2005 Ashes Series

Birmingham thriller: the sprain that changed modern cricket

Lose your best fast bowler in the warm-up then win the toss and elect to bowl. That’s what Ricky Ponting did at Edgbaston in 2005. His decision contributed to one of the greatest Test matches ever played.

England won that frantic thriller by two runs and the result set ablaze a series that ignited modern Test cricket. Ponting’s decision to bowl was a surprise. Glenn McGrath was forced to withdraw moments before the toss after standing on a ball in the warm-up, rolling his ankle. Michael Kasprowicz took his place and on the fourth day played a direct role in the moment that catapulted the series to the top of every news bulletin in the cricket universe.

The mighty Australian side had been set 282 for victory and were off to a great start when Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden were 0/47. But a hostile spell from the affable Andy Flintoff cracked the Aussie juggernaut open. Right as Flintoff bowled Langer dark clouds rolled across Birmingham and the rowdy Edgbaston crowd found its voice. It spurred England on and Flintoff, Jones, Hoggard, Harmison and Giles ripped Australia’s highly rated batting order to pieces.

Australia were in tatters at 7/136 and 25,000 Englishmen were absolutely bouncing. The atmosphere was as loud as a football match and it seemed over for the Aussies. But they weren’t ready to die. A young Michael Clarke was joined at the crease by Shane Warne and they stabilised the Australian innings before Steve Harmison shattered Clarke’s off stump late in the day, 8/175.

The next day it seemed just a matter of time. It was alleged workplaces were empty all across England, pubs were filled with punters desperate for victory against Australia; England had not won an Ashes series since 1989 and victory at Edgbaston against the odds might dare some to dream. But Brett Lee and Shane Warne had other ideas. They repelled the English attack and quietened the capacity crowd as they picked off the runs. The tension and anxiety was monumental and then in calamitous circumstances Warne stood on his stumps and the pressure was relieved, 9/220, 69 runs to win.

Kaspa, the big Queenslander, and Brett Lee took Australia to within 3 runs at 9/279 then disaster struck. Harmison pushed a shortish riser towards Kaspa’s hip. The tailender attempted an awkward flick and the ball flew down the leg side. Diving away to his left PNG born English wicket keeper Geraint Jones caught and appealed. In fact, about 60million poms went up and New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden raised his crooked finger. England erupted.

The moment England levelled the 2005 Ashes Series at Edgbaston, Birmingham. England won the series 2-1.

The moment England levelled the 2005 Ashes Series at Edgbaston, Birmingham. England won the series 2-1.

Players ran in all directions celebrating the wicket

Players ran in all directions celebrating the wicket

One of the most famous images in modern cricket

One of the most famous images in modern cricket

It’s been ten years since that Edgbaston thriller and today Australia takes on England at Edgbaston with the series locked up at one all.

The wicket looks grassy and a little dry, an exciting prospect for fast bowlers and spinners alike. What would the toss winning captain decide to do knowing the dramatic series changing events that followed Ricky Ponting’s decision in 2005?

Rain has fallen in England and hydroponic heat lamps confiscated by Birmingham Police in drug raids have been used to dry both the pitch and outfield at Edgbaston. Seriously. The pitch has been sweating under covers so moisture in the pitch and precipitation from above may play key roles in the Test.

Australia has confirmed that Peter Nevill will retain his place ahead of Brad Haddin, another indication (Shane Watson gone) that Australia mean business here and will not tolerate a lack of performance in a series that means so much to both nations. Chris Rogers is reportedly fit to play but surely Shaun Marsh will take his place – and not Watson – if he must withdraw. England will reshuffle after replacing Ballance with Bairstow, Ian Bell will bat at three and Mark Wood’s fitness will be tested before play.

Here’s to another week without sleep. Better get the aspirin out and dust off those defibrillators, here comes the Edgbaston Test Match.

The over that changed the momentum at Edgbaston in 2005:

Flintoff cracks open the Aussie juggernaut taking the wickets of Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting in his first over.

Spiced Carib Run: uncertain 11s and the tenth anniversary of ‘that series’

Ten years ago the greatest Test series in history reinvigorated global interest in cricket’s most exciting format. The 2005 Ashes Series in England reminded everybody how unpredictable and entertaining Test cricket is when two decent sides get stuck in.

In 2005 Australia were untouchable and they went 1-0 up at Lords in the first Test. But England had belief, a crafty captain and desperate and rowdy support. A thriller followed at Edbaston and England won by 2 runs. As soon as they got a sniff they went in hard and their fans and the English media followed. After 16 years without a series win England defeated Australia 2-1. The result was the foundation of the fervent interest in the Ashes series that followed.

Including 2005 England have won four Ashes series in ten years. Since 2005 Australia has won only two Ashes series: both in Australia and both by a 5-0 margin. They haven’t won in England since 2001. The Ashes kicks off again in July and Aussie fans will be super confident (what’s new say the English?). But success is nowhere near guaranteed for Australia and Froth is predicting a combative series.

Cricket Froth will cover every Shane Watson LBW, every one of Alistair Cook’s snicks to slip and while attempting to get around Jimmy Anderson’s swing, lament the inevitable rain and bad light.

Caribbean Run

West Indies hosts Australia for two Tests this June. Fresh from an encouraging draw against England in April, the Caribbeans should present some resistance on slow and low pitches. In remarkable news, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been dropped. It is a controversial decision; popular commentator and former fast bowler Michael Holding says Shiv is no longer good enough and Brian Lara is disgusted at the WICB’s ‘treatment’ of Chanderpaul. Chanderpaul’s recent record is lean on runs and the Windies leadership have identified younger talent.

Chris Rogers is out of the first Test because of a concussion sustained in a tour match and it will be interesting to see what the selectors do. Shaun Marsh nailed a ton in the same match partnering Rogers. Of course, Shane Watson is another option at opener with Warner, but Watto is better off at six if indeed he plays at all. Mitch Marsh, Adam Voges, Mitch Starc and Fawad Ahmed are all in the mix. Hazlewood out-bowled Siddle in the Antigua tour match and Fawad Ahmed is a pitch specific option. Ryan Harris is on ice until the Ashes.

Steve Smith has been confirmed as Australia’s new Test number three. He is the tenth number three since Ponting dropped down the order in 2011. The first Test in Dominica begins in the wee hours of Thursday morning Australian time. For early risers you can catch an hour or two before work on one of the Fox Sport channels or follow Cricket Froth for updates.

The Black Caps

Tonight New Zealand will be hoping rain and bad light stay away on day five at Headingley. The Kiwis put on 8/454 declared in their 2nd innings after both sides scored 350 in the 1st. Most of day four was lost to rain in Leeds and England is 0/44 in reply. England cannot win the match. A draw will win them the series as they beat New Zealand in a thriller at Lords last week.

Froth is furious that there is no third Test match. Instead the two sides will play five ODIs and a T20. This is a colossal waste of time considering the cricket public was subjected to 47,000 ODIs in a row in the cricket world cup a few months ago. Seriously, who cares about these ODIs? Find me a cricket fan who’ll be on seat’s edge during another meaningless series…

The argument that this is done for money is weak. Cricket’s establishment perpetuated the fallacy that Tests were boring and ODIs and T20s were EXCITING!

Time for a new message and a new commercial direction.

Graeme Smith retires, Australia on brink

Australia command proceedings in Cape Town and South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith has announced his retirement from international cricket.

Smith has had a brilliant career. He concludes having played 117 Test Matches averaging 48. He has been a solid opening bat, fearless leader and capable tactician. He has led South Africa to the top of the ICC Test Rankings. The Proteas haven’t lost a Test series since the 2008-09 southern summer.

Leadership duties may have taken their toll on Smith. He has been captain for 109 of those 117 Tests after being installed as the boss at just 22. Cape Town is his home ground and it’d be nice for him and his nation if he could craft a big score and save his side from defeat.

Australia on the brink of victory at Cape Town?

Australia can beat the number 1 side at home. Two days remain in the 3rd and final Test. Bar miracles, the hosts cannot win. Let’s face it they’re a bowler down with Dale Steyn injured. Unless Morne Morkel rips through Australia’s second innings tonight in a bout of absolute ferocious mayhem and South Africa’s batsmen tear down what would be at least 300-350 runs, then a draw is their only hope for salvation.

Australia lead by 234 runs with 10 2nd innings wickets in hand. They’ll bat aggressively tonight. Michael Clarke will go for the kill by declaring in due time for his bowlers to rip into the Proteas. They’ll have 4 or 5 sessions to survive the onslaught.

And what an onslaught it will be. During the first two sessions on day 3 Australia’s bowlers routed South Africa’s world class top order. Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson took 7 wickets with precision and persistent hostility.

Don’t touch the ball!

At one point shortly after lunch yesterday du Plessis blocked one away near his feet. He politely picked up the ball and threw it back to the bowler. A half dozen Australian fielders frantically swooped delivering a chorus of tirades.

“Don’t you dare touch the f****** ball” was the gist. For 30+ years Australian Test teams do not permit opposition batsmen to touch their ball. Some might call this unreasonable or unbecoming of gentlemen, but it is deeply psychological and Test cricket is psychological warfare. Arguably their ball policy contributes to an arsenal of weapons, which are strategically deployed to grind opponents into dust.

A toilet break

Until last night I have never ever seen a batsmen leave the field of play on an unscheduled break, let alone in the middle of an over, to go to the toilet. I didn’t think it was permitted, especially 15min into play after a 40min lunch break. Faf du Plessis crabbed off and left everyone standing about the middle hands-on-hips for 5mins. The stump mics were quickly turned down by the broadcaster when du Plessis returned to another spray (no pun intended) which Supersport commentator Mike Haysman described as “colourful”.

Bowled out

The sharp needling continued. A short time later Mitchell Johnson snicked out AB de Villiers. JP Duminy didn’t last long, but Philander batted well with du Plessis.

Nathan Lyon had a right to be aggrieved twice when Brad Haddin missed stumping du Plessis and Alex Doolan failed to take a catch at bat pad 2 balls later. The canny du Plessis-Philander partnership amassed 95. The Proteas did not evade the follow on target of 294, but they did successfully exceed the limit within which Michael Clarke would have enforced it. I think that was around 220. South Africa were eventually bowled out for 287.

Conclusions

Australia will go for the win. Of that there can be no doubt. Michael Clarke is an aggressive captain and they’re desperate for success after a mostly tumultuous 2012 and 13. If South Africa can drill into the Aussie top order early this evening it will deepen interest in all three outcomes. Australia has proved it can collapse like a straw house in Cyclone Yasi. For this reason I expect stoic batting at first and then a canter for quick runs and a wave from the pavilion.

Graeme Smith will begin his last innings at some point today. For cricket’s sake I hope he is able to manufacture a memorable finale.

Welcome to Cape Town: best ground in the world?

Newlands at Cape Town is a firm candidate for the best ground in world cricket. On Saturday it hosts one of the most anticipated Test matches in a decade. Aside from the rife speculation about the teams, I am utterly engrossed in this monumental contest and cannot wait to see if the Aussies can bounce back from being razed by South Africa.

I’ll probably harm my own performance in club cricket by staying up very late watching every ball. But any self respecting cricket nut cannot miss this. The series is level at 1-1 and South Africa clench the ascendency. They battered Australia at Port Elizabeth.

South Africa’s batting was supreme whereas Australia’s middle order didn’t turn up. They fell to pieces in the 4th innings chase of 449. At 1/150 they were a slight chance, but the loss of 9 wickets for 68 runs brought them to their knees. South Africa beheaded them with ruthless conviction. The Proteas executed them a bowler short too. Wayne Parnell tore a muscle and was unable to bowl. On a feather bed wicket suited more to patient batting than blast-em-to-pieces fast bowling, Australia’s brittle order was shredded by Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and part-time spinners.

Openers Warner and Rogers made 173 of the 2nd innings 216. That’s frightening. Rolled for 216 coupled with a first innings failure of 246, it’s clear the batting needs to improve. But, so does the bowling.

Ryan Harris looked absolutely knackered and Johnson was unable to kill people on the slow wicket. Nathan Lyon bowled a thousand overs and without a fourth seamer the Aussies had to “unleash” David Warner’s lollipops.

Tampered ball?

David Warner has suggested that South Africa inappropriately handled the ball. More specifically he referred to the way wicket-keeper AB deVilliers “wiped” the rough side of the ball with his gloves. The implication is that the Proteas deliberately scuffed up the rough side of the Kookaburra to induce more swing. South African officials rubbished Warner’s claims. Coach Russell Domingo stated that Warner’s “disappointing” remarks had “added an extra 10 per cent motivation to the [South African] guys”.

Team Changes

For me Shane Watson must replace Shaun Marsh and bat at 6. Marsh has 6 ducks in 11 innings. Four from years ago, but a pair at Port Elizabeth. Alex Doolan stays because Australia must procure a proper number 3. Ryan Harris misses out for James Pattinson. Harris is brilliant, but needs a rest and Pattinson can become a superstar. He is that good.

The hosts need to replace Parnell and might go back to Ryan McClaren who was concussed by Johnson in the first Test. They might also go for Kyle Abbot who destroyed Pakistan last year in his only Test.

Newlands the greatest

I elevate Newlands as the most spectacular ground in world cricket because of its sheer beauty. To watch a Test there is a dream of mine. I have experienced Australian grounds. I’ve seen Tests at Lords, Kensington Oval and Queen’s Park in Barbados and Trinidad. Newlands would eclipse them all. Tabletop Mountain provides a stunning canvass and classic stands lead to grassy hills shaded by huge trees. Don’t miss the stunning scenery or the sparkling cricket.

Chasing status: The Pursuit at Port Elizabeth

As I write South Africa have finally declared at St George’s Park. Their lead is 447. Australia’s task is mammoth. The Aussies have never scored more than 406 in the fourth innings of a Test match.

The Australian top order failed in their first innings. The bottom 3 scored more runs than 3 of the top 4. If that trend is repeated then South Africa will defeat them and level the series 1 each. The Aussies need a a record breaking performance to win. If weather doesn’t disrupt this chase then surely a draw is off the table. 165 overs remain. Australia either score the runs or South Africa will bowl them out.

The hosts will be desperate for success. Their bowlers will send down missiles either side of lunch with the new rock, but the wicket is tame and the Proteas’ fourth seamer Wayne Parnell looks unfit to bowl. If Chris Rogers and David Warner get through then there are runs to harvest in the sunshine. Michael Holding compared the pitch to the Recreation Ground in Antigua, a feather bed run paradise. Both sides are a chance so it’ll be a great finish whatever the result.

THE CAT! Did anyone see the cat yesterday? It ran on the pitch, tore through the area between fine leg and 3rd man, leapt about in a rage of wicked joy and took off over the fence. I’ve seen dogs and a pig (alas), but never a cat at the cricket. I suppose there have been a few decent birds in the crowd…

How good is AB de Villiers!

Abraham Benjamin de Villiers is the best batsmen in world cricket. AB has reached at least 50 in his last 12 Test matches. The guy is an enigma, averaging just shy of 52 from 90 Tests. And he’s a wicket keeper and only 30 years old.

The accomplished right hander finished unbeaten – again – overnight. His 51 not contributes nearly a quarter of South Africa’s 5/214 at stumps. An intriguing battle with Nathan Lyon framed the start of his innings. He couldn’t score a run, testament to a well set field and tight bowling. AB navigated the tense exchange. If he bats for another session or two the Proteas will post a solid total. On this feather bed deck I reckon they need about 350 to squeeze the Aussies.

Australia’s batting can be brittle. ABC Grandstand’s Jim Maxwell indicated it’s about time they suffered a collapse that even Brad Haddin and the tail can’t escape. I think he’s right.

The pitch requires graft from batsmen and toil from bowlers. Discipline and patience the keys for batsman. Persistence and execution of sage plans by bowlers and fielding captains the ingredients for wickets. It’s not the sort of surface for blasting out batters with jaw shattering pace, but don’t rule this out. The bowlers on show are the best.

All eyes will be on Vernon Philander when the Saffers bowl. It was like when McGrath stood on the ball and rolled his ankle before the 2nd Test at Edgbaston in 2005. Philander strained a ham string. Distraught with panic the Proteas replaced him with Rory Klienvelt on the team sheet, only for big Vernon to express to his captain he was fine. The change was reversed. If this Test is anything like Birmingham 2005 then I shall need a defibrillator on hand.

@Cricket_Froth