Brad Haddin

Only Australia sledges the opposition…

New Zealand are a graceful team full of innocent, softly spoken men of praise, whereas Australia are arrogant, silver spooners who are both rude and unnecessarily aggressive.

If you’ve only been around the game of cricket for about five minutes or you are susceptible to sensationalised misrepresentations, then you probably hold this view.

Sections of New Zealand’s media have suggested that Australia “bullied” New Zealand in the World Cup final.

The idea is outright nonsense. The aggressive Brad Haddin, in particular, has come under fire for his banter with Grant Eliot and his ‘sending off’ of Martin Guptill. From these initial sensationalist print media grabs, the usual suspects have suggested that everybody hates Australia because they play the game with no ‘grace or humility’.

New Zealand’s players do not share this view. Neither do the ICC. Brendan McCullum says the final was played in great spirit and the ICC has not issued any fines or warnings for on-field conduct.

Australia has admitted an aggressive approach. They believe New Zealand got the better of them mentally and verbally in the group stage thriller in Auckland.

Australia target certain players believed to be susceptible to a loss of concentration at the behest of verbal banter. But they are not the only team who do this. When the situation demands most teams dish it out.

When Wahab Riaz unleashed one of the most aggressive spells of fast bowling ever seen in ODI cricket at Shane Watson, complemented by some excellent verbal barrage and body language from Riaz and the Pakistani team, the Australian response was nothing but praise and embrace for Riaz and Pakistan.

It was a spectacular quarter final contest. Watson got roughed up and Riaz was dead unlucky not to get him out (his team mate dropped a sitter). Almost everybody supported Riaz and thoroughly admired his desire to lift Pakistan. Many Australian commentators and punters expressed outrage when Riaz was charged by the ICC for his actions and they were right. The ICC made a colossal mistake.

That is cricket. It is a deeply psychological game. After training all week in the nets, batting out in the middle is up to 75% mental warfare with yourself, your technique and your own flaws and insecurities, all of which can be cracked open and exposed by good bowling, a glare or a smile from the bowler or a few comments from the slips.

Some are good at banter, most are not. Some take it too far and they are reprimanded by match officials, who also occasionally get it wrong. The day that verbal banter and aggressive bowling are removed from cricket is the day the game dies. The day when it is only Australia who attempts these tactics is the day when everybody else has stopped playing the game.

Your true character is revealed by your ability to compete hard, without degenerating to immature or offensive behaviour, and then share a beer and mutual respect after the game.

Australia and New Zealand teams mix with another, the media and officials after the World Cup final.

Australia and New Zealand teams mix with another after the World Cup final. Photo by Adam Johnson.

Two great left handed bowlers and friends share a moment after the World Cup final.

Two great left handed bowlers and friends share a moment after the World Cup final. Photo: Trent Boult’s twitter feed.

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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Cook won a toss, but dropped a Root

England’s Captain won his first coin toss of the series and surprisingly elected to field. When Australia slumped to 5 for 97 Alistair’s Cook’s decision was vindicated, Vic Flowers led the Barmy Army into song and for a brief moment the 4-0 scoreline was forgotten. Enter Brad Haddin and Steve Smith.

They put on 128 in an afternoon session that England will seek to forget, or analyse deeply if they’re serious about rebuilding, which we can somewhat doubt given the fact that they bizarrely dropped Joe Root. The 23 year old batsmen is one of England’s best prospects and would get a game in most Test sides as a lad for the future. He is not the worst performing bastmen for England on this tour, at times he has done well – a notable 87 in Adelaide – and has had to put up with batting at opener, 5, 6 and 3 in the year 2013 alone. If England want to rebuild for the future – as they have repeatedly stated – then Joe Root must be part of that future. Dropping him for this Test is a silly mistake.

Enough of that. Steve Smith, at 24 perhaps Australia’s closest comparable player to Joe Root, scored a brilliant hundred today, which rescued and returned ascendency to the hosts. Brad Haddin, who is the only player within a country mile of challenging Mitchell Johnson for Player of the Series, provided a substantial foil scoring 75 off 90 balls. In the circumstances, Haddin’s 75 represented a brutal counter-attack that smothered England’s bowlers. Haddin is not shy of on-field needle and sprayed England with aggressive verbals, body language and stroke play.

England’s bowling line up suffered with the loss to injury of debutant Boyd Rankin, who went off twice for an unknown injury. Perhaps Rankin should be playing for Ireland given that he was born in Derry in Northern Ireland. I only digress to this because Ireland has produced a number of Test standard players recently and the time is nigh for them to be included in Test cricket so that players like Rankin and Eoin Morgan can represent their own country.

After Ben Stokes, a brilliant find for England and a great prospect for the future, took his sixth wicket Australia had made 326. The Aussies nipped out Michael Carberry before stumps to have England somewhat reeling at 1/8. Carberry’s dismissal was not a good look for the talented Sir Viv impersonator from Surrey. An obvious leg slip trap was set and he obliged flicking a hip ball into the hands of a delighted Nathan Lyon. Carberry had got away with an unchallenged snick behind the ball before and surrendered weakly the ball after. At 33 Carberry had to wait far too long for an extended chance with England, but unless he shows more fight in tough circumstances his tenure is under threat too.

Australia cruise to a 4 nil lead as England capitulate, again

A short time has passed since I last doused this blog with fresh words analysing the Ashes Series. Christmas commitments, holidays and playing host to international guests squeezed my time and robbed me of the personal creative introspection I need to write anything worth glancing at.

Despite being time poor in the festive season, as I’m sure all of you were too, I still managed to absorb the ultimate cricket exchanges. I’ve spent much of the last couple of days at the Melbourne Cricket Ground watching the action live in human eye definition.

I spent time with the “Aussie Army”, had a few beers at the Cricketer’s Arms on Punt Road and stood among the Barmy Army. Good friends are always an asset in life and especially when they’re members of the Melbourne Cricket Club, an elite and privileged crew with an average 25 year waiting list. My MCC member friends allowed me, as a guest, to enjoy Day 4 in the comfortable surrounds of the members section. An amazing experience complemented by padded seats, good food and generous wine portions.

What a day; a Chris Rogers century, 8000 Test runs for Michael Clarke (Alistair Cook reached this milestone on Day 3), an unbeaten and entertaining Shane Watson 81 and a fourth consecutive resounding victory for Australia. The ease with which Australia finally took England’s scalp in this Test defies or inaccurately portrays how close England came to setting up a win.

England had Australia in a submissive position on Day 3 of the fourth Test at Melbourne when they began their second innings with a lead of around 50. At 0/65 after the luncheon England looked to be erecting the relevant foundation to build a solid lead. At 4/87 the foundation was still there, but the scaffold required to support the lead had begun to fall away. I think that had England established a lead of over 300, Australia would have capitulated, but when England lost 5 wickets for 6 runs near the close of Day 3 and Australia’s openers finished on 0/30, the hosts needed only 201 to win with 2 days of play remaining. England threw it away with devastating style, in part due to relentless high quality bowling from Australia, but also in part due to whatever cancer is eating away at England’s dressing room morale and attitude.

This has been a disastrous series for the tourists. It seems that internal conflicts exist, perhaps factions and cliques are at play and I’m sure that we will here more about these in future as players’ and coaches’ tongues are inevitably freed from the restrictions of international cricket. The leadership of coach Andy Flower and captain Alistair Cook will be questioned. I think that, at least, Ashley Giles will replace Flower in the near future.

The early-series departure of Jonathon Trott – a fine player – and the mid-series retirement of Graeme Swann – possibly England’s greatest spinner – added to the turbulent and unsettled disposition of the England squad. Something or many things have gone awry, but this shouldn’t detract from the super performance by Australia. Four Tests have been played and the same 11 players have provided Australia four victories. Five of Australia’s top 6 batsmen have scored centuries, as has wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, and all four bowlers have taken wickets. Mitchell Johnson has taken over 30 for the series, an enormous return for a man previously condemned by many opposition and Australian cricket fans.

Onwards to Sydney where the fifth Test begins on 3 January. Can England resurrect some of the high quality we know exists in the squad? Or will Australia execute the clean sweep?

Paying Homage

I must make special mention of one of the world’s finest cricketers, Jaques Kallis, who at 38 announced his retirement from Test cricket earlier this week. Kallis just scored a century against India and has 45 Test centuries in his career, second only to Sachin Tendulkar. The South African will bow out having scored over 13,000 runs at an average in excess of 55, at least 292 wickets at a bowling average of 32 and over 200 catches. What a wonderful player.

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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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