Ashes Series

The Ashes are over, but the need to promote cricket has never been stronger

Ashes Finale

The Ashes in England are over. England 3 – Australia 0.

Much has been said of the series, elsewhere and on this blog. The scoreline suggests England were totally dominant and battered Australia, but those of us that followed almost every ebb and flow of the series are acutely aware of a few moments when Australia had the ascendency, and could have won Test Matches.

Australia lost by only 14 runs at Trent Bridge and were annihilated at Lords. They had England on the ropes on the last day at Old Trafford, before rain stole almost a full day’s play. Australia were 1/150+ chasing 290odd at Chester le-Street, but capitulated, all out for 220odd. The final Test at the Oval in London was an unusual finale.

To some degree it was framed by the “dead rubber” context, but with an Ashes Series in Australia soon after, and many of the baggy greens playing for their careers, the outcomes were always going to provide a platform of intense speculation.

In the end, the match was a draw, mostly shaped by rain and bad light. Despite the draw the final day provided plenty of drama after Australia gallantly chased the win (at first), with a quickfire 2nd innings and sporting declaration. England began their last day chase of 220odd cautiously, but the game eventually resembled an ODI. England were close to victory, they only needed 20odd runs off the final four overs. Michael Clarke looked to the umpires for a bad light ruling, and they obliged, attracting the criticism of many cricket fans around the world.

Bad Light

Interpretations of bad light, the rules, the circumstances, the use of floodlights, the colour of cricket balls and the perspectives guiding the “safety” of players need to be closely examined by the ICC.

Let’s be honest, the ICC probably won’t do anything about it soon. From the outer they appear to be an intensely conservative and slow moving, perhaps dysfunctional beast. Cricket in Australia suffers immensely from a lack of quality, progressive and visionary administration. They’re not alone.

The Promotion of Cricket

One example of the ICC’s failings lay in the concept of promoting cricket. I’ll be brief.

Australia tackled Scotland in a full international 50over match in Edinburgh the other night. It was neither promoted or televised in Australia. Why?

The match was an official part of Australia’s 2013 tour of England and Ireland. Scotland are struggling to develop cricket north of Hadrian’s Wall, they could do with some assistance. An ODI against one of cricket’s heavy weights helps, but hardly, when it’s not televised and beamed around the world. England played Ireland in an ODI too, and it was not televised. Ireland are one of the strongest emerging cricket nations who have already – in my opinion – established a formidable case to play 2nd tier Test Cricket.

Cricket Australia, the ECB and the ICC must assist these developing nations in a variety of ways, but one method would be to ensure that these matches are part of negotiated television deals.

Speaking of television. I pay over $100AUD per month to Foxtel for a satellite television package. It has about eight full-time HD sports channels, and several others, but I can’t watch the Pakistan versus Zimbabwe Test Match currently being played at Harare Sports Club. Instead there are endless replays of NRL, AFL and EPL games from 1972 and a whole bunch of rubbish sports like BMX Championships and 2nd rate college football games from the US. Get the LIVE TEST MATCH CRICKET ON please.

Going into Day Three the Pakistan v Zimbabwe Test is shaping up to be a great contest and both nations – who struggle for a variety of reasons – need positive assistance to grow their cricketing profiles.

What can cricket’s strongest boards and the ICC do about this? A heck of a lot more than they currently do…

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The Oval – A bit of Aussie fight and some typical English weather

A couple of days into the final Test and some once familiar dynamics of Ashes Series in England, frame this match. Australia has shown some decent resolve in their batting and gloomy, wet skies have penetrated the momentum of play.

Opening the batting

On Day One Australia won their second toss of the series, batted first and made a decent fist of it. On a slow and fairly dry surface the approach demanded initial graft and patience and required batsmen to play late. David Warner wasn’t able to comply and played a loose, booming shot, devoid of footwork. A thick edge sailed to 1st slip. I’ve stated my feelings on Warner’s ability to safely open the batting, and this type of dismissal strengthens my belief that this isn’t his best position, yet.

Chris Rogers only made 23, but soaked up 100 balls. He consumed the best of the opening bowlers, softened the seam and wore the lacquer off the Duke. He protected the middle order and put on a century partnership with new number 3, Shane Watson. For me, that’s what opening in a Test Match is about.

England’s selection

England’s decision to play a second spinner is interesting, and hasn’t worked so far. But, this might, in part, be due to picking the wrong spinner. They’ve overlooked Monty Panesar, a proven left arm spinner, in favour of Simon Kerrigan, who was belted to all parts by Shane Watson. England were required to bowl 128 overs to Australia, Captain Cook felt Kerrigan was only worth 8 and he went for 6.6 per over. It’s early days and the kid might turn it around yet.

Day Two

I didn’t see a ball bowled on Day Two. I hung out last night for as long as possible, but after a solid day’s work, a gym session, a short run and 90minutes at cricket training I was pretty beat. Frustrated by the rain and poor light, I declared at about 2300. Unfortunately I missed a gallant knock by Steve Smith.

Smith was in the side a few years ago, picked in confusing circumstances as a bowling all-rounder – a leg spinner. It didn’t work for him. He went into exile and strengthened his batting in the Sheffield Shield and returned during the Border-Gavaskar trophy. He’s a fidgety customer, could be accused of having a bout of hyperbulia, but looks capable and recorded his maiden Test century overnight with a 138 not-out. Added to his two 50s this series, for me he’s done enough to be one of four certainties in Australia’s top order for the First Test in Australia.

Shane Watson

Shane Watson was on the edge of oblivion going into this Test Match. A walking LBW candidate, Watson managed to avoid his typical dismissal and made an excellent 176, saving his career, for now.

Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad’s spell in the second session on Day One included fiercely aggressive, short-pitched bowling of a high standard. Few people in the world would enjoy facing what Broad served up. Michael Clarke was forced to shut his eyes twice and put his bat out in front of his face for protection, hoping for the best as his splice and handle were struck by sharp lifters. Clarke survived Broad, but was rattled and Anderson bowled him. It was Broad who set it up. Broad also struck Watson in another nasty riser. It was a painful blow catching Watson on the underside of the helmet on the ear lobe.

I think Broad is a rhythm bowler, up and down and not much chop when he’s off colour, but fierce, accurate, challenging and versatile when he’s on the money.

The Australian series

I can’t wait for the return series in Australia, faster, bouncier and more lively pitches and good diversity should be on show from greenish Brisbane to dusty Adelaide, to the quickest pitch in the world at Perth, the all-round drop in at Melbourne and the traditional spinner at Sydney. Both bowling attacks will fancy the pitch buffet on offer.

But, we still have three days in London.

Australia declared at 9/492 and England’s openers got through 17overs for 32 runs. The forecast looks ordinary so this one could be headed for a draw. I hope there’s a twist or two to go.

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Fifth Ashes Test, The Oval – Australia’s selection riddle continues

Reports indicate Australia will make changes to its XI for the fifth and final Test. This means that in every one of its last 13 Test matches, Australia has changed its line up and batting order. We’ve lost 8 of those, with one to play.

For tonight’s Test at the Oval I can understand Mitchell Starc replacing Jackson Bird, but James Faulkner replacing Usman Khawaja?

Australia has significant problems with its batting, so what do we do? Drop a batsmen and bring in an all-rounder who averages 30 with the bat in First Class cricket.

The selection mismanagement and total lack of continuity and direction in this Australian set up is appalling. This isn’t to say that James Faulkner isn’t a reasonable candidate for selection, but the circumstances demand we pick our strongest possible batting line up. There is no evidence to suggest we’ve done that here.

The Selection Riddle

In early 2013 Ed Cowan was one of Australia’s better performers in a barren series in India, albeit as an opener. He was moved to number 3 for the First Ashes Test, but failed, and was dropped. Usman Khawaja replaced him at Lords. He lasted three Test Matches.

One 50 in 6 innings is hardly a suitable return, but the fact Khawaja (again) was picked meant the selectors believed he had the ability to become a Test standard number 3. You may fail to convert it, but you don’t lose ability 3 weeks. This is the second time Khawaja has been dropped from the Test side. He’s played 9 Tests and averages 25. Surely he’ll be consigned to some lengthy graft at Shield and County level to prove he is worthy once again?

Maybe not though, he could be back in the side sooner than that.

The establishment may handle Khawaja like they did Phil Hughes – who was dropped about 18months ago (for the second time), and consigned to less than half a season in Shield cricket, before being brought back to play at home versus Sri Lanka, and away in India.

Based on the mean, Hughes didn’t have a shocker in Inida, and retained his place for the First Ashes Test. He scored an 80odd not-out in the first innings at number 6, a less recognised cameo to the famous 98 by Ashton Agar. Hughes failed in the second innings of that Test, and was then promoted up the order to number 3 for the 2nd Test after Ed Cowan was dropped. In the Lords massacre, Hughes didn’t get a run and was dropped for the Third Test, replaced by David Warner.

Shane Watson is reportedly now the man to bat at 3, after batting at 4 and 5 in India, opening in the first 2 and a half Tests of this series, then batting at 6 in the last 3 innings.

Based on the continual shuffle, Khawaja might find himself opening the batting in the return series in Australia. Or he could be at number 6, or 4. Maybe even wicket keeper? Has he got a good set of gloves in his kit bag? Perhaps he should get some.

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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.