Ashes Series

Wrung out yesterday, burned by Broad today – Aussie Ashes scattered

Armageddon?

After sleeping only 3 hours this morning after 3am, I’m substantially wrecked today, and so is Australian cricket. Some of you might think I’m being overly negative in response to the loss at Durham overnight, but we’ve a right to be armageddonist.

Remember how we felt in 2010-11 after England skittled us for 98 on Boxing Day at the MCG and replied with 0/150+ at stumps? Remember the 3-1 defeat, albeit three absolute thrashings, in that series over two years ago?

What about 4-0 down in India earlier this year?

How about being 3-0 down in England?

There shouldn’t be any bush beating here, Australia is at its lowest point for decades and it’s arguably a lower tide than the 1980s.

After an improved showing at Old Trafford last week I was amazed at how quickly the feeling of “we’re back” lurked behind media reactions. The phrase, while not quite spoken aloud, also seemed on the tip of tongues in conversations I’d had with fellow Australians. Sure, we’ve been in the odd decent position and our bowlers have often created that, but in a two-horse race run across five days there will almost always be a point where you can draw that bow.

The fact is, our batting collective is not Test standard, we lack resolve and fortitude and the evidence of this is plain and readily available. You won’t need Assange, Manning or Snowden to show it to you.

Don’t lose sight of the big issue

Without going on like a two-bob watch I must say that the odd positive on-field display should not distract us from the cancerous issues stymieing Australian cricket. The systematic destruction of our cricketing stocks is unintentionally orchestrated by dark, incompetent administrative forces and is first evident in the emaciation of talent available to Australia. Our stocks are thin. The numbers returned in the Sheffield Shield have been screaming it for years.

“Oh relax, we’ve had our time in the sun, it’s someone else’s turn”

This is the kind of statement made by those who concede defeat and disappointment with ease, and who lack the creativity and progressive attitude to launch remedial action. It’s the kind of statement that first permits, and then breeds mediocrity and it is spreading throughout Australian cricket – and many other sports – with devastating effect.

I’ve previously listed some of the issues I have with Australian cricket as early as 2011 and published more recent analysis of Australia’s Batting Demise, so I’ll now turn my attention to last night’s on-field events.

Day Four, Fourth Ashes Test – Durham

Congratulations England, you deserve the victory and the glory.

The poor application of some of Australia’s talented players can be blamed in part-only for last night’s collapse. Mostly it comes down to inferior ability and a higher quality of cricket played by England.

The morning began well for Australia, with the bowlers again doing their bit.

I was amazed at Aleem Dar’s decision to not give Tim Bresnan out when he didn’t bother to play a shot to Jackson Bird, who struck him on the pad, dead in front of the stumps. Height the only partial issue of pedantic concern. A review followed, but according to hawkeye, with half the ball smashing the stumps, Dar’s decision couldn’t be overturned. The bloke didn’t play a shot. May as well have tossed the bat away and was racked right in front. In my book that is out, all day, every day and it is only in this DRS/hawkeye world where this mantra has been eroded.

I ask then, how long will it be before the pitching outside leg criteria for LBW is questioned?

If the ball pitches outside leg you can’t be given out LBW. This rule hails from a pre-hawkeye world where umpires had to be sceptical of the angle, assuming the ball would need to do far too much to hit the stumps. Hawkeye’s exponents will argue that if it can be shown the ball will rattle the castle, then perhaps the old interpretation should be referred for review…

Ryan Harris is a superstar and his 7 wickets in England’s second innings included some absolute rippers to top order batsmen. At 33, Harris must be gutted at the realisation he may never win an Ashes Series. He will certainly never win one in England.

Crashing from 2/167 to all out for 224 in the final session last night was a bitter blow, but as I’ve written here it should remind us of the bigger issues in Australian cricket. Stuart Broad’s evening spell was a catalogue of high class bowling, deft captaincy and good fielding. How this Australian camp can regroup and perform well at The Oval in a week is beyond me. That dressing room must be an horrific place today…

Just think, we’ve got 6 more Tests against England and then we’re away for 3 against the world’s best Test side and bowling attack, South Africa. Look out.

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Weather permitting, crackling cricket remains to rivet – Days Two & Three

Grit, grind, graft and trench warfare. This is tough Test Match cricket at Old Trafford and unfortunately, it appears that the Manchester weather will eliminate Australia’s hopes of victory.

I failed to write yesterday as the nip of domestic chores and general life maintenance requirements consumed time. Here I sit on a Sunday morning after a cracking night with friends Jen and Ian, who came to our place for some food, music, drinks and a few yarns. The night before we hosted Chris and Hien for an almost identical set. Two late nights, big on the wine and always with the Test Match close by, which pulled us in with its variety of twists and turns.

Day Two (Friday night) saw Australia continue its prudent first day batting display. Declaration came just after the Tea break. Who would have thought, a declaration? Australia were barely able to string together 200 at Lords, let alone surpassing 500 with Michael Clarke giving it the big wave from the deck of the pavilion.

The Captain had done his bit, with a marvellous knock of 187. His vice, Brad Haddin played an almost surreptitious hand, with an unbeaten 65 off 99 balls. Starc and Smith also get mentions and while the latter fell for 89, his innings assisted Australia in more ways than the cumulative of his runs. He batted time and demanded a great deal of graft from England’s bowlers, which set up the cameo knocks of his colleagues later on. Particularly Starc, who nutted out a 66 not out off 71 balls taking full advantage of a tired bowling group and propelling Australia beyond 500.

At 2/52 overnight England faced a mountainous task to avoid the follow on figure (328). But, on Day Three (Saturday night) England showed plenty of fight and their stoic batting held Australia at bay, who could only manage five wickets. Kevin Pietersen built a score of 113, while Ian Bell again gracefully added vital runs.

Australia are still on top in this game, with England trailing by 233 runs with three wickets in hand, but father time and mother nature are threatening to mate, and produce an ugly offspring for Australia.

Controversy, again

Snicko, hawkeye, hotspot and slow motion replays dominate my sleeping consciousness, such is their prominence in this Ashes series. More DRS controversy and poor umpiring has affected both sides in this match over the last two days and the ICC will come under sustained pressure to justify its systems, processes and human resources. I don’t have the energy to dissect and micro analyse the elements today, but rest assured, this series is generating doctoral research level talking points about the administration and officiating of cricket.

Looking ahead to Day Four

Australia need to fire out England’s remaining three wickets within an hour or two on Day Four. England need 34 runs to avoid the follow on figure, but it’s very unlikely Australia will enforce it. Instead, the scenario would seem that Australia will bat and attempt to nail on an extra 150 to the lead, declare and have another crack at England’s superior batting line up. Two days to go, six sessions of cricket and plenty of surprises remain. I hope there’s a two day drought in Manchester!

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Proper Test Match batting – Day One, Third Test – Old Trafford

Finally Australia have put on a display of proper Test Match batting.

I locked myself in for the evening, along with half of Australia and much of the rest of the cricketing world, in the hope that we would at least make a contest of this match. It’s all at stake in Manchester; careers, legacies, levels of interest and of course, the Ashes urn.

No change to the England side that demolished Australia at Lords. Three changes for Australia with Ashton Agar moving out for Nathan Lyon (don’t worry, Agar is 19 he will feature again) and Phil Hughes making way for David Warner. Mitch Starc got the nod to replace the injured James Pattinson.

The day’s play

Australia won the toss and on a wicket that looked great for batting all day and beyond, it was a vital moment. A solid base was needed and Rogers and Watson began to construct it with Rogers the aggressor and Watson the cautious, watchful one. Unfortunately for the latter he got out again on a start, 19. But, it was a pearler of a delivery from Tim Bresnan. No batsmen in the world could resist that nibbling line and perfect length and Watson prodded to the delight of wicket-keeper Prior.

Rogers persisted and raced beyond fifty exhibiting a fine array of shots. His new partner Usman Khawaja seemed terrified of Graeme Swann at Lords, so it was no surprise that he was quickly set up to face his dreaded phobia. Swann took his wicket in dramatic circumstances and I’ve already reflected on the Usman Khawaja DRS fiasco.

2/92 at lunch, a reasonable start. After a round of ham sandwiches, a packet of crisps and cup of hot water infused with sub-continental tea leaves, it was out for the second session.

Rogers and Clarke pushed on, but the gritty 35 year old opener was distracted by persistent movement up at the pavilion. A few overs passed and with constant interruptions up there, Rogers grew increasingly discontent. It contributed to his downfall, with a cunning full delivery by Swann trapping him LBW, right after another incident of unsuccessful communication with the buffoons up on the deck, one of whom turns out to be club cricket mate of Rogers.

England sensed a blood bath and they circled. But, the methodical and much ameliorated Steve Smith provided precisely the foil that Captain Michael Clarke needed.

In the Lords Preview I talked about the need to bat 120 overs plus in the first innings of a Test Match, and that the ability to leave the ball was a critical component of this. On a bouncy pitch more akin to an Australian wicket both Smith and Clarke executed leave after leave with aplomb. The result was an England bowling attack who began to show signs of irritation and fatigue. As I did at about 0145, trudging off to my own pavilion a little happier than most times this series.

Final Day One observations

Although not in the same galaxy as the Khawaja incident, England had their own brush with DRS dissatisfaction. They thought they had Smith caught behind for 25 before Tea, but the field umpire disagreed, they confidently reviewed and while there was some strange tick noise, there was no other compelling evidence. Mike Atherton said it was justice to Australia – a rubbish statement. Smith consumed both of England’s reviews and remains unbeaten on 75. Here in the southern hemisphere we hope he nails his maiden century tonight.

England will fight back, they’re too good not to. The Old Trafford crowd showed signs of becoming more boisterous and will increase it’s cacophony of support in the coming days. Australia must bat on for as long as possible and not even consider the D word, at all.

The stage is set for David Warner to blast Australia to a big score once Smith and Clarke reassert Australia’s ascendency on Day Two resuming at 3/303. Let’s hope the infamous Manchester weather remains clement.

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Is the DRS rubbish or are some ICC umpires utterly useless?

That is the volcanic inferno inducing question, once again.

After only one session of cricket in the third Test here we sit, not discussing Australia’s reasonable start with the bat (2/92 at lunch). Instead, all across Australia and parts of the world social media fumes over the sheer incompetence and totally unsatisfactory performance of the field umpire, and the third umpire operating the Decision Review System.

I was absolutely ropeable at the outcome of Usman Khawaja’s review. He was clearly not-out, missed it by two inches; no noise, no hotspot, no deviation. Why England appealed I have no idea, but they did and the field umpire obliged. The batsmen reviewed, then in an act of total absurdity, the third umpire concurred and Khawaja was sent packing.

I received about 11 text messages from fellow Australians raging over the inexplicable outcome. I bashed out about as many diatribes to friends and colleagues. Social media burned with hatred and the targets were many; the ICC, the umpires, the DRS, England, technology, you name it.

DRS or Umpire fault?

As the cloud of frothing anger begins to recede (is that possible?) the key point of debate should focus on whether the technology or the umpire is to blame?

There’s no question that the third umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, completely stuffed this one up. He had access to compelling evidence and his job was to overturn the field umpire’s horrendous decision. He failed.

In what circumstances is human error least acceptable?

With or without DRS humans will make mistakes. We can accept that. We have to. We’ve all copped a howler, benefited from one, or witnessed one from the stands or the couch. But, the circumstances of this dismissal are unforgivable. DRS was designed to reduce the instance of howlers, not introduce new ones. Accountability is required and answers are needed.

India refuse to play with DRS, perhaps they’re feeling pretty vindicated right about now.

Reacting to the Ashes defeat in 2010-11 – Deja Vu in 2013?

I recently located a piece (maybe it’s a rant) I’d written in the wake of Australia’s humiliating 3-1 defeat to England in the home Ashes Series of 2010-11. It’s interesting to see how little Cricket Australia has done between then, and now (the selection panel and coach have changed). People are writing similar things two and half years later. How can Sutherland keep his job?

13 January 2011

James Sutherland, Tim Nielsen and Andrew Hilditch have avoided taking any responsibility for what is happening in Australian cricket. We’ve just been absolutely hammered by our bitter rivals on home soil and their reaction is not in perspective. Sutherland is more interested in appeasing sponsors with flash in the pan 2020 matches than promoting the specific interests of Shield and Test cricket. Hilditch is only interested in his interpretation and personal standing. Nielsen is not a leader of men in the same mould as Andy Flower or Bob Simpson and subsequently cannot establish a tough winning culture. Our team were absolutely rattled against England, psychologically battered.

The current misguided PR and PC driven culture of Cricket Australia is reflected in the dressing room and it is taking an enormous toll. The focus is all wrong and it stems from these administrators. Test Match cricket is a technical game, but it also requires strength of character, because it is often a game of tactical and psychological warfare.

England utterly dominated the technical and psychological aspects. Did the administration give our players the best opportunity to prepare and execute these skills? I think not. Some might say these observations are knee-jerk, but there are many of us who have been highlighting problems with systems, structures and cultures in our game since 2007 and earlier. These “leaders” have not taken any responsibility, they do not listen and their reaction to this loss solidifies the fact they are not up to the massive task of restoring Australian cricket back at the top. While I’m at it, Australian fans need a serve too.

We have been butchered by a travelling army of English fans and they have utterly embarrassed this nation by turning each and every Australian ground into a manifestation of England. Their support was first class, Australia’s barely existed – and at a time when the team needed it most. Anyone who doubts the compelling impact of this support, well, go and ask the players of both teams. Australian cricket requires change and improvement on and off the field, and on both sides of the boundary fence.

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