2013 Ashes Series

England Destroyed; Australia emphatically hammers Ashes cricket foe

Australia have hammered English cricket.

It has been destroyed by the grandeur of Australia’s incredible performance and a vicious disintegration of a once-great team’s continuity. Australia won the 5th Test by 281 runs. Cook won the toss, sent Australia in to bat and lost the Test match inside 3 days. Believe me, this is momentous and as retiring ABC Grandstand legend Kerry O’Keefe stated, “heads will roll”.

It’s not just the falling apart of this team, the 5-0 defeat will elicit an intense review of coaching, captaincy, leadership, culture and selection policy.

All sorts of cracks appeared early on the tour, and the way in which England keeled over and died on the third day of the fifth Test in Sydney confirmed the cracks had become deep cavernous ravines. The style of England’s cricket, their tactics, and the dressing room culture require change.

The writing was on the wall in England when they won the Ashes 3-0 at home. The 3-0 scoreline flattered England. Other than Lords, Australia fought closely in two defeats – a 14 run loss in Nottingham and a fourth innings collapse and 74 run loss in Durham. Everyone remembers how poorly Australia batted, but Australian batsmen made up 5 of the top 6 run scorers of that series. Only Ian Bell scored significant runs for England and many others failed averaging 30 or less. England’s bowling attack creaked, just slightly, papered over by the sheer overall quality of Anderson, Broad and Swann.

That trio is now finished. Swann has retired. James Anderson still has a lot to offer, but is 31 and Stuart Broad has been one of England’s better performers on the tour, but they need more depth. They’ll find it if they look in the right places and correctly blood and develop their next generation, but it will take effort and time.

22 year old New Zealand born Ben Stokes has been an epic revelation. Stokes is a handy cricketer with an aggressive attitude and a willingness to fight for his country. England is at a crossroad: either they fully commit to a considered process of renewal, or they enter a protracted decline that risks a 90s-style wilderness sabbatical.

Australia’s crossroad is more positive, but arguably equally as challenging. Captain Michael Clarke has stated that the squad’s ambition is to become the number 1 Test team in the world. The next 12 months presents that opportunity. In four weeks Australia tour South Africa. The 3 Test Matches against the number 1 Springboks will be absolute war, with two fiercely combative fast-bowling units attempting to strangulate two pugnacious batting line ups. Later this year Australia plays Pakistan in the UAE, which will present another intense examination. India visit for four Tests in the summer.

Can older players such as Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris continue to deliver? Will Steve Smith and David Warner develop further and become rock solid, world-class batsmen? Despite 6 of the top 7 getting centuries during this series there are still significant question marks about Australia’s batting.

The 5-0 victory is massive given the sporadic success of Australian national sports teams in recent years. The Australians have a right to celebrate hard. England did just that in 2010-11 when they took a 2-1 lead at the MCG. Back then 25,000 English surrounded the Barmy Army in the Southern Stand and, along with the English players and support staff, did the “sprinkler dance” in front of the world’s cricket media. I doubt we’ll see such a display here, but there will be plenty of banter and there damn well should be. Long live Test Match cricket.

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When will Australia declare and can England fight and survive?

Smashing feet and hands Mitchell Johnson has continued his resurgence by assaulting England’s batsmen and putting Stuart Broad out of this Test. Australia are on the brink of victory, England on the slippery slope to oblivion.

How the chips have fallen

On Day 1 Australia won the toss and batted. Within minutes a disastrous run-out (a felony in a Test Match) put Australia on the back-foot. By drinks in the 2nd session Australia were 5/150 and sailing to a below par score. The stage was set for young number 5 Steve Smith who scored a fine century and assisted the hosts to put on the most runs ever scored in a day at Perth (326). Smith was aided by solid batting from Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson and Australia’s tail helped to secure an eventual 385 run total.

England began well with Cook and Carberry navigating the new ball and posting 85 runs off 25overs. After Carberry’s departure partnerships were scarce and wickets fell periodically. England can feel aggrieved by Joe Root’s dismissal. It was a tough call.

At 4/180odd on day 3 England were still in the Test with a strong chance of at least a draw, but tight and relentless bowling picked off England’s batsmen who were hurried out for a total of 235. Needing to bowl Australia out cheaply in the second innings England’s struggles, compounded by Broad’s absence, were exemplified by David Warner and Chris Rogers. The Australian openers put on 157 for the first wicket and drove England out of the game. Warner’s second century of the series carved England to pieces and the matter of declaration timing and the unleashing of Australia’s bowlers again now rages as the most popular topic at water coolers in Australian offices.

Warner, Clarke and Haddin have combined to score 4 more runs (1054) than the combined total of England’s squad (1050) in this series and it seems the trend is set to continue.

How are England doing?

A ragged England displayed their worst characteristics during the last 30 minutes of day 3. Test cricket is a psychological game and assessing micro interactions and on-field choices is a viable method of determining where a team or an individual is at. Here’s the picture that unfolded during that final 30 minutes on Sunday evening.

Severely under the pump and way behind in the game, but with potential to salvage a draw still available to tap, a defeatist England portrayed a team on a sharp decline ambivalent about fighting for a draw.  In the fading sunshine bemused faces were carried by nonchalant and exhausted bodies.

We’ve heard how influential the Barmy Army have been in the good times, spurring on England’s bowlers to rip through batting line ups and fire the team during fighting sessions, but yesterday their influence seemed poisonous.

As England’s players lobbed about unenthusiastically in the field, the jovial Barmy Army led by their happy trumpeter, sang and clapped as if at a birthday party. The malapropos tunes of the trumpet drifted across the WACA and seemed to deflate England further. The ill-matched fandom inspired a half-baked appeal from James Anderson and Matt Prior for a “catch” down the leg side to Steve Smith. Prior’s tongue-in-cheek appeal was over spiced with desperation.

Cook, Prior, Swann and others shared a laugh, but they provided the comedy for the rest of us when, in ridiculous circumstances, England chose to review a Joe Root appeal for LBW. Root, bowling around the wicket to Shane Watson pitched the ball about 12inches outside leg stump, hit the pad about 3inches outside leg and appealed as if it was a sure thing. The umpire almost laughed while declining the appeal, but Cook engaged the DRS. It was a pathetic referral and an insight into England’s diminished attitude and fortunes.

Meanwhile, the Barmy Army chanted the theme to Escape to Victory, again, for the fifteenth time that day and for the forty fourth millionth time in recent history. A refreshed repertoire is required on and off the pitch if England are to save this Test and keep the fight for the Ashes Urn alive.

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2-0 to Australia: Are England done and dusted?

I’m not writing an obituary or presenting a detailed postmortem of England. We don’t have a carcass to analyse yet. They’re on life-support in the back of an ambulance heading west across the Nullarbor with a slim chance of revival.

Many cricket writers and spectators will offer their analysis of why England are 2-0 down and why they have been battered from pillar to post by Australia. It’s too early for that.

Since Darren Lehmann’s installation as head coach there’s been notable differences in the way Australia conducts business. At the heart of their business model is a determinately aggressive attitude and cause commitment unmitigated by internal conflict. Power politics, disputes and petty distractions littered the dressing room prior to Lehmann’s reign, but now every player in that camp is invested into whatever the leadership has articulated as necessary to win back the Ashes, and it’s working. They field as if possessed by a spiritual connection to feeding sharks mauling scraps, eager to obtain the ball and stymie every English run. They have batted with composure and they have found fighters when collapse seemed likely.

Two nil up and heading to Perth, where the weather will beat down on the tourists and the pitch will batter them from underneath, is a perfect status for the home side and a fair indication of the action. Australia’s western capital will supply 40 degrees of heat throughout the third Test, turning the WACA ground into an inescapable furnace. The Fremantle doctor will blow and invite explosive in-swinging wrath from Mitchell Johnson, while the surface – commonly regarded as the fastest cricket wicket in the world – will heap yet more pain on an English batting order that has, at times, genuinely looked afraid.

Can England get back?

Had England taken their chances on Day 1 of the 2nd Test in Adelaide (they dropped several catches), this match may have panned out differently. Australia should have been on the ropes and struggling to make 300 in their first innings, but England grassed a handful of chances and Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin forced them to pay dearly on Day 2. Had Mitchell Johnson not been able to unleash that destructive spell on the middle and lower belly of the English order on Day 3 then other outcomes may have transpired too. Australia are well on top in this series, their ascendency undeniable, but don’t scoff, there are still avenues of return for England in a series that is not yet half way over.

A glimpse or two of fight emerged from Joe Root, Kevin Pietersen, Ben Stokes and Matt Prior who showed that there is desire to hit back, but their reach is questionable and Australia are feeling mighty.

Perth

Australia won’t change their team unless one of the troops is unfit. NSW quick Doug Bollinger is on stand-by if an incumbent bowler needs to be withdrawn. On the other hand England will consider several changes. Coach Andy Flower has sent back-up batsmen Jonny Bairstow and Garry Balance ahead of the squad to play in a practice match. They’ll play right up until the eve of the 3rd Test and be unable to prepare with the rest of the squad. It is difficult to decipher if this signifies that their inclusion is unlikely, but England could do with an extra batsman. Graeme Swann hasn’t troubled Australia’s batsmen in two Tests on the bounce so perhaps one could stage an argument that he should be withdrawn in favour of Tim Bresnan.

The Needle

The needle shall continue at Perth. Kerry O’Keefe and Drew Morphett – two great ABC radio commentators – described an “ugly” scene late on the fourth day at Adelaide. They felt that the verbal exchanges and the accidental physical contact between Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes had gone too far. Skull O’Keefe and Morphett implored the ICC match referee to intervene and present an ultimatum to both dressing rooms to simmer the exchanges down. I’m not sure if this intervention has occurred – Johnson and Stokes were charged, but cleared on appeal – but, I doubt the temperature of this contest will decrease.

Australia are on a mission, England under siege and the Ashes can be won and lost within the week.

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The Adelaide spectacle – 2nd Ashes Test 2013-14

Do you have any plans for the weekend?

Cancel them. England resume tomorrow on 1/35 and they’re chasing a mountain of Australian runs. At first, the bowling will be fresh and fierce and then tactically relentless, the batting should be stoic and the contest will paralyze spectators.

Australia will rue the missed chance from the last ball of day 2. Michael Carberry found himself on strike after Joe Root bizarrely took off for a mindless single on the second last ball of the day. Carberry was unable to connect bat with ball and would have been given out LBW had Australia reviewed the original not-out decision. Carberry survived Root’s capricious run.

Australia’s Adelaide innings

Far for from being impulsive Australia’s batting card indicates collective contribution. Only Steve Smith missed out. At 5 for 270odd at stumps on Day 1 honours were said to be even. I probably had England ahead on the basis that 450 seemed par for the Adelaide Oval.

I missed the first day’s play while participating in a conference. All day I dreamed of the conference’s conclusion and the afternoon’s drive to cricket training where my car’s radio and the famed ABC commentary would catapult me from corporate slogans and into modern, sporting warfare.

My radio wouldn’t work. Seething is one expression. There were many others screamed at fictitious technological gods and slow drivers too. Nonetheless I caught up on the day’s play during the late night sports news.

Graeme Swan remarked buoyantly that if England claimed early wickets on Day 2 then they could exert authority on the Test Match.

By the Tea Break on Day 2 the Australian captain’s crafty century drove England into submission and forced the holders of the precious Ashes Urn to wait patiently for an innings declaration. Vice captain Brad Haddin more than chimed in with a studiously crafted century of his own and when tail ender and Australian fast-bolwing spearhead Ryan Harris knocked up a casual 50odd off tired English bowling, the declaration finally came.

Australia had set England 570 runs.

England’s innings so far

Mitchell Johnson was unleashed late on the second day and given a mandate to attack England’s opening batsmen. Bowling in excess of 150kph Johnson terrorised Michael Carberry and Alistair Cook. The latter had his stumps torn from the ground and looked more than all at sea trying the fend off the red leather assault. The England captain seemed as if he was in outer space and will probably consider staying there if his side do not bat for at least the majority of day 3.

The amazing game of Test Cricket

The Ashes kicks off tomorrow at 10am Queensland time, but get yourself in front of the television at 0745am.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the Test Match between West Indies and New Zealand. The Caribbean tourists had won the toss and sent New Zealand in to bat. The host team embraced the invitation to score runs and blasted over 600 and then skittled the West Indies for a paltry 213. Required to follow on the West Indies looked down and beaten, but in a twist that even the finest pundit would not have been able to predict, the tourists remain unbeaten in their second innings and will take a 47 run lead into Day 5. Darren Bravo is not out on 210.

That match promises an entertaining conclusion and the changing fortunes of the sides beset by brilliant individual performances is yet another example of how great Test Match cricket really is.

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Win the toss and bat for days – The Adelaide Oval, 2nd Ashes Test

Do not win the toss and elect to bowl at the Adelaide Oval. Win it and bat for 2 days.

A simple plan and one that both captains will be hoping to institute on Thursday morning. Neither Michael Clarke or Alistair Cook will make the mistake that West Indian captain Darren Sammy made yesterday, against New Zealand in Dunedin. Sammy won the toss and elected to field. New Zealand carved out 600 runs and forced the lads from the Caribbean to bowl 150 overs before declaring.

England will be more thoughtful about declaration if they find themselves in a position of ascendency at the Adelaide Oval. In 2006 the then England captain Andy Flintoff declared England’s first innings for 550. England subsequently lost that Adelaide Test Match and the series 5-0. They’ll choose to recall their most recent experience instead. In 2010 England pounded an Australian bowling attack that could only be described as relatively sub-standard. Xavier Doherty and Marcus North toiled away attempting to fill the role of spin attack, while an injured Doug Bollinger failed to penetrate formidable and strident English batting.

This time the form suggests Australia’s bowling will present an entirely different proposition. The “Gabbatoir” performance in Brisbane last week had exponents and appreciators of aggressive quick bowling salivating. Adelaide’s pitch will be different, but exactly how different remains a mystery.

This is not the usual Adelaide wicket. The South Australian Cricket Association accepted big money from AFL to redevelop the ground and this means that for the first time in Adelaide a Test Match will be played on a “drop in” pitch sourced from elsewhere.

Only two Sheffield Shield matches have been played there this season. Shield players have described a wicket that failed to deteriorate throughout the four days. Perhaps the curator has something different in stall for this Test Match. Only time will tell.

England spent a week in Alice Springs after the Brisbane demolition. In Australia’s red centre they closed ranks and mostly avoided Australian media. Their performance in a 2 day tour match against an Australian Chairman’s XI was ordinary. Questions about their XI for this Test remain, but it seems that Gary Ballance and Tim Bresnan will replace Johnathon Trott and Chris Tremlett or Monty Panesar may be added as a second spinner. If the Australian camp feels confident in Shane Watson’s ability to bowl 15-25overs in an innings then I think they will be unchanged from Brisbane.

The next few days should deliver an enthralling cricket experience and a highly competitive sequel to the epically dramatic and one-sided first Test. Enjoy the spectacle!

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Australia Resurrected – What about the sledging controversy?

Australia have annihilated England in an amazing First Test at Brisbane. The magnitude of this victory is so great that early observations point toward a possible shift in continental cricketing power. With four Test Matches to go in this series there’s a long time before any compelling assertions can be made about that, but the writing is on the wall for England.

The rivalry between these players is immense and I have no doubt that England will attempt to stage an aggressive fight back. Australia will be ready.

The needle

On Saturday night David Warner accused England of being scared. England’s captain Alistair Cook refuted this and believes Warner’s comment was “disrespectful”. He is probably fair in his assessment that sledging should be kept on the field of battle. I detected a slight agitation from the normally composed England captain and I sense that England’s dressing room will be bristling about this defeat and some of the incidents. Quite a bit of savage needle was exchanged in the middle.

Update: Now that Johnathon Trott has returned home to England with a stress related illness Warner’s comment is attracting even more attention and criticism. I think it is outrageously harsh to pin any blame for Trott’s circumstances on David Warner. He wasn’t to know Trott’s state of health, which is likely to expand well beyond any comments about cricket performances. Trott seems to be a good bloke and he is an exceptional cricketer. I wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery.

Michael Clarke gave James Anderson a significant spray late on the final day and some media have suggested he overstepped the mark, but I say leave it to the players. They know the limits, they know what is proportionate and as Clarke has said “he gives as good he gets”. England have certainly given it. James Anderson is one of the most prolific sledgers going around.

This is high stakes professional cricket and it is a massive rivalry. Let’s not forget that there are two umpires out in the middle and they are the arbiters, not the random punters phoning radio stations on a moral crusade.

Update: The ICC has since fined Clarke 20% of his match fee. I find this to be a popular reactionary measure issued only because the stump microphones were erroneously left on and the broadcaster beamed the sledge “get ready for a broken f*&^%$g arm” into lounge-rooms.

Both captains received extra treatment from bowlers and surrounding fielders.

The resurrection

On the fourth and final day, with the match on the line, Mitchell Johnson chose to get stuck into the England captain and didn’t hesitate to remind the Barmy Army about his resurrection. And what a resurrection it is. Johnson was slaughtered by England fans and media during the 2010-11 Ashes series and was criticised for his supposedly weak mentality.

It’s clear this man possesses a strong character and a supreme work ethic. To return from where he was – out of the side and on the alleged decline – is an outstanding personal and professional achievement. In this Test he scored over 100 runs and was dismissed only once. He took 9 wickets with some huge scalps thrown in. It was rather fitting that the match ended with him taking a catch off his own bowling. I thoroughly enjoyed his hostility. It reminded me of the great West Indian quicks I recall from growing up. Long may it continue.

Are Australia back?

Australia have snapped a streak of nine Test Matches without a victory and they’ve done it with sensational style. There’s a lot of cricket to go before we say Australia are back though.

The victory was completed with notable contribution from all eleven players and this is vital. The form of David Warner, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and the bowling effort from Johnson and Lyon is ominous for England. In the past 18months Australia’s Test team has resembled a metropolitan bus stop. With various players coming and going and shifting up and down the order. In stark contrast Australia now looks solid. The revolving selection door may just have slammed shut. Suddenly it is England who will consider changes.

I note that Sky Sports in England is running a poll asking readers to vote whether Johnathon Trott should be dropped.

Update: If David Warner should be targeted for criticism, will sections of the English sports media be singled out too? Some immediately after the Test defeat, launched a savage campaign to sack Johnathon Trott.

There will be questions about Chris Tremlett and Joe Root, but mainly because England may consider an all-rounder or extra spinner at Adelaide.

Pending fitness, Australia shouldn’t change their team. George Bailey must be given the entire series to prove is he cut out for a top six Test batting spot. Nathan Lyon sparked the collapse of England’s batting on Day Two and took the vital wickets of Cook and Prior on Day Four. Peter Siddle consistently beat the bat and snared the prized wicket of Ian Bell on the last day. Ryan Harris remains Australia’s spearhead bowler. Steven Smith contributed an invaluable 32 runs in Australia’s faulty first innings and Chris Rogers is Australia’s rock.

England’s batting

Six wickets for 9 runs in 53 minutes on Day 2. England simply didn’t bat well enough in this Test Match. They lost 4/10 after the thunderstorm had passed on Day 4 and eventually 6/37 to lose. They failed to score 200 in either innings on a good cricket wicket and Stuart Broad was the only player to score more than 8 in both innings. Bad batting and brilliant bowling combined with well executed tactics ensured England perished well short of par.

The record of most of England’s players indicates they will respond. If there’s one player who might break Sachin Tendulkar’s record 51 Test centuries it could be Alistair Cook. He has 25 and is 28, but Cook has four 50s against Australia in his last 12 Test innings, and no centuries.

The England captain needs to lift if his team are to fight back and retain the Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen is another who must lift. He has 1 century and three 50s against Australia from 12 innings in 2013. Johnathon Trott has two 50s and no centuries against Australia in 12 innings. The time is nigh for these batsmen and Adelaide is the pitch. If they cannot redeem themselves there then the chorus of discontent will reverberate loudly.

Update: It seems England’s obvious choice to replace Trott is Johnny Bairstow with perhaps a likely reshuffling of the batting order. Tim Bresnan is another candidate, but it seems England require a full-time batsmen.

Closure

I had a cracking time watching the First Test in Brisbane. I had to leave the ground early on the final day when the hail stones hit. Alas, I had to return to my home port for work on Monday. I was able to catch the last few wickets on the television at the airport. As I entered the Qantas Club lounge at Brisbane I was greeted by roars of joy as hundreds of people in the lounge were huddled around televisions cheering on Australia. Those who think Test cricket is dead, think again. It is alive and thriving and so is this Test Series. See you all next week for the Adelaide preview.

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Queensland: The Police State – Australia throttle England

Today’s edition of Cricket Froth summarises two days of enthralling Ashes cricket from the Gabba. Unable to post yesterday, I find myself struggling to gather my thoughts. Two days on the beer with the lads, with consumption estimated to have exceeded a dozen 425ml plastic cups of XXXX Gold per man per day, I was in a world of pain this morning. But, Australia’s on-field fortunes could arouse any hungover bloke and after a night out at Valley Fiesta in Fortitude Valley, I trudged to Brisbane’s cricket ground once more. Albeit just after lunch…

At an exorbitant $7.80 per cup our group has contributed to somebody’s wealth and early retirement and detracted from our own. That’s Australia though. It’s an increasingly expensive paradise and the Gabba is a fine example of this. Not only is it expensive, it is draconian. People were ejected throughout the day for a range of insignificant misdemeanors – accumulating beer cups into stacks, throwing around beach balls – but perhaps the worst example of the police state was when a photographer was ejected by police for kicking a beach ball back over the fence to the fans. This riled the fans, who earlier had cheered the journalist and now booed the police, possibly questioning how far the culture of over-zealous nanny statism can go before there’s an insurrection.

Luckily the Australian cricket team are producing the goods. It was an amazing period of play to witness when Australia ripped through England’s highly decorated batting line up on Day Two. For about 60 minutes the place was absolutely shaking, most of the 38,000 were up and dancing in the aisles, spilling precious beer all over the place. The crowd was baying for blood and it pushed the Australian bowlers on to destroy England. I won’t forget that hour. It was one of the most enjoyable I have witnessed in live sport.

Today was also significant. David Warner and Michael Clarke scored hundreds and Brad Haddin nailed back-to-back 50s for the first time in a Test Match. Mitchell Johnson also contributed with the timber and played a great foil finishing unbeaten on 39.

The best thing Mitch did all day was dismiss Jonathon Trott. He then ran to the out-field to hug Nathan Lyon who took the catch, and gave it large to the Barmy Army, who sat motionless and silent. Johnson is entitled to this as he’s received a lot of flack from them in the past. The much discussed Barmy have been silent for nearly 3 days and I did note that few, if any of them, stood and clapped today’s centurions. Seems as though a few of them have got the hump. Maybe the beer is too expensive.

Australia haven’t been beaten by England at the “Gabbatoir” since the mid 1980s and there’s no way that will change in this Test Match. For England to win they’d have to break a lot of records. They’ll resume tomorrow on 2/24 needing an impossible 537 to win. They’ll hope for rain, but I don’t think there will be enough weather disruption to save them. Only their batsmen can do that now.

A 1-0 lead would be massive though because the way the Adelaide pitch has been playing this season it’s hard to see a result there. Then it’s over to Perth and I fancy Australia on that deck. The job is not done for Australia yet, these 8 wickets will be tough to take as I do believe England will fight.

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