Ashes Test

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 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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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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Chester le Street, Durham – Fourth Ashes Test

Two days grafting cricket have been played in the fourth Ashes Test in northern England. The match is in the balance and Australia have a slight edge, trailing by a few runs only and with five wickets in hand. Plaudits to Chris Rogers, Australia’s first centurion of the series, other than Michael Clarke. It was always a question of who else when assessing Australia’s batting.

I’ve been quiet on the blog as I’ve been away from home with a group of friends and partners enjoying the fruits of far northern Queensland. I’m sitting at present, in an airport lounge on route home, considering the prospect of a first innings lead for Australia and relishing one topic deserving scrutiny.

Team Changes

So after getting pollaxed at Lords in the second Test Australia put forth a massively improved effort at Old Trafford last week. We pinned down England with the ball, made runs with the bat and were in a significant position of ascendency on the final day, only to be thwarted by inclement weather. Finally we had strung together a collection of good sessions, so what do we do? Change the team.

Not because of fitness concerns or injury, both of which would form reasonable cases for change given the 3 days between this and the last Test. No we didn’t have any fitness issues or injuries, we just seem to dislike continuity and love a revolving door. Not only did we change a successful and well balanced bowling attack, we shuffled the batting order, again.

Jackson Bird is a very promising bowler, but that isn’t the point and I think Starc has a right to feel aggreived at this exclusion. I don’t believe David Warner should open the batting in Test Matches and instead, could become a brilliant middle order destroyer. Clearly, those who matter think otherwise. Warner failed last night and ironically, after a not too long, we ended up four wickets down with former opening pair Rogers and Watson having to dig us out. They put on about 130 together and Watto nailed a 66. People might suggest that batting at 6 helped him achieve that, I’m not convinced.

I just get annoyed at sticking the team in the blender every week and the lack of direction permeating from the camp, especially after we just played well and arguably had an opportunity to stabilise the team environment, which looks about as sound as a straw hut perched somewhere on the San Andreas fault line.

Naturally if we go on and win in Durham some will say I’m a mug and the selectors know best.

On the positive I am really looking forward to tonight’s play and hoping Rogers and Haddin can peel off the deficit and establish a lead. I think, having to bat last, we’ll need at least 100 runs between us and them after the first innings’ are complete.

See you all tomorrow!

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