“Taking Full Responsibility” – Day 2 at Hagley, Day 7 of Haggling

It was a good day.

Ice Cube probably had slightly better than a recovery from 30 odd for 5 in mind when talking about a decent 24 hours in Los Angeles, but given what England have been through this winter, having the opposition in strife has to qualify as the best of times. The early inroads after Bairstow had completed his hundred put England really in charge, and with the two men, it seemed, really capable of taking the game away from England by going long (Taylor and Williamson) back in the pavilion, England had visions of a substantial lead, of well over 150 runs. Stuart Broad had made the main inroads, pitching the ball up, getting the edges, and as he said, beating both sides of the bat.

I have to say I’ve not seen a lot, despite suffering from a bit of insomnia. I’m too busy trying to shut my brain off than watch England. The bits I did see were wicketless. I saw Mark Wood bang it in short, and when he didn’t get any wickets with it, carried on banging it in short, at one time hitting BJ Watling. I’d seen de Grandhomme latch on to early short stuff and get his innings going. I feared the worst. I tweeted that I was going to sleep (and I was successful) and wondered how we would let the hosts off the hook. When I woke up I was just grateful to see we had got one of them out.

At this point you have to tip your hat to BJ Watling. He’s a bloody good cricketer. In amongst all the hoopla of 2015, the Ashes, the Cook hundred, the Stokes performance at Lord’s, the wicket-keeper batsman’s feisty, energetic second innings century at Headingley set the visitors up for a famous victory. He has participated in two mammoth sixth wicket stands in his time as well. He is under-rated, overlooked and bleedin’ pesky. When the bigwigs of world cricket talk about great keeper-batsmen, he’s never mentioned. He’s a little diamond, and well worth a place at number 6. He’s 77 not out. He averages more with the bat than Ben Stokes, He’s pulled New Zealand away from out of sight to in with a sniff. These are big runs.

Stuart Broad was the pick of the bowlers with his four wickets, and that’s to be celebrated. It’s clear the bowler himself is pleased with the results of going back to basics and putting in a ton of effort to right what he saw were his technical issues. As the point is raised often, there is no-one kicking the door down to take his or Jimmy’s place. Broad is a positive thinker, given his interview answers, and if this builds his confidence, then great. I saw none of the wickets. I’ve not seen the highlights yet. I suppose I need to take his, and the pundits’, words for it.

Now, and you can turn off if the Australian business is too much, what I was awake for was the David Warner interview. You may, or may not, know that in the past week the Being Outside Cricket feed on Twitter has, as the saying goes, been “going off”. We get a ton of looks, responses, and a boost in new followers. It started with a crap joke, but now we get lots of interesting comments. Chris was all over it last night, at the same time as I was making less of an impression on my own – that’s showbiz! What we were both on the same page with was how this is getting silly. That there seems little way that any of this is confined just to the three bad apples who have sniffled their way through press conferences.

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Do you know who that is, with Cricket Australia merchandise on, holding the door open? Unless I’m very much mistaken that is our friend, and everyone else’s, Malcolm Conn. A supposed hardened journalist, who praised all those scribes in attendance at Smiffy’s Sniffles, acting as doorman and enforcer when the press got a little out of line, trying to commit the heinous crime of following up a question that David Warner thought could be answered by “I take full responsibility”. Conn, as you may know, is a personal favourite of mine. He accuses everyone outside of Australia of all sorts, while never seeing a single sin in his own nation. The one where he accused us of pitch doctoring in a test where three of the four innings were over 300, and his team saw a very dry pitch and decided not to pick Nathan Hauritz (and from a home team in 1999 that produced THAT Sydney wicket, picked three spinners, one of who opened the bowling, and told us that we should produce better spinners). The one who went mad over urinating on the wicket in the dark. The whole problem those outside Australia see with their cricket, and their attitude to it is their sanctimony. They are holier than thou. They talk down to the rest while not mending the roof at home. They put this man, Malcolm Conn, the poster child for the sort of attitude we despise in charge of the press arrangements? Are they ever going to learn?

Warner said nothing of note. He omitted something of note, as Alison Mitchell just pointed out on the Debate. He never once said it was just those three. It was just culpability for his own mistakes. At one point I wondered if Cricket Australia was holding his kids hostage until afterwards. Managing Warner is going to be Australia’s biggest test, but from the perspective of containment, last night worked. Any ranting and raging from now on and it’ll be “well he had the chance to say it earlier so why believe him now”. LBJ’s famous urination linked to camping quote comes to mind!

In other news, Australia are getting buried in Johannesburg. South Africa making just short of 500, with Bavuma stranded on 95, and Australia on 110 for 6. Those wags pointing out there was not much reverse swing going on today will be forced to speak with Malcolm Conn and the Integrity Unit.

Alex Hales is replacing David Warner at Sunrisers Hyderabad. That’s good news for his bank account and the white ball practice he will get. I’m not entirely sure why he wasn’t picked up in the initial bidding, but he will be relieved to get a chance. As with many teams, though, there’s no certainty he’ll be regular. Here’s their squad.

The Australian women won the T20 triangular series in India, beating England handily. Malcolm was really mad on that. He’s tweeted more about women’s cricket this week than addressing the incident on Saturday. Not that I’m beating him with a stick.

Zimbabwe have sacked their captain after the World Cup Qualifying campaign came up short. It’s been hard to feel sympathy for Zimbabwe in the past, given their hiding under test status, but now it’s the opposite. Would the World Cup really suffer from the presence of any of the Super Six contenders? Would Sikander Raza not shine on the top stage? I don’t know.

Then there is the ECB and their potential legal action against George Dobell and ESPN Cricinfo, as reported by Charlie Sale in the Mail. Obviously we have to be careful, but if this is Colin Graves taking a comment at him and taking umbrage, I have to say that the optics are “mediocre” to say the least.

No promises, but I might try to live blog some of this evening. Given I’ve slept most of the afternoon, I think I might be awake tonight! A key day, with New Zealand aiming to get up to England’s total. The thought is that the third day will be the best for batting, and the new ball is 31 deliveries away. BJ Watling is the key, and yet we know, from Mark Wood, that once in, there are runs in the hills. Then it will be the turn of the faltering England batting line-up to set up a total. It is time for the big men to stand up. Jonny Bairstow’s century has pulled us out of the mire. We know that we can put ourselves in it very easily.

Comments below, of course. My thanks to all of you participating on Twitter and below the line in the past few weeks. You may have noticed the counter is now over 990k. We’re closing in folks!

UPDATE – LIVE BLOGGING

11:30 – The final ball of last night’s unfinished over is seen off, and it’s Stokes opening from the other end. Southee takes two off the second ball. Eyes on the BBC feed from Joshua v Parker. As I say that Stokes serves up a long hop, Southee clatters it for 6. Nice of England to play him in. 200 for 6.

11:35 – 11th seed Loyola Chicago have closed the gap on Michigan in the Final Four. Meanwhile Mark Wood, he of the 42 bowling average is on, and BJ scampers a single off the second ball of the over. They say Wood offers something different and becomes a much better bowler when he doesn’t play. Joshua v Parker is into the last round. Southee crunches a four straight back at Wood to move on to 25. He pulls the next ball for 4, and it’s 209 for 6.

11:38 – Stokes back on to play the batsmen in some more. Red Sox up 1-0 in the top of the third innings. Joshua v Parker has gone to points, and Ben Stokes is bowling up around 75-80 mph, and bowls a maiden. Remains 209 for 6.

11:42 – Jack Leach is on, and bowling to Tim Southee. Say your prayers. Joshua won, by the way. Sounded dull. Southee smashes the second ball for 4, straight back, and not a million miles from Leach (who might have touched it). Leach floats the next one up, which is brave, it gets clattered but straight to mid on. Floats the next one which Southee belts straight to mid on and takes a single. Shouldn’t have been one there. Last ball to Watling is also a single. 215 for 6.

11:46 – Stokes ambles in, and doing a tight job at the moment, that clatter from Southee aside. Soon as I say that Watling gets a four through third man. That’s the only runs from the over, and it is 219 for 6. The new ball is due.

11:50 – The working assumption is that the new ball is going to end the innings. The first ball from Anderson swings away from Southee’s bat. The problem with the assumption is England haven’t been adept at blowing away tails. Southee wafts at another outswinger second up. Southee pokes a single into the offside off the fourth ball. Alan Butcher tells us to “move on” on Twitter, which is a red rag to this particular bull! Watling gets a single off the 5th, through the gully. Southee straight drives the last ball, gets four, and England heads start to drop. 225 for 6.

11:54 – Broad on. Hello Santiago! Broad bowling at 134 kph, which is Stokes’ speed. 226 for 6. Did I miss a run when I checked in on the Red Sox (still 1-0 but Porcello has put two on in the third). Yes, looks like Watling got a single.

11:58 – CASTLED. Beautiful outswinger does for Anderson, pitching it on middle and leg and hitting off with a beautiful shape. Off pole out of the ground. 226 for 7.

BJ Watling  Bowled Anderson 85

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00:01 – Ish Sodhi gets off the mark first ball. Southee then squirts one down to third man for four and moves on to 43. Cut in half with the fifth ball, Southee blocks the last and it is 231 for 7.

00:04 – Porcello got out of the third innings with no runs, so Red Sox still 1-0 up. Some of you may know that I’m a bit of a Red Sox fan. Well, a lot of one. But the cricket is on so I am at your service. No runs off the first three balls. Sodhi gets in a tangle with the fourth ball, but no harm done. Alan Butcher utters the magic words..

Move on. Talking of move on, Stuart Broad bowls a beauty, and Sodhi nicks it to Bairstow and we have our 8th wicket. Broad gets his 5th in this wicket maiden. 231 for 8

Sodhi  Caught Bairstow Bowled Broad  1

00:09 – Anderson back to bowl, to Tim Southee. Second ball he smashes a ball in the air, aimed at square leg, ended up at long stop. 4 more. Leg bye off ball number 3 puts Wagner on strike. Actually given as a run, so Southee goes to 48. Nice inswinger first up to Wagner, but he plays it well. Last ball he somehow plays and misses. 236 for 8. And here comes the vaguely dodgy Paddy Power advert.

00:12 – Southee moves on to 49 with a single from the first ball of Broad’s over. Wagner gets sconed on the fourth ball of Broad’s over just as the commentators were saying he was about to cop some short stuff. While Wagner takes a break, I see number 11 fairytale NCAA team Loyola are 7 points up at the interval having started really slowly. I love the NCAA March Madness. Wagner is back up and we should be rolling soon. Next one is short into the ribs, and Wagner fends it just part boot hill for a single. Southee clips the last ball to deep square for a single and his fourth test fifty in 45 balls.

00:21 – LBW appeal second ball, but England don’t review. Red Sox 2-0 up now. Conceded runs in just one innings so far. Anderson bowls a straight one, Southee goes for the fences and loses his middle stump.

Southee   Bowled Anderson 50

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Trent Boult gets off the mark with a couple of runs, which I missed for a reason. Boult plays a ludicrous straight shot for another couple, clearing his left leg to clump it down the ground. End of the over and it is 243 for 9.

00:28 – Wagner gets a single off the first ball of Broad’s over. Lead down to 63. Not insignificant, but still not as good as England might have hoped. Another WTFWT shot from Boult… but no run. Can’t describe it on a live blog. Nor that one. Dancefloor moves. Needs a yorker. Nope, short, and Boult misses his attempted swat. Boult drives the last ball for two, its 246 for 9 and I’ll be back….

00:37 – Just got back from a natural break to see Wagner clatter a six over fine leg off Anderson. Lead being downgraded from good to useful. Not long before slight, and then negligible. Broad fumbles the ball when a run out looked on. 13 from 5 balls off this over. Now it’s 259 for 9.

00:40 – Broad carries on. So does Wagner, who cuts the ball for 4. Went a bit finer than I thought. Another two as Wagner smashes one into the air over point. You have to laugh. Or not. 265 for 9. No more runs from the over. Another betting advert.

00:46 – Wood on for Anderson who doesn’t look like he’ll get a five for now. Wood bowls a full one first up and Boult carves it over extra cover for 3. Not a million miles from the fielders. New Zealand not far away from England. Mood music not good. Talking of not good, Mark Wood has an appeal turned down against Wagner.

Pour encourager les autres. Wagner clips one through leg side for one, then Boult pulls his left leg away and wipes one through the covers for another 4. This is royally cocking things up. All those calling for the raw pace of Wood, please stand up. I referenced Ice Cube above and now I’m doing Eminem. 273 for 9.

00:52 – Let the carnival continue. Broad around the wicket to Wagner. A single off the third ball of the over to Wagner down to fine leg brings Boult on. Someone stick a sock in that effing trumpet.  Boult lofts Broad down the ground, for another couple. This is silly. Last ball he bowls straight and it is off the middle of Boult’s bat for no run. 276 for 9.

00:58 – Wood back, and Wagner cuffs his second ball down to long leg for another single. We are having a review for caught behind. Bairstow is the one driving this. It doesn’t look to be anything, to be honest, and nothing is registering on snicko. He was so far down legside he might have been outside the sound zone! Not out. I’m now pre-occupied with something else. It’s 278 for 9. All over, and so am I. Night all. Will Cook last to lunch?

278 all out.

 

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A Good Weekend To Bury A Bad Result

Good day to you. It’s test losing day on Being Outside Cricket, and we know what that means. Rancour. Introspection. Anger. Despair. Ambivalence. Wait. Not ambivalence. That never happens here. Imagine what it would be like if this were the Ashes! Instead of that anger, we are probably all still too busy laughing over the other events. No, not Afghanistan winning the World Cup qualifying, or the news Varun Arron is going to play for Leicestershire. But worrying about whether Malcolm Conn is OK. Australia Fair indeed. We’ll come to that.

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Lord Save Me…. Oh, You’ve Got It On Tape?

To England first. Another defeat by an innings away from home, as they came within 20 or so overs of forcing the draw their first innings of 58 didn’t deserve. There were half centuries in the innings for Stoneman, Root, Stokes and Woakes, but none went on to the big century or the 250 ball stay that the situation was going to require. It was certainly a better effort, and survival until later than we probably expected, but it was still very disappointing. England’s record away from home is abominable, and the excuse that no-one is winning really doesn’t wash. India, for example, went to South Africa, lost 2-1, but were competitive all the way. Australia have been pretty competitive in South Africa too (more of that later). We fold like a cheap suit, and it’s not good enough.

But that is the easy bit. Identifying the issue is a bit like identifying why Monday and the horrors of commuting, has to follow Sunday and the relative pleasures of sitting at home watching the Australian media drown in hubris. It just happens (God, that was a bad juxtaposition – Ted Dexter will be after me). Why it happens needs some more deep seated, probably psychological analysis. How has Joe Root stopped getting to 100 in test matches? Why does Stoneman look like a test opener, and then looks so out of his depth? Why does Alastair Cook do “it” so rarely in match saving situations? Why is it just absolutely bleeding obvious that Stokes is worth his place as a batsman alone when he is clearly carrying a back injury? Will Bairstow ever be consistent with the bat while he has wicket-keeping duties? What the bloody hell has happened to Moeen Ali? Is it a measure of our desperation that Dawid Malan’s form is going to be more John Crawley than Graham Thorpe? When will Stuart Broad bowl another one of “those” spells? Would Woakes be in the team if he couldn’t bat? What’s James Vince doing there? What’s Liam Livingstone doing there? What’s Jimmy Anderson really offering these days? Why did Craig Overton have to spoil it all? It’s like an episode of SOAP.

England started the day three down, and didn’t have to wait long to be four down after Malan nicked to Latham at second slip with 10 runs added to the overnight score. Stokes settled in for a decent bat, and Bairstow joined him, which you sensed needed to last well into the second session to give England an earthly. 20 overs of denial, especially from Stokes, followed, but Astle got the England keeper who pulled a long hop to mid-wicket to give the hosts their fifth wicket. England could probably have lost one wicket in the first session, at worst two, but it became three on the stroke of tea when Mooen succumbed, and for all intents and purposes, England had too.

Woakes and Stokes put up a long spell of resistance throughout the second session, and hope started to rise. But this England team have become specialists in hope rising only to be disappointed, and although I’ve not seen it yet, it is the dismissal of Ben Stokes that has the tongues wagging, or keyboard fingers itching, on social media. Another gift wicket, another at the interval, and another hammer blow. He may have made 66, and we are great at having a go at the contributors rather than those who flop, but one wonders just how much more vehement a KP or Ian Bell dismissal in those circumstances might have been treated by the press.

300 for 7 at dinner, England fought gamely for another hour or so, with Woakes completing a half century, but the game was up. When Anderson lofted tamely to end the innings, England had been beaten by an innings.

I know a number of you, including those who don’t comment on here, made/make a bee-line for the site when we lose. They seem to like our sense of anger, our dismay that this is going on, that somehow, if only we’d done things better we might have won. I would normally go off the deep end, usually going at members of the media not giving it to us straight, the ECB pulling the wool over gullible eyes or some other matter that would get the rage machine firing.

Not today.

This England team are now in the laughing at them stage, as I said after the 58. For a team mollycoddled and given all the support staff and encouragement they need, they under-perform mightily. Or do they? Is this, whisper it, our standard for the foreseeable future? Half decent home, half a team away? There is no sense of anger here, because even some of the media cheerleaders have given up, thrown their hands up in the air, and just accepted it. Sure, they’ll give some big and mighty words, but they don’t mean it. That the selection of James Vince did not have them screaming blue murder showed that. A selection to be laughed at, was one to be ignored, by and large. I don’t sense anger from the fans, I don’t sense anger from bloggers and I certainly don’t sense it from Strauss, Harrison and Graves. England writers, one senses, are only conceding test cricket is in trouble because England test cricket is. There is so much to put right, you don’t know where to start. There are so few solutions, one senses it is going to take luck to find them. I don’t think there’s much upside at the moment because batsmen seem incapable of making very big scores on a regular basis, and our bowlers don’t look like bowling teams out overseas. That’s a combination.

But the best thing about this loss is when it happened. It happened on a weekend when our best of enemies decided to have a meltdown. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written, but if I may, could I be permitted to give you some more…

First, one of the fascinating things was watching the scandal develop. There was the press conference. As soon as Smith announced he was part of the group responsible I tweeted “he has to be sacked as captain”. There were some out there who thought this was because of ball tampering – it wasn’t, it was because he was admitting a conspiracy and you can’t have that. After all, you can’t even text your mates in the opposition these days.

But the Aussie journalists at the ground seemed strangely reticent. Indeed Peter Lalor praised the two for confessing and fronting up. At this time Australians would mostly have been asleep, and I was waiting for the Sydney / Melbourne boys to wake up. Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Courier-Mail all seemed quiet. Then Michael Clarke woke up, tweeted, got dressed and let fly. Fox Australia let them have it with both barrels and the floodgates opened. It didn’t take long for a tsunami of hand-wringing, a flood of self-loathing and some good old scapegoating of the present for past sins and we had ourselves a full blown meltdown. I’ve seen this happen before, and it never gets less dull watching it. By the end of the Aussie day we are seeing mentions of life bans, every Aussie and his/her pet koala having a say, and proportion and perspective abandoned for the immediate future. How could they? How very dare they?

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Him, Or Me. Australia decide…..

The second is something that might strike you odd. I loathe Australia as a cricket team, but I love watching them play. The male equivalent of treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. You want them to lose, but you want them to lose with them playing hard and keeping the winning team on their toes. It’s why I will always love 2005 over 2011. So I think we need a strong Australia in test cricket, because we need a great rival that over time has been better than us. Their late 90s, early 2000s team had sanctimony by the bucketful, cheating (in its widest sense) down to an art. We, well I, secretly loved them for it. Every action movie has a baddie. The fact is Australia genuinely never saw themselves as the bad guys. They were, it seems, utterly convinced they were the pinnacle not just in achievement, but in attitude and fair play. Every piece this weekend, will nearly every, seems to take this line. There was a running joke between me and my mate Adelaide Exile about Gilchrist’s selective sportsmanship, but now Adam is seen as a paragon of virtue. I’ve seen it suggested that Ricky Ponting come back to instil Aussie values, which I presume including haranguing umpires if he doesn’t agree with decisions, and screaming at visiting coaches (and I love, almost unhealthily, Ricky as a pundit). I think I speak for many when I am amazed they think this way. This isn’t me putting my lot on a pedestal. How the hell can I with our vile governing body, a director who called his former star player a c***, a team for many years hated by match officials every bit as much as this Aussie team is now, it seems. We are laughing at you Australia. Stop it. We know you are upset. Take a deep breath, realise this was stupidity personified, that there is a sporting crime and someone has to pay, make them pay, then rehabilitate, reform if you must and move on. We will, once we’ve stopped laughing.

Third, watching the press and others stick the boot in here is very funny. They should be looking at the way Australia handles this and be ashamed. There’s no sense here of one Cricket Australia. If the organisation doesn’t do something to address this, and presuming it isn’t off the charts, or too soft they will come to some thoughts, the press will crucify them. They will do it to their Australian of the Year, who was exceedingly popular it seems, until he isn’t. The Cricket Australia statements included fans, don’t say they are outside cricket and to fuck off because this has nothing to do with them. They at least provide some recognition. If they care in Australia, they care too much, which is not an awful thing. Here, our press are so terrified about losing access, that they avoid conflict. You know what I’m talking about, I don’t need to draw you a picture.

Me? I’d make sure they never captained their team again – that honour and increase in pay has to be forfeited – but they should all play again if their form permits it. A suspension seems in order, and Bancroft needs to do the time too, but if it is six months they’ll miss just ODIs, T20s and a test in Zimbabwe. They’ll be back for India at home. A real punishment may be to ban them from the IPL by not giving NOCs, but that might bring in m’learned friends.

As I said, we’ve all read a lot. Sydney Morning Herald has been my go to site, and I recommend it to you all.

But as Jo Moore said, this is a good day to bury bad news. England chose the right time to lay a cricketing egg. We await Friday in Christchurch to see if there’s an Easter resurrection, or we prove to be the bunnies we really seemed to show in Auckland. And with that, comment away on the lines above if you feel you want to, and thanks for your contributions over the weekend, whether you agreed with us or not.

Dmitri (Peter)

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?

4th Ashes Test, Day One

It’s perhaps a measure of the impressive awfulness of England’s tour that the Boxing Day Test, a clear highlight of the cricketing calendar, felt a low key affair.  In Australia it certainly wasn’t, for pummelling the Poms is always going to have a certain appeal.  But from the English perspective, finishing off Christmas Day with a bit of cricket into the early hours has always had a slightly magical quality to it.  Of course, the true highlight of that in recent years was the 2010 match where England skittled the hosts for under 100 and finished the day well ahead and with all ten wickets intact, described at the time as being arguably the most one sided day of Test cricket in history.  Hyperbole maybe, but a special day nonetheless.  

Indeed, it was sufficiently good as a memory that the ECB also thought it worth mentioning in their build up, a reminder of those times when a 5-0 battering was an exceptional event that could be explained by being up against a truly great side bent on revenge rather than normal service.

This time around, fatalism about the likely outcome was exacerbated by Tom Harrison happily proclaiming that all was generally well and the small matter of a likely series hammering was just one insignificant fly in the ointment of the ECB masterplan.  Seven consecutive away defeats are mere bagatelle in this reading of the game and while something is to be said for refusing to panic the clear suggestion that it doesn’t matter overly was astounding, both for what it said about the priorities of the ECB and also for the muted response from the media.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to feel that such a response only a few years ago would have been ridiculed.  And therein lies the biggest problem for English cricket: indifference.  

In terms of the team, suggestions in the press had made about which deckchairs needed to be rearranged but as it turned out, only Tom Curran came in, a replacement for the clearly injured (it often needs highlighting with England that a bowler needs to be missing a limb before they’re considered definitely unfit) Craig Overton.

That meant that Moeen would play, despite being injured and woefully out of form, plus Broad would play, despite being injured and woefully out of form.  To some extent a case can be made that throwing a young player to the lions in a series going dramatically wrong would be grossly unfair, but equally in the case of Mason Crane, it has to be wondered what the point of him being on the tour was.  Putting aside Moeen’s performances for a second, he clearly isn’t fully fit, but England daren’t leave him out because of worries over the batting, while Broad’s ineffectiveness in a place where he has done well even in heavy defeat previously, may be at least partly to do with his health given rumours about knee problems.

Losing the toss on a proper flattie at the MCG wasn’t the ideal outcome, but England had won the previous three tosses without making best use of conditions before, so they could hardly complain.  And in the first hour they were once again poor.  Overall too short (surprise!) they varied that by offering up half volleys and width, allowing Warner to finally get going this series.  It’s repeatedly said that the first ten overs with the Kookaburra ball are vital, and once again England wasted it.  Once again too, they pulled it back somewhat subsequently.  Broad in particular looked better than he has at any time this series, and offered up the rarity of beating the Warner bat.  

Perhaps it wouldn’t have made too much difference, for this surface went beyond being a road, it was more of Bonneville Salt Flats proportions.  England are rather good at drying teams up and restricting the scoring (without looking threatening) and from the second hour onwards for the rest of the day, that was their strategy, one that all bar Moeen seemed able to achieve. 

A century for Warner had seemed a certainty, but England genuinely frustrated him, and on 99 Curran struck for his first Test wicket.  Oh dear.  There are several conflicting issues with wickets overturned for a no ball, firstly that sympathy may be limited for a bowler who can’t keep his foot behind the line (and this was the third England bowler in four years denied a maiden wicket by this means), but also the reluctance of umpires to call a no ball in live play means that a bowler may not know they are overstepping until it gets called when they take a wicket.  It seems hard to believe that he hadn’t bowled one before and not been called because no wicket had been taken.  Curran himself said he had been checking with the umpire on his foot position the previous ball, and it was merely down to putting in extra effort.  Maybe so, but it is a general issue that could really do with being sorted out, it seems unfair on just about everyone, even if it is clearly still the primary responsibility of the bowler.

It didn’t overly cost England, for four runs later Warner was gone, caught behind off Anderson as England appeared to get just a little movement in the air and off the pitch.  Ten overs later, and Khawaja was gone too, the plumbest of lbws to a Stuart Broad in his best spell of the series by far.  It could have been even better too, Shaun Marsh being pinned on the crease first ball for one of those that the bowlers feel aggrieved when it isn’t given, while the batsmen believe they should get the benefit of the doubt. Handily, DRS backs up whichever call the umpire makes, but on such narrow margins can a day rest.

That was the end of England’s success.  They continued to keep it tight, but Steve Smith eased his way to a comfortable, controlled half century, while Marsh too looked in little difficulty.

Given the placid pitch, 244-3 wasn’t that bad a day for England.  They mostly bowled well enough, they certainly exerted reasonable control, and if they didn’t look especially penetrative, well, plus ca change.  A couple more wickets would have made it a very good day for them, but instead they’ll return in the morning to the ominous sight of a well set Smith.

It’s always possible England will grab a few years quick wickets early on, but that has been the case for so much of the series, and not happened.  Should Australia rack up the huge total that appears inevitable, England will be once again under extreme pressure.  Its becoming hard to see it going any other way.

On This Day – 1986

15th November…

We like (well I like) a good anniversary and I thought I’d share this one with you tonight. 30 years ago we saw a brilliant individual performance by Ian Botham. It would be his last test hundred…

England resumed the first test at Brisbane on 198 for 2 against Australia. On the infamous “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field…” tour England were decided second favourites but a very good Day 1 had them believing. However, Day 2 did not get off to an auspicious start. Allan Lamb and Bill Athey, the two overnight batsmen fell, and this brought David Gower and Ian Botham to the crease….

The entire England innings highlights are here…

I may have lost a lot of my regard for Sir Ian in his life as a commentator, but this was pure gold and showed why we were big fans of his playing days.  Merv Hughes was vaunted as a new leader of the attack. Botham put him to the sword. Add to that the mental impact this had on the series. Hell, who knows if the 30th anniversary had a subliminal impact on Australia in Hobart this morning! We also got DeFreitas making 40 on debut, a half century for Gower and England went on to win the match.

Here’s a report by Tony Lewis on the day’s play:

day-2-brisbane

Happy memories of the Gabba, prior to it being turned into a soulless concrete bowl!

14 years ago today Dmitri was in Port Douglas, and England were in Hobart playing Australia A. It was a lovely Friday morning, and we were fresh off our journey to the Barrier Reef the day before (one of my great lifetime experiences) and Sir Peter and I were readying ourselves for a drive up to Cape Tribulation. Before we left we say Martin Love blatantly smack the cover off the ball when on about 7, the bent Aussie umpire had his deaf aid switched off, and Love went on to make 201 not out.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/121124.html

The match reporter showed the usual Aussie disregard for matters trivial..

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/121123.html

 

I’ll be returning to these tours post Christmas, when we have a large void to fill in the run up to the English summer, but any memories you have of 1986, let me have them….

Fifth One Day International – The Decider

If England win this, then we’ve gone the whole summer without having been beaten in any of the six series we played in.

This contrasts to what you didn’t read about last year’s cricket – that we won just two of the five series we played in (counting a sole T20 as a series) – when beating India in the test series was all that mattered. The elegant escape narrative for our press is always heartening to see.

But all sniping aside, this is a big day for England, but in my view, not for the reasons we are being told. This is a game that we absolutely should win. It’s being played up north, late in the year, on a wicket we seem to like playing on. The visitors are bedraggled, bereft and probably really looking forward to the flight home. They’ve coughed up a 2-0 lead and their morale should be low. If we can’t take them now, then when will we ever take them out? If England lose this series, it should be a real eye-opener, just as it was for Aussie when we shocked them in 2007 in the Commonwealth Bank series.

Win this and we’ll be having more Strauss than a Waltz convention. Lose it, and we’ll get defences.

I won’t be glued to the screen all day, as England cricket’s supermarket calls (you can leave the insults below!), but will dip in when I can. Comments to be added below here on the match, or anything else taking your eye. Then the real fun can begin!

Have a good one.

The Second One Day International v Australia

Morning all.

As you might have guessed, TLG and I have been busy, and in my case in particular, lacking a bit of oomph to continually update the blog. This doesn’t last, you all know that, but we will be back soon.

Today is the second ODI, and comments can be added below. At time of writing there’s rain about so the start is delayed. The first ODI showed, in my view, that there’s still a bit of an issue chasing targets, which we have a couple of years to fix in advance of the Champions Trophy being played here in 2017.

Congratulations to Surrey on their promotion, clinched with a Gareth Batty hat-trick. I saw the pretty insipid first day’s play with Benny Bowden and it was lovely to meet him and chew the fat. He has told me who needs to be number two in my Test Centuries review. Surrey looked listless on Tuesday, and Ansari took four on the day. Chesney Hughes impressed me with his play.

As for today, we’ll hear the talking points. Are Roy and Hales an opening partnership? Are we wasting Moeen Ali? Is Jos Buttler mentally shot? Are we fed up with talking points? Is it becoming boring playing Australia? Have you read Alec Swann’s review of Death of a Gentleman? Do I need to seek help as I sort of agreed with Michael Henderson’s piece in the Cricketer?

Oh well. Enjoy whatever the day brings….

(quick note from TLG to apologise for my absence recently. This is my busy time of the year unfortunately, and I’ve been away most of the last few weeks. October is even worse. But I do have a couple of “different” posts to write. One I’ll do today and activate tomorrow. Because guess what, I’m away again. Arrrrgggh.)

The Ashes: A Review

This Ashes series was crap.  Bloody awful, one of the worst seen in this country in many years.

There, I’ve said it.  It runs completely counter to the narrative that so much of the media have gone with, whereby for some it was comparable in its wonder to 2005, but sorry it was rubbish.  Not because England won, not for a moment, but because there were five Tests, none of which offered up a contest.

With hindsight, Cardiff was the best of them, and had anyone said after that game that it would prove to be the case, there would have been wringing of hands across the cricketing spectrum.  Yet England’s win by the margin of 169 runs proved to be the closest the sides would be, with every subsequent result being even wider.  Aside from arguably Edgbaston, where the feeling was very much after day one that England had it in the bag, even if the final scorecard didn’t quite reflect that, it’s the only one where the game was in any kind of balance after the first innings were completed.

That England won the series was a welcome surprise, but winning doesn’t mean it was a good series in itself.  The greatest Ashes series of them all is routinely named as 2005, and Australians are as quick to agree about that as the English, even though Australia lost.  Because that series was a slugfest between two teams who fought themselves to a standstill and didn’t give an inch.  This was a series where as soon as one side got on top, the other waved the white flag of surrender and looked to the next match – the lack of fight, the lack of discipline and the lack of gumption was shocking from both teams.  This isn’t good Test cricket, it’s a slaughter.  What made this series a bizarre curiosity was that the slaughter went in both directions, meaning that at the start of every Test the unknown was which team would be wielding the cleaver, and which would be the tethered goat.

Test cricket can be one of the most captivating sports there is, because the timescale involved in each match allows for ebbs and flows, for sides to recover and fight back.  Magnified over a full five match series, it can rise to the heights of the majestic.  Not every five Test series can begin to reach such exalted standards as the very best, and when one side outclasses the other then it can be something of a long haul, even for the victorious supporters, who tend to feel a slight dissatisfaction about the lack of uncertainty about the outcome, but given even a modicum of competition, it is fascinating.

And therein lies the problem.  3-2 looks like it was a good series at first glance, but sport is only ever compelling where there is competition, and in each match there was barely any.  Indeed only one of them had that air of competition beyond the first day.

All of which makes analysing the series somewhat problematic.  Did England win it or Australia lose it?  Given both sides showed quite exceptional levels of incompetence mixed in with occasional brilliance, drawing conclusions from a little over or under half a series means that a caveat must apply in each instance.

For England, only Root so much as managed a century (two of them) in the whole series.  His batting was so far ahead of the rest of the team that when he failed, so did the team as a whole.  To put it another way, only he could look back on it as a batsman with unalloyed pleasure.  His next test will be to see whether he can replicate this kind of run scoring away from home.  There’s no reason to assume he won’t, but at present he is a player in a rich run of form.  If he carries on in the two difficult tours ahead, then he might really begin to be considered the real deal.

Cook had a real mixed bag with the bat.  Two fifties only in itself is a pretty poor return in a normal series, though in this one only Bell and Root passed fifty more often than him.  Yet both fifties were in defeat, and the second of them rather irrelevant given the match situation.  It’s somewhat ironic that in advance of the series this writer was anything but alone in feeling that for England to win, Cook would have to have a fantastic series.  In reality, his contribution with the bat to victory was absolutely nil.  His captaincy in contrast was fine.  Not outstanding, but decent enough.  The problem with Cook is not with Cook himself, it is how the media respond to him.  Competent captaincy is most welcome, he acknowledged himself that he had learned and changed his approach, good on him.  But it is now at the point where such competence is lauded as being worthy of Brearley, and it’s total nonsense.  Cook had a slightly disappointing series with the bat but captained perfectly well.  It isn’t disloyal or anti-England to state reality and not join in the hagiography.  Cook seems immune from any kind of criticism from sections of the press, and it doesn’t do him any favours.

The one thing which is certainly in his favour batting wise is that although he didn’t get the runs, he looks technically much more sound than he did during his miserable run in 2013/14.  At that time his head was far too far across to the offside, which dragged his feet across to the offside, making him vulnerable to both the straight ball and the edge behind.  That particular failing has been corrected, and he appears much more secure in his technique.  To that extent, his quiet series can be put down to one of those things, but given the poor time he had of it previously, he does need to start scoring heavily again fairly soon.

His batting partner Lyth has probably seen his Test career come and go, and the pain etched on his face with his second innings dismissal tugged at the heartstrings.  England have developed a habit of losing openers not called Cook in the last few years, and both Compton and Carberry must feel considerable irritation that they weren’t persevered with, in the latter case in the face of far better bowling than any of the other hopefuls have had to cope with.

Ballance has responded well to being dropped mid series, and time in county cricket getting his game back in order might be just what he needs.  He has plenty of ability, and he’s hardly the first to suffer a difficult sophomore season.

The middle orders of both sides have performed poorly.  Bell seemed to either have a relative feast or total famine, but in the context of the others, those three fifties represent a reasonable return.  There is a real question mark now over his future.  With the exception of the pleasure that was evident from his contribution at his home ground, he has cut an unhappy, if not a detached figure for a little while.  Some with a poor grasp of grammar might have described it as “disinterested” even.  If that is to be Bell’s last appearance in an England shirt, as seems possible from his comment about deciding his future in a couple of weeks, then it’s a loss to England, and one that smacks of carelessness.  He still has much to offer, and he’s only 33.

Bairstow and Stokes both did OK on occasion, and in the first instance deserves persevering with.  In the second, Stokes tended to show the difficulty faced by so many all rounders over the years of trying to get both disciplines functioning at the same time.  He is a player of immense promise, and at the stage of his career he is at, his ability to bowl wonderful spells as well as play match changing innings is as much as should be expected of him.

The same could be said for Buttler, who after coming into the side as someone who had batting talent but whose keeping needed a lot of work, proceeded to turn that on its head by keeping extremely well throughout (the legside catches standing back were good, the one standing up was outstanding) and being barely able to score a run.  His final innings of the series did appear to show a degree of learning from experience, and in itself that’s a promising sign.  The improvement in his wicketkeeping too implies a player willing to learn.

The final member of the middle order, albeit one who batted as low as nine when a nightwatchman was employed was Moeen Ali.  Like with Bell over the years, there is a predisposition to be both frustrated by him and to make excuses for him.  He is simply unutterably gorgeous to watch; his strokeplay is entirely reminiscent of Gower, and when his batting is flowing, there are few players in world cricket more enjoyable to witness.  His position in the batting order often meant he had to go for his shots at the end of an innings, and that’s probably the best way for him to bat, as his technique isn’t a tight one.  Of course, in his case there is a problem, which is that his primary role in this team is as a bowler – something that may be considered unfair on him.  He didn’t do badly in the series overall, looking back at previous posts in advance of the series, his final average of 45 with the ball was even a prediction for being considered adequate.  There are two issues here though, firstly that he was comprehensively outbowled by Nathan Lyon, and secondly England’s refusal to pick Adil Rashid, seemingly under any circumstances.

It’s doubtful there is a much better finger spinner in English cricket, and having gone with Moeen, he should receive sufficient faith for him to continue working on his game.  He will get better.  However, it is becoming ever more difficult to see a justification for Rashid’s continuing exclusion, and even harder to see why so many of the press are so dead set against him.  Moeen was tried out as being far from the finished product, and given time to develop.  Rashid seems to be expected to be a hundred Test veteran on debut.  Surely he will get his chance in the UAE, and long overdue.

Of all the bowlers, Broad was the clear stand out.  Given his record over the last few years, he’s in serious danger of being consistently underrated.  Barely a series goes by without demands for him to be dropped, yet he’s one of England’s most consistent performers with the ball, even without the stunning spell of 8-15 at Trent Bridge which was truly wonderful.  He even did well in the horror tour of Australia last time.  When he’s not bowling through injury, he’s a serious threat to any side in world cricket.  As long as he’s told to pitch the bloody thing up.

Anderson will most of all benefit from the break enforced by injury.  That he was even considered for the fifth Test is concerning.  He’s an exceptionally fit athlete, and could go on for several more years yet, if properly looked after.

The return of Steven Finn has to be the most welcome sight in the England team.  He’s still not back at the pace he was, no matter how much he tries to deny it.  Perhaps the confidence gained from being an integral part of the attack will allow him to up that pace, because a bowler of that height consistently bowling high eighties is going to be a difficult proposition anywhere.  What happened to him in the past is a matter of deep frustration, but looking forward he is still young, still taking wickets at a truly remarkable strike rate and needs to be allowed to just bowl.  If England have changed one thing in regard to their approach to him, then let it be to focus on his wicket taking ability, not how many runs an over he goes for.

Mark Wood is something of a conundrum.  He clearly has a lot of talent, but his injury record isn’t a good one, and there have to be concerns about managing him properly.  Australia did point the way there with Ryan Harris, who they wrapped in cotton wool and as a result got at least two more years out of him than anyone could have hoped for, including him.  Seam bowlers are almost always carrying some kind of injury, so it isn’t a matter of plucking him out of the team at the first sign of trouble, but it is one of ensuring he doesn’t suffer a major injury.

For Australia, this is the end of an era for many of the squad.  Harris finally succumbed to his troublesome body before it even began, and perhaps more than anything that proved to be the ultimate difference between the sides.  He has been an outstandingly good bowler who had an Indian summer to his career.  When he broke down in the 2010/11 series, the sadness was the feeling that would be it, a career over before it had even begun.  He may not have played 80 Tests, but he played a lot more than he had any right to, given his physical problems.

Australia’s top three all had decent enough series, with the proviso that like everyone else, when they were bad, they were very, very bad.  Chris Rogers was outstanding throughout, and probably wishes he could have played his whole Test career against England.  Oh hang, on he more or less did.   Warner in contrast made lots of contributions without ever going on to get a big score.  It means that his figures are decent enough, but lack a match changing or match winning innings.

Smith had a similar series to Bell in some ways, the difference being that when he did get in, he went on to a very big score indeed.  His idiosyncratic technique makes this quite likely, and with him it’s a matter of accepting that, and knowing that when he does get in, he is going to seriously hurt the opposition.  His batting went a fair way to winning two Tests, focusing on his troubles in the other three is somewhat harsh.

Clarke’s retirement at the end of the series broke the last link with the great Australian side of the first decade of this century.  He had a poor series, without question, but very few players call it a day in a blaze of glory, not least because of the need for team mates to do their bit to provide the correct result.  McGrath, Warne et al managed it when they whitewashed England, but that truly great side is an exception.  Few decide to retire because they’ve been playing so well, and Nasser Hussain’s beautifully timed retirement winning a Test match and series with a superb century simply shows he had a sense of timing with his career that wasn’t always present with his batting.

England gave Clarke a guard of honour, and predictably enough (and more than welcome) the English crowd gave him a standing ovation on his approach to the crease.  Sometimes English crowds make you feel quite proud of them.  Clarke deserves it.  He’s been a terrific player, a terrific captain, and for those of us lucky enough not to be Australian, he was our leader in cricket too in the most tragic of circumstances.  His honesty in the face of defeat, and refusal to hide behind platitudes also marked him out.  It has been nothing short of a privilege to watch him play, and to leave the game of cricket having made a positive contribution is as good a cricketing epitaph as there can be.  To lose him in the same week as the peerless Kumar Sangakkara is undoubtedly a blow to the game, and the ICC could do worse than listen to what they say about the future of cricket.  And pigs might fly.

Just like England’s, Australia’s middle order had a woeful time of it.  Ironically enough that failing was just as prevalent in the 5-0 last time, but they were bailed out repeatedly by the lower order.  Not this time, though Johnson and Starc had their moments with the bat.  The jettisoning of Watson was possibly premature, his trials with the lbw law are hardly new, and at Cardiff he was the recipient of a couple of decisions that were fairly questionable, particularly the first innings one.  His replacements didn’t do any better, although his career is now probably at an end, distinguished by being one of the great unfulfilled talents.

Voges made a late bid to extend his Test career, Mitchell Marsh shows a lot of promise as a true all rounder given that bowling was thought to be his weaker discipline (he didn’t bat well), Shaun Marsh showed again – and probably for the final time – that he simply isn’t quite good enough at the very highest level and Brad Haddin also reached the end of the road.  The manner of the conclusion to his Test career seemed to cause some discord in the Australian camp amongst the senior players.  It’s a difficult one.  His batting and keeping had both deteriorated to the point his place should have been in jeopardy even if it wasn’t.  Perhaps it should just be put down to being one of those terribly unfortunate instances where they were faced with two wrong choices, and went for the better cricketing one.

Peter Nevill looks a decent enough replacement anyway, although he didn’t contribute with the bat too much more than the rest of that middle order.  His first class batting record is a very good one though, and he looks a perfectly competent gloveman.

Of the bowlers, given the loss of Harris, Siddle did seem the obvious replacement.  With hindsight.  It is all too easy to look at his performance in the final Test and say he should have been there all along, but there weren’t many calls for him to be in the side at the expense of anyone else, and in advance it was felt that Johnson and Starc’s pace would be more than good enough for England anyway.  Both were intermittently major threats, and the rest of the time expensive.   Ironically enough, it was Josh Hazlewood who made way for Siddle, despite having a better record than either of them, and for reasons hard to fathom bore the brunt of the criticism of the seam bowling selection that saw Siddle called up.

Nathan Lyon too had a good series, and showed what he is – a very fine orthodox finger spinner.  He’s every bit the equal of Graeme Swann, and perhaps at long last Australia will be content with their lot in the spinning department rather than harking back to the days of Warne.

Given how the series unfolded, in this one perhaps more than any other, it can be said that 3-2 was a fair result.  Three times England hammered Australia, twice Australia hammered England.  If there was a sixth Test, it could have gone either way, probably with a hammering.

The England players will rightly look back on the achievement with great pleasure, for they were the underdogs in the eyes of everyone.  The win is there to be enjoyed, but these are two teams who are very much at the crossroads.  Australia will largely need a new one, and will have to spend quite some time rebuilding and finding the right combinations.  England are at least playing a much more positive style of cricket, but they look a deeply flawed side at this stage.  There are plenty of players in that side in the early stages of their careers, and there will be ups and downs in their own performances.  What is more worrying is the collective implosions they seem so prone to.  They have two very difficult tours ahead, and as a young side may well rise to the challenge.  But they are going to have to, because otherwise they are in trouble.

This wasn’t an especially enjoyable series.  When third day tickets become something of a risky purchase not through it being a poor pitch, but because either of the sides are incapable of lasting that long, then there is both something wrong with them, and something extremely wrong with the series.  Some of the batting was genuinely second rate, in shot selection and execution.  It is to be hoped this is something of an aberration, because more of the same is going to pall very quickly.  Recent history around the world suggests winning away is becoming ever more rare, in which case England will face both the next 9 months and the next Ashes series with considerable trepidation.

The most damning indictment of this Ashes series is that the two Test version against New Zealand offered far more entertainment, far more sporting hazard, far more tension that anything the five subsequent games did.  England won, and to that extent it was great.  But Test cricket supporters have always had one eye on the team and one eye on the wider game.  The game itself in this series was dreadfully poor.  Pointing to the other eye and ignoring that is simply refusing to see evil.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

The Ashes: Fifth Test preview

And so, barely moments after the home international Test summer began, it’s nearly over.  If anyone had said that the Oval Test will begin with nothing riding on it, it would hardly have been a surprise.  That it is a dead rubber because England have already won, well that is more of a surprise.

And as a result, when the dust settled on the hammering handed out at Trent Bridge, the focus has been more on Australia than an England team justifiably enjoying the moment.  It has been a peculiar and somewhat subdued build up.

Australia themselves will be saying goodbye to at least two players, in Rogers and Clarke.  In reality, even though they are unlikely to play, Haddin and Watson can be added to that list, for it is hard to see how they will be selected again.  There’s every chance Voges is playing his final match as well, while Shaun Marsh must be a considerable doubt for the future given he’s failed to take his chance at the highest level.  Since Australia lost Ryan Harris before the series began, it amounts to a quite extraordinary end of an era for the Australian team.  Of the squad of seventeen first chosen for the series, you can make a case that seven or even eight (depending on what future Fawad has) will be gone from the Test team by this time next week.

Moreover, Australia have lost little time in moving on, Smith has already been announced as the next captain, with Warner as his deputy – which is an interesting choice in itself given his brushes with authority over the last few years.  It could be the making of him.  Likewise, Smith has been talking about moving to number four in future, all of which suggests that Australia just want this over with and to move forward.

It’s a rather sad way for Clarke to finish.  The last real link to the great Australian team of the noughties, he is going out with a whimper rather than a bang, captaining a side who have already moved on, in a series already lost, with a team comprised of many who will saying their own farewells.  Sport can be a cruel business, and few get to time their departures perfectly.   As both player and captain, there’s a temptation to believe that Clarke is more honoured abroad than he is at home, and a warm reception when he walks out to bat for the final two times is guaranteed.  And thoroughly deserved.

For England, it is the chance to deliver four Test wins in a series against Australia for the first time since 1978, and in circumstances that few would have expected.  Given England’s inconsistency, and the end-of-era nature of the Australian team, it’s as hard to call as any of the previous Tests.  The series has been so unpredictable that it would be a brave person to make the call on what will happen this time.   Perhaps what most fans of both sides would like more than anything would be a close match.  There hasn’t been a truly close game between these sides since the Trent Bridge Test of 2013 – even the Oval last time which ended up tight was down to a contrivance more than genuine competition.  That Oval Test incidentally was only the third time since five Test series became the norm that the Oval Test was a dead rubber in England’s favour.  That this is the fourth instance one series later says a lot about recent series.

To that end, what does this say about England’s win?  It’s fourteen years since Australia won in England, and in that time England are 10-3 up in Tests.  Yet since England won that first series in years in 2005, England are 11-3 down in Australia.  Each side is being well beaten away from home, with few close matches, that has to be a concern.

For England, there seems little point in risking Anderson – there would have been little point even if the series was on the line – so the debate surrounds the question of the pitch and whether a second spinner is needed.  If so, then there is at least the possibility that Moeen could be moved up to open to create space for Adil Rashid.  If that is how England go, then Lyth too could be facing the chop as far as his Test career is concerned.  Lyth has hardly been a stellar success in this series, but then neither has his opening partner, one innings excepted.  It would be a sour note were England to continue to go through openers not called Cook at a rate of knots.  That is of course making the point before it even happens, and England may well retain Lyth to give him the chance to cement his place.  A score of any sort would probably do that.

Of course, if Lyth does keep his place, then it seems hard to see how Rashid could be given the nod.  Wood is troubled by his ankle, but the indications are that Plunkett is favoured if he doesn’t make it.  There is of course no point selecting someone for the sake of it – that is what happened two years ago when Kerrigan and Woakes were called into the side and promptly discarded for the following series – more understandably in the case of Kerrigan, whose handling can still be questioned.  Yet with the series in the UAE coming up, Rashid will certainly be required.

In all, this is a subdued build up to the final Test match.  At the end of it, Alastair Cook will be presented with the urn, and all will be well with England cricket.  Of course, the reality is some way from that, the previous 18 months has created a schism amongst cricket lovers like little seen in living memory.  The win has papered over the cracks, but failed to resolve them.  The ECB have a big job on their hands to re-create love for England, but if they do intend to try and do so, then this is no bad platform on which to build.  It is now up to them.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

Reflections

It took as little time as anticipated for England to wrap up the fourth Test, and with it the series and the Ashes.  It has been an extraordinary win, all the more so for being so unexpected.  Yet in that sense it isn’t quite so different to last time, when Australia won 5-0, a result no one (apart from Glenn McGrath, who always forecasts that) expected either.

England are rightly celebrating, they thoroughly deserve to as well.  With the exception of Lords, which looks ever more peculiar in retrospect, they have battered Australia.  England did something in response to that defeat that much of the media failed to, which was to accept the pinch and move on.  England’s resilience following that hammering is something that they can rightly take pride in, and is the sign of a good team, or at least one that might become a good team.

Yet the danger in responding to this victory is in being wise after the event.  It isn’t vindication of the last two years because England didn’t play how they’d played over the last two years.  Cook is to be thoroughly praised for his captaincy because he didn’t captain the side how he’d done so up to this point.  That isn’t proof that those backing him as captain previously were right in any way, but it is a recognition that for whatever reason, he seems to have dramatically improved – something those supporting him didn’t demand he do.   And that is a fascinating development.  Cook was dreadful in Australia, he was worse against Sri Lanka, desperate against India, and a disaster as one day captain before his more than slightly hamfisted sacking.  In his interview after the game’s conclusion, he acknowledged that, admitting to being stubborn (not necessarily a bad thing), and to having made an effort to be more proactive and positive in this series.

Trevor Bayliss too chose his words carefully, saying that Cook had been excellent in this series, with a fairly clear implication when talking about how this had been done that he didn’t think he had been previously.  And that is about right – the only rational way to to respond to any situation is to adapt a view as the facts change.  Cook has been really good as skipper this series, and it is immensely to his credit that he has been prepared to take input from outside and learn.  After having been captain in the same rather plodding and defensive manner for quite a long time, that is perhaps the most welcome and unexpected development.  Being wise after the event means refusing to admit that no one saw this coming – and no one did.

Bayliss himself had come into the England set up at the start of this series, but he wasn’t present for the New Zealand one, which gave the first hint at Cook’s England adopting a different approach.  It was such a sudden switch after the West Indies series and the miserable World Cup that the removal of Peter Moores would seem to point to that being the major change.   Yet it is probably a little more than that – Moores’ style of coaching was similar to Andy Flower’s in one area, that it was prescriptive, with the coach directing the team rather than the captain.  That was seen time and again where England would come in after a session, and resume with entirely different tactics – the captain was the cipher for a coach telling them what to do.

The appointment of Bayliss, and the retention of Farbrace, indicated that this type of coach was not how Strauss saw the best interests of England – and that decision was a wise one.  Whatever anyone thought of Cook’s captaincy, it was frustrating to see him not actually captain the side himself.   It is therefore a possibility that the change in coaching set up allowed Cook for the first time to captain the side how he wanted to.  England have been the only side where the coach has been given such power, and Bayliss and Farbrace are more in the Fletcher model, where the coach stands in the background to support the players and the captain runs the team.

It’s no coincidence that England players have quickly felt the freedom to back their own ability under this kind of structure, nor that the previously rigid set up limited that freedom.  Playing without fear is an easy thing to say, but it requires a system where players aren’t berated for their failures.  England under Moores and Flower certainly had success, but the team became ever more hidebound, negative and restricted, terrified of making a mistake – and it was that attitude that Australia pounced on in 2013/14.

Equally, the early season series against New Zealand may have acted as the dropping of the scales in front of English eyes; if that is the case, then England may well owe a debt of gratitude to Brendon McCullum, though perhaps Australia would have been equally well advised to have had a chat to Kane Williamson about how to play the moving ball.  The one day series too, with England playing scintillating cricket, showed a break with the shambles of the past, in intent if nothing else – which is why no one greatly cared if England lost that final match, they were far too wowed by the style of play.  The point is that it is easy to blame Moores, but he was simply continuing an approach that he himself started and Andy Flower continued.  It worked for a while too, but signs of problems were there long before the implosion in Australia if only some had paid attention to those pointing them out.

The hardest part of coaching is being able to keep out of the way.  Bayliss, when responding to questions about Cook’s captaincy, demurred at the idea he’d given instructions, saying all he had done was to offer options, and it was up to Cook to then choose – and that he chose wisely.

What happens next is the key, because harder challenges lie ahead, in the UAE and South Africa.  At the start of this series the feeling was that this would be Cook’s last as captain – the appointment of Root as his deputy and the end of cycle feel about Ashes series indicated that win or lose, it might be time to move on.  The nature of England’s win has changed that somewhat, though Cook may still feel that he could go out on a high by doing so. Yet the change is that he now can choose himself, rather than circumstances dictating.  It isn’t the win that has done that, it’s the way England won, and the way he himself led the side.  Let’s make no bones about it – it was quite impressive, and all the more so for being so unexpected.

There has been a clear shift in so many other ways too.  The England players made a point of going around the ground after each win and meeting the supporters, posing for selfies, signing autographs.  The interviews have been much more open and honest – all things that have been areas of deep criticism for the England of the last 18 months and beyond.  There is not a chance of the ECB ever apologising for anything that they’ve done, but this at least is a start and a move in the right direction.  Whether it is mere lip service or something more, is down to the ECB.

One of the most striking things about this England side is the clear joie de vivre that the young players have brought to the team.  There has been a changing of the guard in many ways beyond the obvious, a recognition that in order to get the best out of them, letting them free to do their thing is the way to do it.  Stokes, Root, Moeen and Wood have been the most evident examples, and even the grumpy old curmudgeons like Broad (OK, that’s a touch unfair on him) and Anderson have bought into it.  The England dressing room appears a much better place to be than it has been for quite a long time.  The idea that this win is a put down of all those who have been calling for exactly this is somewhat bizarre.  This is not the England team approach that received so much criticism.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that one particular player would have thrived in such an environment, given it is exactly what he wanted to see in the first place.

Certainly Joe Root has benefitted, and has gone to number one in the Test player rankings as a result.  It may be that it is a purple patch of form and nothing more, but there are signs that he may be becoming a genuinely fantastic batsman.  He scores so quickly, without apparent effort.  Technically, he is getting out to the ball much better than he did when he was dropped in Australia, where he hung back in the crease.  His weight distribution now comes forward into the ball, hence the glorious drives – but more than anything, his approach is one where he is first and foremost looking to score runs.  This too is an expression of a change of mentality in the side, and one in which he’s thriving.  That England now have a set up that is seeking to get the best from their players rather than berate them and keep them in line, amazingly enough seems to work.

The bowlers too have performed admirably.  Broad has been underrated for quite a while; yet his record in recent years has been very good, even in the Ashes meltdown of 2013/14 where he along with Stokes was pretty much the only player who could hold his head up high; the biggest issue with him is when England insisted on playing him through injury.  He is now number two in the bowling rankings, with Anderson just behind him.  Yet those two are a known quantity, what is welcome is seeing how the support bowlers have performed.  They’ve not always got the results that might mark them out as being special, but they have shown immense promise.  Stokes blows hot and cold, as young players tend to do, Wood looks like he has pace and the ability to move the ball.  They have potential, if correctly managed.  As for Finn, one fine match and one quiet one is fine as long as he continues the upward trajectory.  He too is indicative of a different approach from the England side, allowing him to bowl rather than micro-managing him.  Again, it is to be greatly welcomed, and with a degree of luck, the results should follow, and the pace return.

All of the others contributed.  Lyth may not have had a great series to date, but the way he set about the small target at Edgbaston extinguished Australian hopes early, while his catching was very good.  He won’t be content with his series, and nor should he be, the Oval may signal a last chance for him, but he has had an effect on the outcome.  Bell batted superbly at Edgbaston but has had a quiet series outside of that.  The jury remains out for Bairstow, but he did bat well at Trent Bridge, while Buttler has had a poor series with the bat, but kept extremely well.

And Moeen, well Moeen has bowled just about adequately, but batted very well indeed.  Which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given he’s a batsman first and foremost.  Two spinners will be needed in the UAE, and while Moeen might well be the best off spinner England have (depending on whether Panesar can continue his rehabilitation), the Oval could well be the opportunity to introduce Adil Rashid.

For Australia, the big news was the announcement of Michael Clarke’s retirement.  At many times he has been a prophet not honoured in his own land, but the warmth of the reception he got from the Nottingham crowd showed the esteem in which he is held.  He has had a year of unimagined highs and tragic lows, and perhaps that finally proved too much for him, in which case that would be completely understandable.  He has been a fantastic player and an often inspirational captain.  But over the last year, what he proved more than anything else was that he was a leader with whom few could compare.  When Phillip Hughes was tragically killed, Clarke managed to speak not just for a nation in shock, but the whole cricketing world.  He became everyone’s captain, one who all who have picked up a bat would have followed to the ends of the earth.  In terrible circumstances, he stood tall.

Sport is cruel, and doesn’t often allow fairytale endings.  But Clarke will undoubtedly receive a standing ovation on both his last visits to the crease in international cricket, and few England supporters would begrudge him a century if the cricketing gods were to smile just once more on this supremely talented player.  There is so much more that can be said about him, but one must defer to Jarrod Kimber, whose article captured it perfectly.  It is outstanding:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/the-ashes-2015/content/story/908005.html

In this series, Clarke himself was a paradigm for the batting woes of his team.  Apart from Chris Rogers, and to some extent David Warner, they all struggled.  Steve Smith had one fabulous Test, but apart from that looked horrifically out of form, demonstrating how quickly confidence can turn to despair in a batsman.  The middle order has had a calamitous series, with only Adam Voges’ unbeaten half century in heavy defeat offering up any kind of contribution.  He did enough to save his career for a further Test, but beyond that, given his age, he may not have much further to go.

Rogers will finish at the Oval, and with Clarke going too, plus Haddin’s and Watson’s careers being likely over, there will be major changes to the Australian team after this series.  Shaun Marsh has yet to look a Test cricketer, and is 32, while Mitchell Johnson absolutely is a Test cricketer but is nearly 34.   And perhaps that was always likely to be the case even if they had won.  Right at the start of this series, this blog made the argument that you never know if it is one tour too many until it actually happens.  This has indeed turned out to be one tour too many, yet although that possibility was acknowledged pre-series, there wasn’t much in the way of evidence that it would happen, more a feeling that there was the potential for it, and nothing stronger than that.

With so many players likely to move on, the management of that shift is going to be critical.  The reason for including Johnson in the above list is that it would be criminal to lose him at the same time as all that experience elsewhere.  He is bowling quickly and well, and has shown little sign of age catching up with him.

The home summer coming up for them comprises New Zealand and the West Indies.  It’s going to be a tough first half for a new team.  The blow of losing Ryan Harris on the eve of the series perhaps did more than anything to wreck the plans for a last hurrah for the older generation.

For England, it has the potential to be a firm base from which to build.  The talent has always been there, it’s how it was harnessed, and the reality is that it was harnessed extremely badly for much of the preceding 18 months.  That they have managed to get a basic grip on it now is to the credit of all those behind it.  But it doesn’t excuse those 18 months, and it certainly doesn’t excuse the ECB for their wider failings.  If used properly from here, they could genuinely reclaim their position in the hearts of all England fans, but it would be a mistake to think this Ashes win will do it and make everything in the garden rosy.  Cricket in this country is in trouble.  Cricket in the world is in trouble.  The alignment of England’s undoubtedly rousing victory with the release of Death of a Gentleman makes it foolish to believe that this solves everything, because it doesn’t.  But it could be a first step used wisely.  The doubt is whether that wisdom exists, that it will be used as a smokescreen to cover all the other issues that exist.  England have won, but those Outside Cricket have been merely waved at from the ivory towers.

For now, let us appreciate the return of the urn, and the efforts of an England team who have surpassed expectations.  For a Sunday, that is more than enough.  But the wider issues will not go away.

@BlueEarthMngmnt