2nd Test

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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I need sleep, but I can’t let go of this riddle!

Here we go again. It’s Day Five, we’ve had play, we’ve had wickets and I think I’m going to need that defibrillator again. This is unbelievable. The problem is, it’s raining now!

England are rocking at 3/33, but father time and mother nature are mating again and they want a draw. Every Australian fan and neutral is screaming for more dry weather and wickets. You guessed it too. We’ve had more controversy with umpiring and DRS. Ally Cook was absolutely plumb, Jonathan Trott was out, but Kevin Pietersen… well. The umpire gave him out, he reviewed, hot spot did not support the original decision, but he was sent packing.

The increasingly impossible riddle of original decision versus referral, leading to hotspot, close camera analysis, deviation detection, noise, player reaction and gut instinct is enough to shatter the sanity of players and fans of both sides.

My initial and gut instinct was that Pietersen was not out. It wasn’t as clear as Usman Khawaja’s miss on Day One, but there was little evidence he hit it. The inadmissible snickometre detected something though, so I will say that at best Pietersen may have feathered a tiny thread of seam string. The close up photo showing the position of the ball indicates this might, just might, be the case.

Anyway. The second session is yet to commence due to rain. The full covers are out and I’m a jittering wreck of a man. I need sleep, I have heaps of work to do, my fitness is declining. This series is battering me, a ludicrous cocktail of pleasure and pain and I can’t let go, not now. I know I’m not alone either.

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2-0 to England and Australia’s invertebrate batting

Congratulations and well played England. Two nil up in the series and powering on toward what could be a resounding series victory at Old Trafford next week.

England batted for 18 minutes on Day Four with the declaration coming immediately after Joe Root got out for 180. Australia’s task was more about fighting for survival and showing character and resilience along the way, than serious consideration of a win. The highest fourth innings run chase in Test cricket is 418, so evidence suggests even the greatest of batting line ups would not have amassed the 580-odd required to win.

With Australia’s batting bereft of greatness they withered away from the start. Australia had just over 80 minutes to survive before the luncheon, but haemorrhaged three wickets before the interval. After lunch, Clarke and Khawaja provided some resistance, but when part-time spinner Joe Root nailed both of them in quick succession, the end was nigh.

Once again Australia’s bowlers, presently known for possessing more spine than their invertebrate batting colleagues, deferred the English victory until the last over of the day. The bottom four put on 85 with the number ten and eleven (Pattinson and Harris) outscoring five of Australia’s top seven.

Australia’s batting demise

There’s a lot to be said, but in brief there are three glaring issues.

Firstly, the shunting of Sheffield Shield to either end of the Australian summer to accommodate an increasingly dominant T20 “Big Bash”. It not only disrupts the Shield season, it diminishes its credibility and importance. The move sends completely the wrong message about cricket’s priorities and affects the development and skill set of young players. Not even India allows its popular IPL to clash with the Ranji Trophy, its First Class competition.

The Sheffield Shield format is not infallible. The points system pushes teams to chase outright victories. State sides are doing all they can to achieve this. In recent years pressure has been applied to groundsmen to prepare green-top pitches ensuring wickets will fall. For example, current Shield champions Tasmania turned Bellerive into a graveyard for visiting batting sides this past season.

Flicking through the scorecards of recent seasons reveals a lowering of team totals. Batsmen are becoming more fragile, less capable of compiling runs over long periods, and bowlers are robbed of the opportunity to toil and develop the skill to extract wickets on unforgiving surfaces. The pitches are a total mismatch to what is the norm in Test cricket.

Thirdly, Cricket Australia’s new excellence programs appear to rip young players out of traditional systems by changing the development pathways. Grade cricket is less and less the natural rung step for cricketers with aspirations.

Australia’s grade cricket used to be the best, at that level, in the world and provided a diverse mix of young talent, raw tearaways and qualified has-beens. It provided a tough, gritty and rewarding environment to serve a cricketing apprenticeship. Instead it seems getting a fancy tracksuit, heading down the nets to face a bowling machine and then playing in a glorified T20 carnival is more valued now.

CA have a lot to answer for. It’s time for James Sutherland and probably half the board to GO!