36: Pakistan vs Afghanistan, New Zealand vs Australia (and a few other bits)

It’s been an interesting insight into the World Cup from outside over the last week. I’ve had a client over in the UK with me, a German resident in California, and someone unaware of cricket beyond it being a funny little game played by the strange English amongst others.

First day in London he saw a bit of one of the games on the TV, and expressed having no idea what was happening, but that it looked like the crowd were having fun. Knowing I was a cricket fan, he asked about the game, and what was happening – not so much about the World Cup itself, beyond wondering why there was so few teams in it, but more about the sport and to get a handle on how it is played and what the idea of it was.

Like any unfamiliar sport (and trust me, my eyes glaze over when Sean and Peter get all enthusiastic about rounders, fake rugby or whatever else it is they play in the States), he didn’t really know what was going on, but he was sufficiently interested to ask. Cricket does itself no favours by revelling in the pretence that it’s a complicated game, when it is no such thing. The explanation took 30 seconds and he had a fair handle on what was happening. All sports are complex in the details, but cricket is and always has been a chuck-ball-down-and-hit-it kind of game in its essence, and one easily grasped in its fundamentals.

For the remainder of his time here he had a passing interest. Not the one of a convert, but that of someone who likes sport and is aware of it going on. He noted in a WhatsApp message that the Australian team were outside his hotel as he got back one afternoon for a start. Naturally, being busy meant I saw very little of the play in any of the games, though a meeting that adjourned to a London pub offered the England-Sri Lanka game on the TV. Or at least it did until the start of the England U21 football match, at which point, and with the cricket very much in the balance, it was unceremoniously turned over. That match went about as well as the cricket did, incidentally.

Likewise, the Women’s World Cup got far more attention and discussion between us during the week, notably the German, English and American teams’ progress, and the vagaries of VAR. Towards the end of his trip here finally came his summary about the cricket – “no one here seems very interested”. Ouch.

He’s not wrong, and the viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup make it very clear where public attention is aimed, even before Wimbledon begins which will dominate airwaves, print and screens. How depressing, that what should be the opportunity for cricket to showcase its wares worldwide remains an exclusive club, not just for the competitors, but also for those observing, or not observing as is the reality.

While I may have been keeping up to date with the action, it feels like I’m one of a die-hard band who love a sport that has gone beyond being sneered at (remember the days when we used to have to defend cricket? Doesn’t happen now), and is so irrelevant to the wider country that it is simply ignored. Just like a veteran rock band’s latest tour, the response is more likely to be surprise that it’s still happening.

England’s travails have had the side effect of making the latter group stage much more interesting, a noble and selfless gesture on their part as most would agree. Pakistan are one of the teams that can overhaul them, and today’s game against Afghanistan should allow them to go above the hosts, albeit having played a game more.

In the other match, Australia and New Zealand are almost there, so while it will be an intriguing match up, it offers little beyond practice for the semi-finals and a bit of jockeying for position. Loading the key games towards the back end of the tournament may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but only in an organisation so lacking in confidence in its own sport that it feels an ordinary draw at the business end would lack inherent drama.

Comments as ever, below.

World Cup Match 26, Australia vs Bangladesh

There are currently nineteen games until the knockout stages begin. N-n-n-n-nineteen. (Got to get song lyrics into the piece somehow, even if it’s not Public Enemy) To put that into context, the Champions Trophy in 2017 had a total of 15 games, as did the Champions Trophies in 2013, 2009/10 and 2004. The competition in 2004 even had twelve teams, compared to ten in this year’s World Cup format.

All of which is to say I’m bored, and just wish the group stages were over. Last night’s heroics by Kane Williamson put another nail in the coffin of the teams outside the top four, making it incredibly likely that there will be no surprises over the next three weeks. I’m honestly not sure I’ll even be paying much attention. Am I supposed to care whether England finishes first or fourth in the group stages?

Today’s challengers, Bangladesh, on paper have the best opportunity to disrupt this slow march towards the inevitable. They’re fifth in the group table, just three points behind Australia and England, and they have the world’s best ODI allrounder according to the ICC’s rankings in Shakib Al Hasan. The main problem is their lack of depth, I feel. Shakib is the top runscorer in this World Cup so far, but the next best Bangladeshi batsman is ranked 22nd. By contrast, Australia have three in the top ten and England have four. Likewise in the bowling, Starc and Cummins or Wood and Archer offer a far superior threat in English conditions when compared to any of Bangladesh’s bowlers.

So whilst Bangladesh certainly have the capacity to beat Australia, and few things give me more pleasure than watching Australians being ground into the dust, it just doesn’t seem likely. A win for the Tigers would at least inject some life into the competition, which is the best we can hope for at this point.

I guess what I’m saying is that Australia must lose this game for the good of world cricket.

As always, please comment on the game or anything else that happens below.