Hey There, You, With The Sad Face – Australia and Me (Part 2 of a few)

“We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.” ESPN Cricinfo

In a routine increasingly, and annoyingly, used by many films these days, let’s start at the end. Let’s give a taster of what’s to come by embracing the epilogue. The Cricket World Cup of 1987 coincided with my leaving home and running off to Liverpool University to study, in the loosest sense, and to actually grow up as an individual. I was the one member of my floor in the Halls of Residence to have a colour portable TV, and so immediately gained many friends. The first month of my “study” coincided with the first World Cup outside these shores, and England, somehow, someway, managed to make the Final. A final against Australia. How could we lose? We’d defeated India in their own backyard, with a majestic, sweep-fest hundred by Graham Gooch. We’d won ODI competitions for fun against the same Aussie team just 10 months before – the Perth Challenge and then the World Series Cup. Sure, 1987 wasn’t the best domestic summer on record, but we’d still won the highly charged ODI series against Pakistan. How could we lose? So they had won in Pakistan to clinch their place in the Final? So what?

Inflection Point – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

We left the last piece after the heroics of Headingley. A slog gone right, a pitch gone bad, a win for the ages, a DVD and TV repeat for many a rainy day. Up there with Edgbaston 2005, and if it had been played when we were awake, a test to follow around 18 months later – but we’ll get to that. At the time England won that game, the direction of the series seemed to turn, but then we had Edgbaston 1981. This was a very curious test match in more ways than one. Botham with the bat was largely anonymous, but to be fair, so were most others. The stat Richie Benaud seemed most keen on was that no-one, on either side, managed a half-century in the match. England made 189 first up – Brearley top scoring with 48, Botham next best with 26 – but on what looked a good surface, this was inadequate. Or so we thought. Australia took a first innings lead with a score of 258, with Hughes (47) and Martin Kent (46) making the largest contributions. John Emburey, in the side for this game took four wickets. England made 219 in their second innings, and it would have been a lot worse but for John Emburey scratching out 37 from number 10. But 151 runs to win. Lightning could not strike twice.

This test match had Sunday play, and what I distinctly remember from an early part of the day was Peter Walker, who used to get the first 20 overs of the Sunday League coverage that BBC had in those days, got a short commentary slot. It was enough for him to get a wicket – well Willis probably did, but who is complaining? It was the important one of Kim Hughes. However, Australia never really looked out of control, and again England needed to get out both Hughes and Border for me to believe they had a shout. Border had been promoted to number 3 and looked solid. He and Yallop put on a 50 partnership for the 4th wicket before the former captain was caught by Botham off Emburey. Martin Kent took the score to 100, and slightly beyond, but then Border went. There’s a great photo of the appeal, I recall. So 40 odd to win, Benaud saying that no-one would now make a 50. And then, if my memory doesn’t betray me, BBC went off to another event – looking up on Wikipedia, the German Grand Prix was on.

After an interlude the BBC came back, and I believe they were midway through “the spell”. So we were treated to a catch-up (please forgive me Beeb if I’ve got this wrong). ooooh. Marsh bowled by Botham. We’re into the tail, I thought. Wait a minute, he’s got Ray Bright too, first ball pinged LBW. Game on. Hang about, they are showing ANOTHER Botham episode, what happened here? Blimey, Dennis Lillee has nicked it, Bob Taylor’s doing a juggling act, but held onto it, wait, why isn’t Constant giving this out, oh yes he has? Bloody hell. And then they went live….

Or I’ve just made this nonsense up. Sunday Grandstand was possibly in its first year – I don’t know, look it up (I did, it was) – and they were doing it because things like the Wimbledon Final were moving to that date (but didn’t that year, because that was the last Saturday final) and Grand Prix were also on Sundays.

Anyway, the denouement was live. Botham steaming in, and cleaning up Martin Kent. Steaming in, and cleaning up Terry Alderman. Stump plucked out at both ends, Botham charging. Me just loving it. You don’t get better than that.

On to Old Trafford. Don’t remember much about the first day, and also recall knowing sod all squared about Paul Allott, who was making his debut. Tavare was also in, and his batting became a watchword for slow – he went into childhood cricket vernacular. Play defensively and you were called a Tavare. Which was worse than being a Boycott. Anyway, it was Allott’s batting the following day that I remember.

When I was a kid, mum and dad used to go shopping at the very fancy, at the time, Riverdale Centre in Lewisham. This Friday morning we were dragged along for the ride, with the promise of something nice from the new world of Sainsbury’s. However, I do recall, while my parents were somewhere else, sticking myself infront of an electrical store that had the TV on. It had England on. I caught the end of Paul Allott’s riotous debut half century. The last two wickets, one of which was Tavare who had batted nigh on five hours for 60 odd, put on nearly a hundred. Returning to the TV store a little later, I watched Australia collapse in a heap. Hilarious. Richie Benaud moaning about Australia batting for a ridiculously small amount of overs (30.2). Once Australia were dismissed, England set about adding to their unexpected lead, and we were treated to epic Boycott and Tavare. I went out and did something less boring instead. Why don’t you?

The following morning I think we scored around 28 runs in the entire session, losing wickets. Except Tavare. No, he stuck to it. No attack, shotless, dull. This was Saturday Grandstand on the Beeb, and this meant horseracing, so the afternoon session was broken up by whatever meeting was on at the time. So we missed the start of the Ian Botham fusillade.

Now several innings throughout the time I’ve watched cricket have stuck with me for their brilliance. Viv in the 1979 World Cup Final, Viv’s hundred against Surrey in the B&H Final, KP at The Oval, Thorpe’s Barbados knock, to name a few. But this Botham hundred is up there. As a 12 year-old I was transfixed. The sixes swatted off his eyelashes with no helmet on. The utter carnage as the mighty DF bat smashed shot after shot. People stopped to watch. This was the way to entertain. Match in the balance, play massive innings, match no longer in the balance. We lived in different times then, but people talked about it. My mates who I played cricket in the street with wanted to talk about it, to play like it. It was great because it was exceptional, and because there were fewer avenues of entertainment to pursue, but we are not comparing like with like. It was important because this was Australia. This was Dennis Lillee, the scourge of 1974-5. This was an Australian side there for the taking. Little did I know, then, that such joy against the old enemy would be so rare. If I did, I’d have appreciated it more.

But what to appreciate? I remember Mike Whitney being plucked from county cricket on one of those sponsorship programmes (and had been on TV a week or two before in the Sunday League playing for Gloucestershire) and being the poor sod under a steepling shot from Botham. It went miles up in the air. He circled around, hopelessly clutching, and it went down. I also remember, with that pedantic picking-up of any error, Jim Laker saying for the shot that got Botham to a hundred that it was a marvellous way “to get to a six”. Or was it wonderful? But other than that, it was the smashing Lillee to the scoreboard without actually looking at the ball when he hit it. And then there was Tavare. At the other end for the entire innings, unfurling a wonderful cover drive, then hibernating again. And as if that wasn’t enough, recalled Alan Knott made a fifty, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “that’s a good hand” in terms of a batting performance. Another Benaud-ism. All this and we were packing to go away (Portugal this time).

I went on holiday the following day, and had a long wave radio. We found out on the Monday that the game had been extended, but that we finally won – Rodney Marsh had me nervous on the one spell I caught on the World Service – but the Ashes were ours. No big deal, we were used to beating them. The sixth test was memorable for a couple of reasons. Paul Parker made his debut, Dirk Welham made a hundred which Kim Hughes almost certainly delayed the declaration for (and for which I experienced, for the first time, Aussies tut-tutting about a personal achievement over team goals – more of that to come), and then using the whizz-bang Sanyo Music Centre to record my own commentary of the final day, which I soon got bored with.

And that’s the point of the detailed recollection of 1981. I played a poor standard of school cricket, we were a lousy team, but I had got a reputation as a doughty, boring, opening bat. Watching your heroes, those stars of the screen, play made you love the game more as you strived to succeed in your own performances. It gave you something to love. County cricket, in the form of the Sunday League and the Gillette/NatWest Cup and the B&H also raised profiles, and gave visibility to other talent. But England v Australia seemed to captivate those older than me, and you sort of wondered why. There was no sign of Aussie self-confidence. That would come soon, though. Australia contributed, but they were nice because they were beatable, and England beat them. Nothing more, nothing less in this 12 year-old eye.

1982-3 was the next series. Let’s skirt through the first three games. England got on top at Perth, but couldn’t win. I remember it only for the radio commentary on Terry Alderman’s injury, and the outrage that poured out. I also remember being completely turned off by Alan McGilivray’s commentary, in a way subsequent Australian commentators haven’t done. We lost in Brisbane because South African Kepler Wessels made a century on debut. Now this was funny. I remember the news showing the 30 second clip, and me thinking “hang about, he’s an Aussie? Didn’t he play for Sussex?” Remember him, Malcolm Conn, remember him? Then we lost in Adelaide, and were 2-0 down, a test match I only recall because Greg “only play at home now” Chappell made a century. So to the Boxing Day test.

England needed to win both games to retain the Ashes. I remember only snippets of Day 1 from the news reports. I used to stay around my Aunt’s pub for Christmas, so play took place over Christmas night, and so when I woke up in the morning, the score was announced on Radio 2. No Ceefax in that house. Listening to the match reports, and then catching those ever so wonderful highlights, it appeared as though Tavare had gone, by his standards, berserk, and Allan Lamb joined him for the ride. We scored 280-odd. I remember nothing of the Aussie first innings, except, I think, they scored 280-odd. Same again with the 3rd innings, where England scored, if I recall, 280-odd. Setting Australia 280-odd to win. Actual scores 284. 287, 294 setting 292 to win. Not bad if I say so myself. It has been 36 years!

The fourth day was one of those legendary radio listening under the bedclothes nights – given it was school holidays – and trying to sleep in between. In no real order I recall Norman Cowans getting Greg Chappell caught in the covers by a sub fielder who was our reserve wicket-keeper. Yep, checked it up and it was Ian Gould. I remember hearing a wicket after a bit of a partnership where Bob Taylor took a phenomenal catch off a bat-body combo. It looked to be Kim Hughes. I heard England get to 8 down and settled down for some sleep. When I woke up, and heard the news that Australia had lost their 9th wicket soon after, but that the game was not over, because Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had put on 40 of the 75 or so they needed to win, I thought uh-oh. Because Border had been in no sort of form that series, and it appeared as though we had played him into it.

So we remember the next day. There was no live TV coverage, so radios at midnight it would have to be. Mum and Dad even put it on the main “Music Centre” for us all to listen, except my brother who went to sleep. He wasn’t a cricket fan. It was unbearable. And the runs ticked off. I got more upset that we were throwing this away. Hardly a hint of anything. And the runs ticked off. Thomson not looking like getting out, Border being his dogged self, taking the target down. Cowans, so great the day before, getting no joy. And the runs ticked down. 10, 5, 4.

Willis was the skipper, and there was much cursing under my breath. Certainly no swearing. They’d let the crowd in for nothing, could only have got a ball. In modern ECB world, that behaviour would be laughed at.

Then. Nick, Smack, time stood still, Miller, catch, what the hell happened. We’ve won. Bloody hell. What happened. Botham bowled, it was nicked, Tavare dropped it but Miller caught it. Pictures painted in my head. Australia would have to wait. Damn them. Then you had to wait until the following day’s LUNCHTIME news to see the dismissal. Kids, you don’t know you were born. Imagine watching Kenneth Kendall for 25 minutes, to catch the sport at the end. Yet that less, was more. Hanging on a 30 second clip. Now I sensed what Australia v England really meant. How those fragile muppets from 1981 would scrap. How they would not give in. Allan Border became a nemesis. That, people, is what test cricket is all about. The greatest game I had heard about. The most tense I’d been at listening to cricket.

There is a common misconception that the first time that overseas cricket was covered live in the UK was by Sky in the West Indies in 1990. That’s not right. The fourth day of the final test at Sydney, if I recall, certainly had some live coverage on the BBC. But what this match will always stick in my memory for, and why January 2nd was on my old cricket calendars “Mel Johnson” day was the run out of John Dyson early on the first day. He was out by a yard, yard and a half. Mel never gave it. It’s in here… https://de-visions.com/detail/top-10-worst-umpire-decisions-in-cricket-39N4eE-Rqj4.html

I’m not saying it was important, but Dyson went on to make a few, and any chance at a really quick start went. The first few days had some inclement weather around, Kim Hughes and Allan Border put the game out of reach on Day 4, and Eddie Hemmings made a 90-odd as nightwatchman. But Australia had the Ashes, and we would need to wait until 1985 to have a chance at getting them back.

It was possibly 1985 that truly got the Ashes ingrained into me, and Australia as primary foe. Because until a controversial decision saw off an obdurate partnership at Edgbaston, it was quite possible that a poor Australian side might retain the Ashes, and that would have been a travesty.

In between those two series Australia had had their tough times. First, in 1983, at the World Cup they failed to make the semi-finals – losing to Zimbabwe and also to a West Indies team where Winston Davis took seven wickets. There then followed a winter (for England) where they played 10 tests against the mighty West Indies. After the big three retired in the home summer (Lillee, Marsh and G Chappell),  Kim Hughes took his squad to the West Indies and lost 3-0 in five matches. Competitive at Guyana until a declaration setting the West Indies 300+ to win saw Greenidge and Haynes make an unbroken partnership of 250, and threaten an unlikely win in just over 4 hours. The 2nd Test was drawn too, with Border’s unbeaten 98 in the first innings, and 100 in the second got Australia to safety. Tests 3, 4 and 5 were routs. A competitive 420 in the 1st innings in Bridgetown was followed by 97 in the second and a 10 wicket defeat; an innings defeat in the 4th test at Antigua, where Border was resistant, but no match for Richards and Richardson; and another 10 wicket defeat in the final game in Jamaica meant a 3-0 defeat. They had not taken a single West Indies second innings wicket in the entire series. But one man came out with his chin up, chest out, and reputation intact, and in fact enhanced. He would become more prominent, and a key Australian figure for years to come.

The winter of 1984-5 saw the West Indies visit Australia. Having just annihilated England in the first of their two Blackwashes, the West Indies were on top of the world, and people were openly talking about changing the rules for them. Australia may have laughed at England’s plight, but they were soon to get a taste of the medicine. At Perth, in the 1st Test, West Indies made 416, and then Australia responded with 76. It was a hammering. 228 runs after following on, and the Aussies had succumbed by an innings again. At Brisbane, the visitors won by 8 wickets, losing their first second innings wickets against Australia in 7 tests chasing 26 to win. The match is probably most memorable for Kim Hughes resigning in tears. In an era where men crying left people very uncomfortable it was painful to watch, but sympathy was in scant supply. Some of us asked “what did Australia expect?” for they were playing generational greats. At this point we got the view that the Aussies didn’t exactly live in the real world, every bit as much as the English media.

The new captain was Allan Border, who reportedly wasn’t overly enamoured by the task facing him. From the other side of the world he looked the only choice. His first test in charge was another heavy defeat at Adelaide, and an Aussie blackwash looked on. But at Melbourne there was an unlikely hero. It looked bleak – Viv making 208 in a first innings of 479. However, recalled Andrew Hilditch (70) and Kepler Wessels (90) set a foundation, and then another shocking partnership for the 10th wicket between Murray Bennett and Rodney Hogg, took the Aussies from 27 runs short of the follow-on to 16 runs past it. West Indies still set the Aussies all but the first 25 minutes of Day 5 to survive, which they did only just, losing 8 wickets, but with the new hero, Hilditch making a legendary century. The West Indies winning run came to an end. To everyone’s shock, on a spinning pitch at Sydney, the unbeaten run ended as well. Kepler Wessels made 173, the West Indies made 163 and 253 and beat the mighty visitors by an innings in the final test. Bob Holland, a leg-spinner, took 10 wickets in the match, Murray Bennett 6, both getting on the plane to England as a result, and with someone like me from the other side of the world thinking, simply, that a 3-1 home defeat was a lot better than our 5-0 smashing.

1985 was eagerly awaited. By this time I was our school’s scorer, so was in the scorebox, with my radio, listening to the test matches while watching my school team. It was a lovely summer once the O Levels were out of the way. There was now something alluring about playing the Aussies. Maybe Botham would lift himself, as he always did. The apartheid tourists would be returning after bans, so that meant Gooch for definite, but who else? And then there was the India issues. England had won a tremendous series in India the preceding winter, coming from 1-0 down. As Gooch was coming back, someone would have to make way as an opener, where Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson had had excellent tours. Mike Gatting had come of age as an England batsman, with a super hundred in defeat in Bombay (Mumbai) and then a double hundred in the amazing win in Madras (Chennai). He was nailed on a place. Allan Lamb was ensconced at 5. Botham at 6. Downton was the keeper. The bowling had places up for grabs.

The ODI series set some ominous messages. Allan Border was going to be a right royal pain in the derriere that summer. There are always those players that seem to have an air of invincibility about them, and he was that in 1985. His 59 was a key element in the run chase at Old Trafford – Botham having made his return after missing India with a 72 and a reverse sweep SNAFU – and then at Edgbaston in the second game his 85 not out covered Gooch’s return century to see the Aussies home. The pressure was on Gower who was now struggling for runs, but he and Gooch made hundreds at Lord’s as England won the third game comfortably. All set for the opening test.

Having started the piece intending to get it to 1987 and the World Cup Final, I know it’s going to be 10000 words long before I get there, so let me put this first part up now, and pick up the 1985 series in the next one.

But before I do, this era, from 81 to 85 was slim pickings for England, and going into the Ashes the win in India, not as coveted as it is now, was still a mighty achievement when England went into it without Ian Botham, The preceding four years without the talents of Gooch had been frustrating as the Essex opener pummelled county attacks but could not play for England. As a young kid, I had no comprehension of precisely what South Africa meant. Why would I? It was a vastly different world and newspapers at the time, especially at the one my dad printed, were telling me it wasn’t a bad thing. It was truly like that. Of course as I matured and learned, I felt that the decisions were absolutely correct, but at the time it felt like we were harming ourselves. Then the Aussies had it happen to them. So while 1981 was a triumph, a series we all recall if we are old enough, 1982-3 was a series where overnight listening on small radios wasn’t a cliche, but actually was what I did, and awaiting those half hour highlights programmes on BBC 2 was something exotic, and had that Melbourne test match, the 1985 Ashes looked like two quite evenly matched, if not brilliant quality compared to the West Indies, and the season whet the appetite. Six test matches, a summer of Ashes cricket. It felt like it had meaning.

 

It Never Rains But it Pours

There wasn’t too much play at the MCG in the end, and what there was proved to be inconclusive.  England are now the only side that can realistically win the match, but a draw is now possibly the most likely outcome. Perhaps though the series to this point colours perceptions, were England in this position, doubtless the expectations would be different, given Australia will likely need to bat into tea to make the game reasonably safe.

In what play there was, England extended their innings by one ball -Anderson being dismissed – and then picked up a couple of wickets before Warner and Smith saw out the day on a surface that is slow and unresponsive.  England certainly tried to get as much out of it as possible, working furiously on the ball, and trying the age old trick of flinging it via the ground at every opportunity in the field in an attempt to create reverse swing.  There was a marvellously manufactured row from Australian television attempting to imply Anderson was digging a nail into the ball, which sadly foundered on the reality that if he was doing so, it was to the shiny side – i.e. the wrong one – meaning that Anderson would have to be the dimmest nefarious cricketer since Herschelle Gibbs.

Of course, Cook’s double century continued to cause debate and, let’s face it, abuse, particularly given the shortage of play and lack of decisive action.  So here’s a cut out and keep guide to the stupidity of the low quality “debate”:

You just can’t give Cook any credit whatever can you?

Um, well apart from saying repeatedly how well he batted and how good an innings it was.

Yes, but you said it’s irrelevant in a dead rubber, don’t deny it.

No, it’s not irrelevant.  Some fabulous innings have been made when a series is gone – Mark Butcher at Headingley, Brian Lara’s world record at St John’s.  In both cases, that series irrelevance was pointed out as a qualifier, mind, however unfair might have been.  And regret that it hadn’t come earlier in the series.  Oddly enough Cook himself said the same thing, he’s obviously frustrated as well as proud. This shouldn’t be too hard to work out, saying it’s meaningless is stupid, saying it’s the greatest and most vital innings ever is equally stupid.

There you go then, you don’t think it matters.

Of course it matters, England were heading for a whitewash.  His knock means that’s now not going to happen and England have shown some fight.  And every Test matters, so well done him, and goodness me, didn’t he bat well?  Irrespective of surface and Starc not playing, that’s the best he’s looked in years.

You just can’t give him any credit at all can you?

We keep saying we are, aren’t you listening?  The reaction from some quarters – knighthoods, pantheon of greats and all that – is a bit over the top though, surely?

See, there you go again, it’s all about Kevin Pietersen.

What?

It is, don’t deny it.

It’s you who keeps bringing him up.  You seem obsessed with this subject far more than anyone else.  

And that’s why you wanted Cook dropped.

Here’s a curious thing.  Nuance is no longer allowed it seems.  This place has been pointing out Cook’s struggles and declining returns for a couple of years, and expressing concern for this series that while England needed him badly to perform, the evidence suggested he probably wouldn’t. But after three Tests, those now screaming with delight were saying he was probably done and should retire.  Those great Cook haters at BOC kept saying this was absurd, he was still one of our two best openers by a distance, irrespective of his struggles.  Losing him weakens the side, why would that anyone who wants England to do well want that?

It’s just about you hating him.

Can’t you read? Has any of that gone in?

You never give him any credit for anything.

He’s been a terrific player, and England’s best opener in a long time, why is that not enough?

There you go, proof you loathe him, qualifying that statement.

Sorry?  What is wrong with that? It’s significant praise.

No it isn’t, it’s grudging.  No credit whatever.

Because we might not think he’s England’s best ever batsman ?  That’s what the problem is?

Clear hatred.

Let’s get this straight, saying he batted really well this Test is not enough, saying he’s a very fine opening batsman indeed is not enough?

You just can’t bear seeing him succeed.

No, what the problem is, is the endless hagiography, the use of Cook as a weapon to beat up everyone who points out double standards, the media treatment of him as an exceptional case and the sheer hypocrisy of it all.  Cook isn’t responsible for that, others are. Why on earth can’t you just be pleased?  Why is it an excuse to win on the internet?

There’s loads of hatred for him on Twitter.

Yes, there is.  Since when has Twitter ever been anything else?  You do realise there’s loads of hatred on Twitter for others too, right?

So what do you have to say about that?

You mean we’re responsible for the stupidity of others?  Blimey.  Is that all stupidity, or just where it applies to Cook?  You have seen the stick others get haven’t you?

It’s not the same.  Cook is one of England’s greatest ever.  

Isn’t this debatable?  Isn’t this something that is rather open to question given the records of others?  He’s been the best opener England have had in a fair while, that’s pretty clear.

Qualifying it again, that’s just like you.

Of course it needs qualification.  Doesn’t everything need qualification?  This is madness, an insistence at genuflecting at the altar of greatness without any context, either for this innings or a career.

I rest my case.  You’re furious he’s done well.

No, we’re furious at the over the top response to him doing well.  Can’t you see the difference?  What’s wrong with praising him for doing well and observing when he hasnt? 

It’s nothing more than abuse, you scumbag.

Sigh. Ok, you win.



Being a writer down might be considered unfortunate, being two is unquestionably careless.  Sean you utter idiot! But it did make us laugh.

Day five is a chance for England to register a win on a tour that has proved a disaster to date.  Should they do so, it doesn’t undo that, but nor is it an irrelevance. It does highlight what was said in the build up to the series, that for England to compete, they needed their main batting guns to fire.  Cook has done so here, and now they’re in a very strong position.  Of all the people thinking if only he’d done it earlier, no one will be feeling it more strongly than Alastair Cook himself.  And that’s kind of the point isn’t it?

Warping out*

One of the differences between those who write on cricket in the media and the poor blogger is that they get to see all the play, are spoiled rotten in the media centre, and are paid for the privilege.  In contrast, the likes of us have to work for a living – and that’s why the dire quality of some of the output from the usuals is so deserving of contempt.

To that end, I was away all of last week, didn’t see a ball of the first three days, saw only the highlights on Friday and finally got to watch some play yesterday.  I did get to listen to a fair bit, while driving around the country, but it’s not quite the same.  And so following the match was somewhat awkward, lots of reading of reports and updates, and generally trying to keep abreast of what is happening.  Since then I’ve gone back and reviewed the highlights to try and get a proper feel for the Test.

I can’t say I’m totally surprised that England won the match, it very much depended on whether England played in the same manner as they’d indicated in the New Zealand series for both Tests and ODIs.  The scale and dominance of the victory on the other hand, that was somewhat unexpected.

Australia’s performance was dire throughout.  More or less anything they could get wrong they did.  As ever, the question is how much of that was their own doing, and how much was down to England’s performance.  What can be said is that after a single Test conclusions shouldn’t be drawn, and yet again we see the crowing from certain quarters.  We’ve been here before, in the last two Test series there was exactly the same arrogance (from the press, not the team), only for England to fall flat on their faces the following game.

First let’s take England.  Cook unquestionably led the side well and captained well.  Good.  Very, very good.  If this is the new captain Cook, then there won’t be too many complaints, he was proactive in the field, changed his bowlers well and generally looked in command throughout.  And this is the point – when the facts change, so does my opinion and perspective, and I don’t have the slightest issue recognising it.  It’s those who blindly insist on a particular view in defiance of what is in front of them that have the problem.  It’s true too that generally there’s been an improvement in how he’s managed the side over this summer.  Quite why that might be is somewhat curious, in terms of what has changed, the only thing that stands out is the replacement of the coach.  I’ve long called for Cook to be in control of the side and live and die by his own actions, not fall back on the backroom staff.  If he’s doing that and doing it well, that is great news.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that the various meltdowns in Australia and here can be forgotten, no matter how some like to pretend they didn’t happen, preferring to stick their fingers in their ears and say they weren’t listening.  What it does mean is that he can look back on this Test with a fair degree of pleasure.  And if continues to captain in that vein then he will reap the plaudits and rightly so.  It’s a matter of whether he does or not that is the question.  He won’t ever be a great captain, but if he’s an adequate one then that is good enough, because up to now he hasn’t been.  Plaudits for this one Mr Cook.

What was particularly striking about the approach was in the second innings.  England were determined to get to a 400+ lead as quickly as they possibly could, and continued to attack even as wickets began to fall.  The sheer jaw-dropping astonishment of seeing an England team do that can’t be overstated.  It certainly seemed to take Australia by surprise.

Initially it didn’t look that way, as England got off to a somewhat sedate start and lost wickets.  In a single Test, that can happen, but it’s something that has occurred a little too often for comfort.  The dropping of Root by Haddin (more on him later) turned out to be fairly critical, as Root took the game to Australia in a way that’s now becoming somewhat familiar.  Before the series began Root was largely written off in much of the Australian media, based on his troubles down under last time.  It was a strange rationale, given that on the same basis Steve Smith could be written off for his performances to date in this country.  I rather doubt it came as a great shock to the Australian team just how good he is looking, but it certainly seemed to elsewhere.  Root’s success has led Ian Chappell to call for him to be pushed up to number three at the expense of Ballance.  I never see the case for this.  If a player is performing outstandingly well in the middle order, where is the benefit in moving him?  It’s treating a symptom rather than a cause and risking weakening the batting if the player doesn’t have the same success in a higher position.  It doesn’t matter where Root bats if he is going to average nearly 60, wherever he goes in, he is going to drag the side to a higher total.  Leave him where he’s comfortable.

Ballance himself scored a fairly scratchy 60 in the first innings, but that will do him the power of good.  An ugly knock does more for the confidence than anything else, because the time at the crease allows the player to rather literally find his feet.  Of course he needs to kick on, but that innings was deeply valuable both to him and the team.

Stokes and Moeen also contributed, and the latter case is important.  He certainly bowled well in the match, but having a batsman of that quality at number eight is a major strength for England.  It has been argued it’s a waste, but it makes for an immensely powerful middle order, IF he can hold down his place as the spinner.  Previously I’ve argued that Moeen is being unfairly compared to the best spinner England have had in the last forty years, and I maintain that he is doing well enough in his primary role to more than justify his selection.  He isn’t going to run through too many sides, but he is certainly useful and his batting frees up an additional spot in the side.  His bowling is improving, but like anything it isn’t a linear trend, there will be peaks and troughs.

Stokes himself is contributing too with both bat and ball.  Both will improve over time, and the very selection of Moeen creates the space in the team for what might be called a luxury player like Stokes.  Patience is required, but England have a genuine five man attack with this line up, and that is a major advantage, perhaps best seen in the way that despite so many fears about it, Anderson is not being bowled into the ground thus far.

Bell scored a few runs in the second innings and looked much more like himself.  Yet it is indicative of the knee jerk response that his 60, a well constructed and fluid innings, was treated as though it was 150 and justification for keeping him in the side.  Personally, I don’t believe there was ever a case for dropping him, and certainly not after the selectors maintained faith with Cook for two years.  But as ever, a single innings proves nothing at all except that if you keep them in the side long enough they will eventually get a few.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t extremely welcome, and nor does it mean that he didn’t look much better.  It does mean that trumpeting success on the basis of a single fifty is as downright idiotic as it ever was.  He will want more, and hopefully this innings will have got the monkey off his back to the extent he can get more.  It’s no more or less than that.

Jos Buttler failed both times with the bat, which is neither here nor there in a single match, but he did keep very well, and the only reason for mentioning it is that every all rounder who has ever played the game will talk about how difficult it seems to be to get both disciplines operating at full capacity at the same time.  It seems to go this way mostly – one works very well, the other malfunctions a little.

As for the bowling, Wood looks a threat every time he bowls, and perhaps more importantly, for all the wishful thinking about getting a left armer into the side, he provides balance.  Anderson, Broad, Wood and Stokes are all different kinds of bowlers.  That they’re right arm doesn’t in itself matter, it’s not a samey attack.  And while on this subject, it didn’t go unnoticed that it was mentioned as a problem that England have seven left handers and thus provide Lyon with a line of attack given the rough outside off stump.  It’s quite true, but the same applies the other way around given that Australia have two left arm seamers.  Sauce for the goose.

Turning to Australia, this one is a match for them to forget.  While refusing to form definitive views after one match, I hold by the view that you never know a side past its sell by date until they actually become so – just as with England in the last Ashes.  There might be cracks, but complete collapse isn’t anticipated.  This game Australia were truly awful.  Most batsmen are far more annoyed at getting in and getting out than they are being dismissed cheaply, which is considered an occupational hazard.  And yet for the first time in Test history, all of numbers three to six were dismissed in the thirties.  This is both good and bad for Australia, good because all have had time in the middle to get used to conditions, bad because they then got out and mostly to poor shot selection.

Much of the talk around how Australia move forward has centred on the future of Shane Watson.  His playing around the front pad has got him into trouble throughout his career, yet in this game I have a mite of sympathy for him.  The first innings decision was a rotten one, made worse by a proper understanding of how Hawkeye works.  It didn’t show the ball clipping the leg stump, it suggested it was possible it might have done, and at a low probability.  Yes, by all means uphold that decision from the umpire, I don’t have a problem with that; I do feel sorry for Watson because when he gets hit on the pads now, umpires are seemingly predisposed to giving him out when they likely wouldn’t give out another player.  His second innings dismissal was certainly closer, but still an umpire’s call.  Another player would have got away with that one probably, the first innings one certainly.   He may be facing the end of his Test career, and while that may be the correct decision for the Australian team, he was thoroughly shafted in this match.

Warner and Smith both exhibited signs of where they are likely to be vulnerable in English conditions.  Warner’s style of stand and deliver batting is always going to be vulnerable to the ball seaming or swinging.  This isn’t new, and it isn’t in itself the end of the world, because he showed in the second innings that he can fight through the hard times.  Smith has a quirky technique and that is why he finds it more difficult in English conditions, something he’s struggled with since he first broke into the side.  He is more than talented enough to learn how to cope.

Haddin looks like he is reaching the end of the road.  Both his keeping and his batting look frayed and have done for a little while now.  Of course, he could just be out of form, something rarely granted to older players, but this series could well prove decisive for him unless he improves significantly.

As for the bowling, the surface effectively nullified the pace of Starc and Johnson.  Despite some whining in the Australian press, it was a fairly typical Cardiff surface.  What did surprise was that England’s attack handled those conditions so much better.  Johnson had fairly miserable figures for the match, but didn’t bowl too badly.  Starc looked a fine bowler, but I can’t be alone in struggling to understand why when he was clearly injured Clarke insisted on bowling him again and again.  By the second innings the game was already disappearing over the hill, it seemed bizarre to watch him limping over after over and still being kept on.  If he isn’t fit for Lords some questions need to be asked about why they made it worse.  If indeed that is the case, then all of a sudden Australia have some problems.  Siddle is an honest enough workhorse and won’t let anyone down, but he’s not in quite the same class.  Cummins is highly promising, but hasn’t played a first class match in two years, and it’s asking an awful lot for him to come in and play a Test.  Hazlewood on the other hand, looked very good indeed, and will be a handful on other pitches.

Nevertheless, Lords should be a little more conducive to the pace bowling than Cardiff was while not exactly a seamers paradise, and thus triumphal writing off of Australia is highly premature.  It is hard to believe Australia will be so poor in the next game, but if they are, then this tour could go horribly wrong for them.

After one game England will feel it went about as well as it possibly could have done.  Australia will feel it went about as badly as it did in their worst nightmares.  They are more than good enough to step up their game, while England have flattered to deceive on more than one occasion.  What it does though is to provide the most perfect start to the series from the perspective of the spectacle.

One other thing I noted: At the conclusion of the Test, the England players made a point of going around the ground and signing autographs and posing for photos with the supporters.  I don’t remember them doing that before, so whoever has come up with it as a means of engagement deserves a pat on the back.  Is it lip service?  Maybe.  Is it welcome anyway?  Definitely.

*It’s always amused me that this term immediately makes people think of Star Trek and high speed.  In times past, warping out of harbour involved rowing the anchor out ahead in a boat, and winding the capstan in to make progress when there was no wind.  It was backbreaking work and an incredibly slow process.  It seemed appropriate.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

Ashes Panel

Just put up on Twitter that five lucky people (or unlucky) have just had the first set of questions e-mailed to them. Don’t worry if you’ve volunteered and you haven’t got some, because you will be next (or the one after) and all will get at least one set before the series starts. That’s the aim.

If you want to be on it (and I’m going to volunteer a few of you if you don’t) then drop me a line on dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk – I’ll need your e-mail address.

This might work, and I seem to think it will, or it might die a death, but we try here on Being Outside Cricket!

Also added a number of new random header shots, all from Ashes tests, all pictures taken by me. You’ll recognise one instantly if you were a reader of HDWLIA.

An Ashes Exchange Of Views – Part 2 – Dennis asks, Dmitri Answers

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So you’ve read part one….. Now on to the questions set by Dennis of Dennis Does Cricket to me. These are my honest views, and feel free to take them to pieces if you wish!

1) Australia has the Brutal issue of having to squeeze four world class quicks into three spots. Who are the lucky three and why? 

England fans cannot believe you won’t pick Ryan Harris. He appears to have achieved that status reserved for a few Australians, in that I get the sense he’s really liked! I think we all love to see a bowler who suffers for his craft. That said, England have had enough experience of relying on old crocks with injury issues to know you should always go with the younger fitter model (I recall 2002/3 all too well, waiting on Gough and Flintoff) so unless Hazlewood gets monstered in the early tour matches, you should go with what you had in the West Indies. So it’s Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood, and Harris and Siddle up your sleeve. Of dear lordy.

2) Fawad Ahmed and Nathan Lyon lead the Shield wicket taking table last summer. Should the leg spinner be used in tandem with Nathan Lyon at any of the grounds? What about instead of Lyon?

My blog has Nathan Lyon’s number 1 fan (outside Australia) so I’m not ever suggesting he should not play. Nathan Lyon is a bloody good bowler, and the problem is that when you’ve had superstar spinners in your team, you always shoot for the moon (something we should remember now Lovejoy* isn’t in our team). Fawad Ahmed is an interesting wildcard, but none of the venues we are playing at are going to be raging Bunsens because we don’t have Swann any more. I think our allergy to leg-spin is overplayed a bit, but also the other reason for playing them – that they are great at getting tailenders out – is our problem rather than yours. You seem to take great pleasure in a 90mph left armer coming in to the lower order players and smashing them out. I don’t think there will be any “two spinners” wickets and I cannot see you dropping the lead singer in the Under the Southern Cross ensemble.

*Swann is called Lovejoy on here because of his remarkable similarity in personality to a much loved, sorry much loathed, football geezer of the 90s, called Tim Lovejoy. It’s a running joke.
 
3) How should Australia attempt to reduce the influence of Joe Root? 

I put the same question to you! We’re all going a bit mad about Joe Root, and why not? He has this knack of making big hundreds now, so once he’s in, and past the century mark, he’s not satisfied. The drop down to number 5 has been huge, but it also left a major hole we’ve not filled yet at opener. I’m a little disappointed, to be honest, because I’ve always felt 5 is the armchair position in the batting line-up; you’re not likely to be up against the new ball with fresh bowlers, and you get time before the marshalling of the tail (which Root is good at).

I think Root has the same sort of weaknesses as many other player, i.e. good bowlers, bowling well. Also, Australia will play on the mental side of things. He was dropped in the last series. He also, one innings apart, didn’t cut it as an opener in 2013. He has “mental scars”. We’re comparing him a lot to Steve Smith and I see much the same sort of characteristics in the two players. If they get in, watch out.

4) What tactics by Australia will cause the biggest headaches for the captaincy of Alastair Cook?

What was it Ricky Ponting said about the 2005 series? “Win the first test and let the British press do the rest”. That worked. 🙂 It needs something more tangible than that. He had a point at the time, though.

The one thing that 2014 and the fall-out from the whitewash proved is that Cook is, at the moment, unsackable. I’m aware not everyone agrees with me on that, but look how long we held on to him as ODI skipper against all the evidence. Now he’s scoring some runs again, he’s the saviour returned. He’s leading from the front. We can forgive his tactical abominations. The world has changed in 10 years – the press were complicit in the retaining of Cook – and now the British press are more likely to rally around a losing captain than bury him.

Cook’s series depends on him scoring runs. You’d think, by the way ECB-TV goes on, he’s only ever played one Ashes series, because every time he needed bolstering, the 2010/11 series is mentioned. If the Aussies pray on that off stump weakness, don’t feed his outlet shots, and bowl him to a standstill, he’s not going to hurt you. Whether the public will turn on him, I don’t know. The one side effect of this New Zealand ODI series is that without our behemoths, the new team looks like it is enjoying itself and playing like it. How much that attitude seeps through if we lose early will be interesting. If Cook is scoring runs and we are losing, the press over here might blow a gasket. 

5) Should Shane Watson’s position at 6 be in question?

Do you have anyone better? I’m a believer that if you don’t perform, you shouldn’t have a divine right to play – see Alastair Cook, 2014, see Ian Bell 2015 – but also that if he’s the best player and isn’t letting the side down, for his role, you can lose a lot of ground trying to find someone better. His last test here saw him make his career best, he’s used to the role, and although we laugh about his LBW review skills, he still appears a formidable presence even if he probably doesn’t back it up with stats. His bowling is also really useful for the team as he does perform an important role for Clarke.

Put it this way – if he’s one of your best players, you’re in trouble. If he’s one of your worst players, we’re in trouble. 

6) Will this be Clarke’s final Test series? If so, is Smith ready to fill his shoes? 

You’ll know that better than I, but the mood music appears to suggest Clarke’s coming to the end of the road, and it’s another couple of years before we go out to Australia to get smashed again. He’s won the World Cup, he’ll have another Ashes win in all probability so why not go out on top? I’m not sure what drives him these days.

I don’t really have a feel for Smith’s captaincy, and part of me thinks it is a little too soon. You have a tendency to not play retired captains, and he is just 26. If Australia will stick with him for 8 years even if the results turn for the worse then fine. I don’t think the captaincy has such a corrosive effect on Australian captains than it seems to on English ones in terms of batting form.

You can’t fail to be impressed by his attitude, his mental strength and his results. Wind back to our commentary teams (and yes, me) in 2010/11 when we laughed at his selection! Eating humble pie now.

7) The last Ashes series in the UK saw Australia constantly at 5/150 and requiring Haddin to save the day with the bat. Is this likely to happen again? 

Our propensity to go spectacularly off the rails when it comes to lower order batsmen is gaining legendary status. I have genuine fear that this will be a major difference in the two teams. We are simply not good at blowing away the tail. We don’t have express pace, not really, and we don’t have a spin bowler on form who can tease them out. If you want Exhibit A of this monumental inability, we refer to Day 4 at Headingley – this year it was at New Zealand tailenders, last year it was Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath. We were pitiful. Haddin was a key last time, but he also, often got a lower order player to stay with him once the top order man he was with got out. It takes two to make partnerships.

So the ball goes into Brad Haddin’s court. Is he the same player as 18 months ago or are there now too many miles on the clock? Are the manner of his dismissals the sign of the twilight of a career? Was the 2013/14 series just a freak?

Frankly, I don’t think you’ll be 150/5 (this is an England piece, so not putting the numbers the wrong way around) very often. I think we’ll make pitches to make it a batting contest, and not feed your strengths. It’s why I fear what David Warner might do.

8) Haddin is averaging less with the bat that Nathan Lyon over the last 12 Test matches. Should Australia be worried about this, given his keeping is at the top its game? 

As long as he’s not keeping a Gilchrist-like figure out of the team, and he’s not a total liability with the bat, then fine. To turn the debate around, we brought Prior back into the test team last summer (with a tear in his achilles that turned out to be career-ending) and held back Jos Buttler. We all thought it was madness at the time, and were proved right. Prior wasn’t the same batsman, and was as mobile as a wheelie-bin behind the stumps. Who is backing up Haddin these days (hastily checks tour squad)? Peter Nevill, it seems, who is 29 and not exactly a young gun, but appears to have been picked on a good batting season for New South Wales.

If Haddin gets blown away early in the series, I’d be interested to see if any pressure is exerted from your press.

9) How should Australia play Anderson? Attack or defence? 

You seemed to have little trouble with him last time out. In fact there’s a school of thought that his tour de force at Trent Bridge in 2013 marked the high-water point for James, and it’s been a lot, lot tougher since. If Anderson isn’t taking wickets, we’re in trouble. You were pretty positive against him last time out in Australia, and rather more cautious over here. I don’t think Warner or Smith in particular are going to let him tie you down.

I know Anderson is a source for much of your “bantz” Dennis, but he’s quite a divisive character on the blog. I believe he’s one the diehard, love England regardless section adore, while some of the more cynical, jaded among us believe he got the record because he stayed upright longer than any of our other decent bowlers in the past 20 years.

I think my attitude to him could best be described as “tepid”. I find him remarkably dour and uninteresting, although I can’t ignore 400 test wickets -it’s a fact and he did it. My belief is that if he were around in 2005 bowling like this, I wouldn’t have picked him in our team. There’s a debate over whether he would have replaced Matthew Hoggard, but not for me (as he’d won us the South Africa series with his spell in Jo’burg). The first test will be key in setting the tone. Let Anderson get on top of you, and your batting might struggle to free the shackles. See him off, weather him at Lord’s where he usually performs, and I think you’ll have got the better of him.

10) Is Stokes capable of stealing a game or two off his own bat? 

No. And I like Ben Stokes. We see Stokes as a KP figure. He doesn’t appear to march to the disciplinary drum. We had someone like that recently.

The rub on KP, and you knew I’d get him in somewhere, is that individual performances are all well and good, but you need to be a team player, a team man, as if individuality doesn’t count as much in jolly old England. Stokes is almost the ultimate individual. He will play the most idiotic shots to get out, or bowl a load of old nonsense. That is the way he plays. He will get drunk on tour, or he’ll punch a locker, and the old heads and the stuffed shirts will sniff and snort, and want to teach him a lesson. I fear for him. He’s not nice amiable Jos, who won’t say a controversial word. He’s brash. He’ll give it a go.

Stokes had a brilliant Lord’s test against New Zealand, and immediately it’s “Flintoff this” or “Botham that” from our hyperbolic press or ECB-TV. There was great focus on his record paced 100, but it wasn’t even his best innings of the match. It was the 90-odd he made in the first innings, pulling us out of the 30/4 mire we were in. He got the two big beasts of New Zealand batting in the second innings, but his bowling is erratic, and while there is a lot of promise there, he’s still not a key cog in the bowling wheel as the other two mentioned above were. He’s the fourth one used, and there is no doubt that is his place.

That said, he’s exciting, he’s got talent, he has an attitude, he plays with passion and his heart on his sleeve. We’re a nation that loves that, when we’re winning, or when that individual is successful. But once that individual has a dip in form, watch out. As we saw last year when the media piled into him over his locker-punching incident and his inability to provide anything last summer. They’ll take the good times and be over him in the bad. That’s us. I think you call it “tall poppy syndrome”.

11) Which Englishmen are likely to quit mid series this time?

Ah. Damien Martyn syndrome, you mean? Well, if we’re 3-0 down I would imagine Alastair Cook might have to quit as captain, but then again, I thought he’d have gone ages ago. Anderson would be the likeliest, or maybe Broad, but they would be extreme long shots. I think Bell is more likely to be dropped than quit.

That tour was such a disaster it makes you wonder what was really going on. We are still wondering!!!!

12) Swann was the difference last time in the UK. Is Moeen any chance of getting close to having Swanns impact? Why no Rashid?

Ian Bell was the difference in the last series, and Stuart Broad too (as well as a one man show with the ball by Anderson at Trent Bridge) so I don’t agree with the immediate contention. Moeen Ali is, by most people’s definition, a decent county bat and a decent spin bowler, but he’s nowhere near Swann’s level. We did what we usually do as a media in this country – blow too much smoke up his arse when he has a couple of decent performances, and then say we told you so when he struggles. He now bats at 8, which is scandalous for a man with his ability if not results, and his bowling has been disappointing if you compare it to his early days.

Rashid is an unknown quantity to me in the long form of the game. I’m not a Yorkie, my county plays second division cricket, and I don’t like judging spin bowlers on one day form? Why no Rashid? Well, ask the brains trust out in the Caribbean that. He wasn’t played in the first game, supposedly, because he bowled badly in the nets. And boy, were we told he bowled badly in the nets. Again and again and again. That’s the way we roll. After that, Moeen came straight back into the team, and not pulled up any trees. It doesn’t look promising.

My thanks for Dennis’s co-operation, and he has expressed an interest in being on the Ashes panel this summer. It was a lot of fun for me putting the questions and answers together last weekend. Remember, Dennis can be found on his blog – http://dennisdoescricket.com/ – and on Twitter https://twitter.com/DennisCricket_ or @DennisCricket_ – so follow his unsubtle (unfunny, always!) japes at our expense……

An Ashes Exchange Of Views – Part 1 – Dmitri Asks, Dennis Answers

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As part of this blog’s build up to the Ashes, I got in touch with perennial doubter of all things English, a pox on our establishment, the itch we cannot scratch, but once I’d finished talking to myself (again) I wrote to Dennis of Dennis Does Cricket (in)fame(y) to exchange some questions in the run-up to the Ashes. In Part 1, I have Dennis’s views on 10 questions I posed, with an open-ended bit at the end.

So, here goes chaps. Dennis speaks. Feel free to comment.

1. Last time we met, it was 5-0. Ask a lot of England fans a few months ago and we’d have predicted the same (with some caveats for the weather). What do Aussies think the score will be?

Before I answer this, let’s address your caveat. Don’t you find it amazing that the English created a sport that is reliant on the weather?

In Australia, we think Hobart is a cold and wet place. The next land you hit going south is Antarctica. 16% of Australia’s rain fall sin Tasmania.

But as it turns out, the UK is closer to the North Pole than Tasmania is to the South Pole.

Anyhow, I digress.

I would suggest that Australians are still rather optimistic about the Ashes result. England couldn’t beat the West Indies. Hell, you even lost a Test to them. How does that happen? You couldn’t win the Test series against New Zealand at home. Last year you lost to Sri Lanka at home. You did beat India, but who doesn’t when they are on the road? I almost forgot that you let Ishant Sharma bounce you out with an old ball at Lord’s.

So, given that and given you have a horrible captain and given your Test side hasn’t had the positive change like the ODI side and given the fact that Australia hasn’t lost a Test for two years and given man for man, England probably don’t win even one spot, Australia will win the Ashes easily.

4-0. Nah, stuff it. 5-0.

2. Are you persuaded by the new vibe coming from England of “positive” cricket? Lots of us were surprised in the New Zealand test series by a change in attitude. You buying it?

In the ODI space, yes.

But let’s look at the Test space. In both the West Indies and New Zealand series, England were 1-0 up. Then this so called ‘positive’ cricket vibe suddenly drained away and they lost the final Test.

That’s two chokes in a row. The South African culture is strong in the ECB.

So no, in the Test space, I don’t buy it. Cook is not a leader who creates positive vibes. Bell is out of form. Ballance has been found out. Broad is struggling. Moeen may not last until the third Test before being dropped.

There is no positive vibe when half the team is scared of losing their place in the side. I know this because I watched Australia pre-Boof.

3. I read that you didn’t think Ryan Harris should make the team? England fans palpitate at the very mention of his name. Is he really not going to play?

My detailed thoughts are documented in this article: http://dennisdoescricket.com/ryan-harris-isnt-in-australias-best-xi/

If you remove the emotive element, I can’t see how Harris plays in the First Test. The other three amigos just bowled Australia to a World Cup win and tore up the West Indies.

You don’t split up a winning formula. Harris hasn’t bowled competitively since the New Year’s Day Test in Sydney.

However, every time I watch this video, I second guess this stance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrdNjB9urZE (Available, it seems, only to Australian viewers)

4. In 2013 we were hearing big things about James Pattinson. Now we are hearing big things about Josh Hazlewood. Should we take them seriously?

James was coming along swimmingly until he got injured. Don’t judge him on his brother’s efforts for England.

Unfortunately for James, the list of available fast bowlers in Australia is longer than the English tail.

Johnson, Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins, Pattinson, Harris, Bird, Siddle……and so on.

Hazlewood is the real deal. He is like Peter Siddle from the last series, but just 10 kph faster, gets more bounce and with Glenn McGrath’s lines.

Hazlewood is the reason why I don’t see an easy way for Harris to walk straight back in to the team.

5. Is Steve Smith lucky or great?

You don’t get to the number one ranked Test batsmen in the world by being simply lucky. In fact, his ranking points exceed anything Brian Lara achieved.

However, that doesn’t make him great, but he is well on the way. So is Joe Root and Kane Williamson.

In 2013, I wrote that if Smith gave up the leg spin and focused on his batting, he could become the next Steve Waugh. That won’t happen now as Smith is Australia’s number 3, rather than hiding at 4 or 5 like Waugh did and Root does now.

This Ashes should see Smith as the leading run maker. His form is that good. His technique ensures it is hard to bog him down. He plays spin brilliantly. He has cross bat shots. He can skamper quick singles.

His get out shot at the moment is either the pull shot bottom edged on to middle stump or the run out. England should set plans for both of these possible eventualities.

6. Who is commentating on this series for the Australian viewers. Will James Brayshaw be anywhere near it?

I’m not sure, except to say that Channel Nine are bringing over their own crew, rather than relying on Sky.

I think this is a poor outcome for Australian cricket fans.

The positive is that we get to see every match live on Free To Air television. No need for a Sky subscription in this part of the world. Remember that argument that there is no market for Test cricket on terrestial TV? The ECB are selling you a lemon.

7. Our older core of Broad, Anderson and Cook get a ton of stick from you. Which one of them do you fear might do you the most damage in this series?

None of them.

Anderson will take his 4 wickets a match. 2 or 3 of them will be lower order batsmen. This is not a prediction based on guesswork. It is based on historical fact and statistics. That makes him no better than Peter Siddle. Do England [rate] the banana eater?

Broad has the ability to take a quick 2 or 3 wickets with the new ball because he attacks, but his control is gone. Watching him bowl against New Zealand and the West Indies, he was way too short.

Cook will make a century somewhere, but I’d be surprised if he averages over 35 this series. The bowling attack is just too strong and Australia love to attack the opposing skipper. We will be given no free space to settle.

8. We’re all a bit keen on Joe Root at the moment who is in brilliant form. What’s your view on what you’ve seen?

I love him. Australia love him. He shows grit and attacks the game. He is mouthy in the field. He shows no fear.

The Root v Smith battle will be amazing.

9. Two of your older players are question marks. Shane Watson seems nailed on, am I right? And is Brad Haddin’s lack of form terminal or will he get it back playing against us again?

Both should be under strong scrutiny.

Watson looks much better at number 6 rather than at 1,2 or 3. However, even at number 6, he doesn’t produce like he should. This is especially evident when the contenders for his spot are Mitch Marsh (lost his place due to injury), James Faulkner (the last decent all rounder to play an Ashes Test for Australia in the UK but lost his place due to injury), Moises Henriques (not available due to injury) and Glenn Maxwell (will get another chance at some stage).

The other option is that Australia back their three quicks and Lyon, and then play a proper number 6 batsman. That would mean that Shaun Marsh and Voges both play. Perhaps a batting order or Warner, Rogers, Smith, Marsh, Clarke, Voges, Haddin.

Haddin was the saviour the last time we visited your Britain of Greatness. How pompous is that name?

In the last 12 Test matches, Nathan Lyon has averaged more with the bat than Haddin. That said, Haddin’s keeping is as good as anyone in the world at the moment. That is worth a wicket or two an innings, possibly off-setting any potential batting losses.

The understudy keeper is a guy named Neville. No, that’s his surname. His First Class batting average is 44. He is also much better with the gloves than say Buttler, Bairstow or Billings.

10. Give us a name that might surprise us from the Aussie party – I think I know who it might be – and one you think might give you some grief from England.

Nathan Lyon is the guy. This unassuming ex-Adelaide Oval groundsman will play the role that Graeme Swann played for you last time we met in the Northern Hemisphere.

He has slowed down his pace, allowing for more flight and drift. He creates more chances than even the quicks. He gets bounce. He gets great turn. His arm ball is brilliant. He is the best number 11 in the world.

Lyon will spin Australia to at least two wins on Day 4 or 5.

The person Australia would fear most is probably Rashid, but he won’t play until the ECB drop Moeen Ali. That won’t happen until after the series is lost.

Ben Stokes is probably good for a quick 80 somewhere and a 4 fer

11. Finally – Open House. What’s on your mind DDC with this series?

To be honest, I’m mostly looking forward to re-aquainting myself with the English cricket fans via social media and my site. Most are very knowledgeable about the game and I have made many friends due to being active during the previous few Ashes.

In a cricketing sense, seeing how Mitch Johnson goes this time around will be interesting. Does he still scare the bejesus out of you guys? He should.

I fear Australia’s batting depth may not be as strong as some imagine. I sense Warner is in for a shocker and Clarke is on his last legs. Add Haddin and Watson to that mix, and we have a potential problem. However, I could be completely wrong. Remember what Warner did on his last tour to South Africa? Yes, he got his girlfriend pregnant, but he also stood up when under the most immense pressure.

C’mon Aussie C’mon!!!!

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My huge thanks to Dennis for participating in this exercise. We cooked it up on Saturday morning, and we threw ourselves into it. He’ll be re-linking this on his site, and my answers to his questions will be going up soon – http://dennisdoescricket.com/ , and no doubt we’ll be discussing the series during the next few weeks. Catch him on Twitter too @DennisCricket_ or his podcast, Can’t Bowl, Can’t Throw – the latest edition of which has Mr Roland Butcher’s Hook himself, Mr David Oram, to listen to.

I’ll just steer him on the Great Britain thing….

The classical writer, Ptolemy, referred to the larger island as great Britain (megale Britannia) and to Ireland as little Britain (mikra Brettania) in his work, Almagest (147–148 AD).[23] In his later work, Geography (c. 150 AD), he gave these islands the names[24] Alwion[sic], Iwernia, and Mona (the Isle of Man), suggesting these may have been native names of the individual islands not known to him at the time of writing Almagest.[25] The name Albion appears to have fallen out of use sometime after the Roman conquest of Great Britain, after which Britain became the more commonplace name for the island called Great Britain.[18]

The Ashes 2015: A review

So there we have it, the Ashes are done, the teams are exhausted and now it’s time to look back on the series.

The series got off to a bad start when the Australian team were held at border control at the Severn Bridge on the M4.  Protesting that “but we’re in England, right mate?” only seemed to make things worse, as Darren Lehmann asked the High Commissioner to issue a formal protest over the visa charge of £6.50 per head.  David Warner was seen looking baffled as explanations about the difference between England and the United Kingdom were made, and matters weren’t helped when Alex Salmond somehow got hold of Darren Lehmann’s mobile number.  Steve Smith was briefly detained due to an unfortunate mix up where they found his name on a watchlist, being released only when it became apparent he really did know nothing about rugby.

So it was a petulant team who finally arrived at the Holiday Inn, Cardiff. An annoyed Mitchell Johnson went off to check the pitch only to return after 10 minutes complaining that while very big, the ground was the wrong shape for cricket.  Given such a start to the series, the ECB felt it appropriate to mend some fences, and sent their best diplomat, Giles Clarke, around to smooth things over.  Rumours that Tony Abbott subsequently approached the USA about buying Trident can now be safely dismissed as untrue and entirely unrelated.

The morning of the first Test dawned bright and sunny, catching out Stuart Broad, who assumed the first day would be rained off and turned up late.  A capacity crowd of at least 750 were in the ground eagerly anticipating the toss.  It’s probably after this point that England fans noticed things starting to go wrong.

Certainly being 65-6 at lunch wasn’t in the plan, though journalists were quick to highlight how brilliantly Cooky batted for his 14 runs.  Indeed, Stephen Brenkley received a British Press Award for his 3,000 word treatise on how he played and missed “with aplomb”.  Straussy wrecked any chance of a Pullitzer by calling the committee “c****s” (except in the Guardian, where they printed it in full – Selvey saying it was the “moment of the series”) for their outrageous decision to exclude it from consideration on the grounds of not being American.

Joe Root was exceptionally careless to be timed out, and his protest that he was waiting for that tall South African bloke to go in at four cut little ice with the critics.  England did at least improve a little after lunch, with Jos Buttler skilfully marshalling the tail before being left high and dry on 2 not out.

As would be seen throughout the summer, England were far from out of it.  With hindsight, making Anderson bowl from both ends all day probably didn’t help his longevity in the series, but it wasn’t until Edgbaston that the umpires had to step in claiming that crawling to the crease on hands and knees was slowing the over rate down too much.

Yet with Australia teetering on 372-5, Stuart Broad spoke to the team at length during tea, berating his colleagues for failing to follow the plan.  Thereafter things went much better, as Brad Haddin was in all sorts of trouble to the short ball, finally being put out his misery for a mere 137 with 19 sixes.

With an uphill battle to save the game, Cooky strode to the middle.  A dazzling array of plays and misses and edges through the slips led to criticism that Michael Clarke had failed to learn the lessons of 2013.  Mike Gatting on Radio Five took one look at the wagon wheel of the innings and concluded it was ten past one and went for lunch, wondering why he had such a craving for marshmallow covered in chocolate.

England fought valiantly, and nearly got away with the draw.  Anderson and Wood were left with a mere 193 overs to survive and got 4 balls into that before Wood was wrongly given out lbw off his fetlock – Stuart Broad having blown the reviews claiming that his leg stump wasn’t on the ground at all.

It was a chastened team at the presentation, Trevor Bayliss being seen muttering to himself while reaching for a pack of Benson and Hedges.  Cooky spoke well about not executing their skills, learning from the game and taking the positives – particularly Stephen Brenkley, who he felt was the right kind of journalist with the right kind of newspaper.

In the Sky Sports studio, Atherton confused Shane Warne by saying that England were losing to win, although Warne’s response was sadly edited out by the ECB Media Compliance Committee producer before anyone could see it.

Media reaction was swift and merciless.  Mike Selvey wrote that the main problem was that Adil Rashid was causing discontent in the camp by scoring an unbeaten century and taking 23 wickets for Yorkshire on the same day, while Paul Newman wrote that Kevin Pietersen’s “morning, lovely day” tweet had divided the dressing room, with born and bred Lancastrian Jos Buttler taking particular exception – his reply of “It is, isn’t it” being scanned for underlying hatred.

And so the second Test approached.  With four days between matches, Andy Flower intervened, sending Jimmy Anderson on a walk from John O’Groats to Lands End as a warm up.  It certainly had an effect, and England were an entirely different side. After an unfortunate injury in the warm up, where Ian Bell was shot with a champagne cork from a local miner on his day off, England had to make a late replacement.  A mystery player known only as Kay PeesorryQueueoopsmadeamistake was firstly drafted in, before Director Comma Cricket Andrew “Straussy” Strauss leapt up from his sedan chair, saying the accent was a bit iffy.

Winning the toss, Australia were soon in trouble.  David Warner was arrested for starting a fight with some of the schoolchildren present, his defence that he thought it was Joe Root sledging him not being accepted by the local magistrate.  Anderson ripped through the top order, using the conditions to good effect as the ball rolled down the slope.  Numerous swipes in vain saw the batsmen bowled time and again, while Shane Watson was lbw.

After such a troubled and controversial start, relations between the teams improved thankfully, Ryan Harris crouching low, putting an arm around James Anderson, adjusting his oxygen tank for him and offering him full use of his knees. Alastair Cook then picked up a suspended ban for not completing the 90 overs in the day as an hour’s delay ensued with the crowd helping the two bowlers back to their feet.

With England feeling in the ascendant, they went on the attack with the bat.  Ben Stokes destroyed the Australian bowling, pinging them to all parts for 260 not out – though quite rightly the press focused on Cook’s admittedly fine 84.  Their partnership of 260 was a sight to behold. England’s dominant position was enforced as the tail wagged, and Jos Buttler reached the heights of getting to 4* before the innings closed.

Darren Lehmann, clearly unimpressed with Australia’s efforts, called for a traditional Aussie approach, and certainly Warner’s day release from custody attached to a ball and chain indicated his words had gone home.  Despite the enormous first innings deficit, they attacked.  There was a slight hiatus when Warner hit the ball attached to him into the pavilion by mistake, but since it landed in Giles Clarke’s champagne George Dobell was seen to laugh so hard he had to be taken to hospital.  In his absence, Jarrod Kimber simply added 350 to the Australian score on Cricinfo.  Peter Moores rang up the ECB Sky pointing out that the data didn’t add up, but unfortunately no-one there could remember who he was, and so Australia got away with it.  Malcolm Conn was the first to react tweeting “That’s for Bodyline, you filthy pommie bastards” before writing an article titled “No offence”.

With England set 200 to win, Cooky decided to get out his inner funk.  Graham Gooch had pointed out that he was far more vulnerable to getting out if he batted, and so taking that on board, reversed the batting order.  Channel 5’s highlights included a 24 minute section of Simon Hughes in the tactics truck moaning with pleasure at the genius of the idea.   England scraped home, mostly thanks to Anderson’s 99.  It got tense towards the end as Australia fought back, but fortunately Jos Buttler stood firm, finishing 6 not out as wickets tumbled around him.  The captain scored the winning run, and was promptly knighted by a grateful public.

With the series so finely poised, it was a great shame that the next two Tests were washed out.  No refunds were given to spectators, as it was considered that highlights of the 2005 series on the big screen were now to be assumed as being part of play.  Some complaints were made that the series as shown was incomplete, but the ECB’s PR department pointed out that the last day of the Oval Test had been sadly cancelled in 2005 and they’d not missed anything.

For the denouement there were a few debates to be had in selection.  Mitchell Johnson had made himself unavailable after Brian May had called him up for the forthcoming Queen comeback tour, but Lehmann had rubbished criticism of the timing by stating that Australia had endless stocks of interchangeable Mitches and the side wouldn’t be affected. With England wondering about their batting line up, the selectors were seen in discussions long into the night.  A conclusion was reached when Straussy Strauss was seen carrying a trowel and smiling as plaintive Afrikaans cries were heard behind a bricked up wall.   England had one other question mark over their side, as Wood unfortunately fell at the fourth fence at Haydock two days before the game, but having been given a clean bill of health by England assistant physio Jimmy Herriot he took his place in the stalls for the start.

Alastair Cook scored a fine hundred, causing Aggers to squeak for an hour on air, so overcome was he.  Pope Francis resigned, David Cameron announced to a hushed Parliament that he was giving way to a much better man, with a much better family, and the US Congress passed what became known at the Cooky-wooky Act allowing foreign born Gods people to stand for the Presidency.  Perhaps the greatest tribute of all came from Geoffrey Boycott who stated to a shocked nation that he was nearly as good as his granny.

England were certainly confident having scored over 400 (Jos Buttler 8*) but Australia weren’t out of it by any means.  Chris Rodgers had escaped from the McCarthy and Stone sheltered accommodation where he was staying, and set about clearing the deficit.  There was one flare up when he accidentally trod on the umpires toes going for a second run, and Stuart Broad squared up to him asking if he was having a go at him.  Rodgers quietly pointed out that it wasn’t the square leg umpire and calm descended, but it was an awkward moment.

A mid innings collapse (Shane Watson, lbw 0) left Australia with a small deficit, and England were back in to bat.  A hush descended on the ground, punctuated only by the occasional South African accented “let me out” heard in the direction of the OCS Stand.  Cooky-wooky-woo-wah headed out to the middle and as one, they all rose and sang the oratorio from Handel’s Messiah – fortunately the ECB had been prepared and issued all spectators with lyric sheets as part of the Conditions of Ground Admittance.

Ben Stokes was the star of the innings, having sneaked out to bat when no one was looking.  Paul Downton – special guest of the ECB – was overheard to say that this bloke looked rather good, and why hadn’t he been around when he was MD?  Giles Clarke was equally confused, having seen no reference of Cockermouth in the Independent Schools List.  Joe Root gave valuable support, making Boycott declare unilateral independence for Yorkshire during the tea break, while Jos Buttler’s quickfire 9 not out added to the swelling total.

With Australia set 300 to win, the game and the series was in the balance.  All was going well for the visitors, with England’s bowlers unable to take a single wicket.  Fortunately for them, Shane Watson ran out 6 batting partners and burst into tears in the middle.  With the tension building, Australia 9 down and with victory only a hit away, there came that moment.  And we all know what happened then.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

Book Review – Put To The Test by Geoffrey Boycott

boycs book

On my very occasional visits to Hay-on-Wye (I’ve been there twice), I head out looking for older cricket books, and often they can be snagged for a pound, maybe two. I have picked up a number of the Boycott books from the late 70s, early 80s, where he wrote a tour diary about his fortunes, and often with blisteringly honest critiques of his team-mates. It’s the sort of book that could never be written now. It’s from a bygone age. But for all that, this Boycott book reads of a man in crisis and it is better for it. It seems real.

This particular book relates to the Ashes series of 1978/9, in the midst of the Packer Revolution, with an Australian team lacking its main stars. It is largely disregarded by the Australian cognoscenti on the grounds we were playing their 2nd XI, and thus the 3-0 hammering we received the following year (in a non-Ashes series) is more of a true reflection of the two sides at the time.

The book is couched within the first chapter when Geoffrey gets his excuses in early. He had been sacked as Yorkshire captain – oh don’t we miss those brutal fraternal wars in that quaint old county – and had the terrible sadness of his much beloved mother passing away. Geoffrey, as one of those highly paid gurus would no doubt have said, was not in a good place. So excuses may be a bit harsh, but I’m not going to call them reasons…

The book takes us through a tour that seems to be played on nothing but rubbish pitches. Look at the scores in the tests. Barely anyone has a good series with the bat. Rodney Hogg stands out with his bowling figures, but the teams are all over the place, and there are no draws. England find themselves in difficult positions in many of the games, but pull themselves out of them with a lot of luck and a lot of help from poor captaincy, dropped catches and bad play. Boycott himself has an awful tour with the bat, but even then Sir G is a front-runner for modern thinking, as the epilogue has a wonderful bit where he takes the positives.

Boycott pulls apart Yallop’s captaincy, while also getting the hump early in the tour that he wasn’t being listened to, but then being fulsome in praise of Brearley for asking him his views once that concern had been raised. Brearley does seem to apply remarkable common sense in most of his dealings, from what I can see. I think Geoff really liked Derek Randall, even though he really wasn’t his kind of player, and his 150 in the Sydney Test, when England had just lost the 3rd in Melbourne to lead 2-1, and had conceded a first innings lead of 142, was the deciding factor in the series. Then Randall’s contributions seemed to fade away.

There’s some interesting stuff throughout. England’s former run scoring record holder, Gooch, is still without a test hundred, and would go another two years before getting one. Brearley seems to get the solid start off to a tee more than Geoffrey, and this book is very noticeable by a lack of comments on that. There’s lots of praise in there for those who surpassed themselves, including Bob Taylor, who made a 97 in the 5th test that pretty much secured the game. But Boycs does show his frustrations with Botham’s batting and bowling, Gower getting out the same way, but he is borderline effusive on Brearley:

“I watched Brearley pretty closely…..and I consider he did a magnificent job on and off the field.”

This is also cricket from a byegone era, and it makes me feel old reading it, because this is the first overseas highlights I ever remember watching (I was 8). There is plenty running through the piece on bouncers, and the almost quaint “no bouncing list” that existed (yes, people were protected from having bouncers bowled at them if they were crap batsmen). It was more understandable given helmets were in their infancy in those days, but reading it makes me feel old.

Boycott has a pop at the umpires “they assumed an air of infallibility which their decisions did not always bear out” and at the Aussie crowds “The Hill at Sydney used to be amusing, sharp and cutting, but not unfriendly; now it is simply foul-mouthed and crude.” He wasn’t pleased with the pitches “The great Don Bradman himself once remarked that nobody expected Joe Davis to play snooker on a bumpy table” and Yallop’s captaincy also came under his microscope, with one exchange with Rodney Hogg an example of how the new captain struggled to assert authority. Boycott also rails against sledging and over-appealing, and the former debate still lingers on.

A really interesting read, and although just over 180 pages of text, none the worse for its relative brevity. Highly recommended if you can lay your hands on it. It is big boy/girl cricket writing. Honest, frank, informative, descriptive and free from cliche, management-speak, taking the positive speak (with one caveat) and dealing in nicknames. It’s a book that covers the debut of Allan Border (which all those who wish to dismiss this series Down Under should contemplate) and the force of nature that was Rodney Hogg. There are also familiar themes – the running between the wickets of Graeme Wood runs through this like a stick of rock – and the ODIs in this book look like the belong in Roman times compared to today’s high octane stuff.

A book like that today would be media managed out of existence. James Anderson once said that the ECB amended about 200 pages in his book (he may have been joking) and yet although I have it on my Kindle rack, I’ve not read (but also not heard anything controversial about it either). If you wonder why I am so nostalgic, books like this are the reason why. Honest accounts, dealt with in an adult manner. It’s actually quite refreshing.