DRS controversy

Brad Haddin to retire? Dispirited India crushed by Johnson, Smith partnership

Expect the unexpected. An extraordinary plot continues to unravel on day three at the GABBA. Halfway through the morning session India had Australia on the floor; a few overs into the afternoon session and India’s chances of salvaging a result from this match are on life support.

Befitting the captivating contest, the Test match was evenly poised at stumps on day two. India had posted 408 in its first innings and Australia had mustered 4/221 in reply.

Australia’s terrible first day started with the loss of the toss, consigning them to a hot day in the field. Much fuss was made about the heat; several Australian players succumbed to a range of ailments as the day wore on and India scored freely. Cramps, pulled muscles, heat stroke and general discomfort resulted in hourly drinks breaks interspersed with unscheduled periodic stoppages. So heavy was the workload of physios and drinks runners, a path was scorched across the turf between the pavilion area and the middle wicket.

Australia’s over rate suffered and so did the sanity of listeners in northern Australia, where club cricketers play out their entire seasons in 30-40 degree heat. Suffocating humidity is part of cricket in north Queensland. While commentators from Channel 9 and ABC Grandstand repeatedly made a point of the heat endured by cricket’s elite in Brisbane, no complaints were made by players, officials and spectators participating in the Under 15 Queensland Junior Cricket Intra-State Championships in Townsville, where the temperature has soared above 34 degrees every single day of the carnival.

Nonetheless, day one did actually feature some good cricket. Murali Vijay scored another fine century leading India to 4/311 at stumps in front of a poor GABBA crowd. Adding further fire to the debate about India’s refusal to use DRS, Cheteshwar Pujara was robbed when struck on the helmet and given out caught. That makes at least three clangers in this series alone for India.

With most of Australia’s bowlers down and out, cricket fans were left wondering who would be able to bowl for Australia on day two.

Australia’s medical men performed overnight wonders. The hosts restricted India by taking 6 wickets for 97 runs early on the second day. Josh Hazlewood took 5/68 on debut in a great performance. Australia began their dig fairly well, albeit somewhat uncharacteristically with Chris Rogers scoring quickly, and David Warner departing early. But India made some in-roads into Australia’s Michael Clarke-less batting order.

Day three was always going to be about how Steve Smith would handle the pressure of being the guy that needed to score the runs required to pull Australia from its current submissive position, 180+ runs behind.

With aplomb: Smith nailed another ton, scoring 133 off 191 balls, getting out in a Test match for the first time since Australia’s series loss to Pakistan in the UAE two months ago.

Day three started incredibly well for India. Sharma knocked over Mitch Marsh and the horribly out-of-form Brad Haddin was sent packing by Varun Aaron.

My personal view is that Brad Haddin will undoubtedly retire from Test cricket at the conclusion of this series. His form (highest score 22 from last 12 Test innings), his age (37) and the decision to elect Smith as Captain instead of vice-Haddin, all point toward an imminent exit for this great wicket-keeper.

Back at the GABBA, and after Haddin’s wicket, Australia were now six down and still 162 behind India. Enter Mitchell Johnson.

As soon as Johnson, who’d gone wicket-less in India’s innings, came to the crease, India made the apparent mistake of attempting to sledge the Queenslander. Umpire Marais Erasmus had to intervene at least twice as the exchanges became quite heated. Clearly India had the wrong man. Johnson responded with 88 runs from 93 balls, hitting 13 fours and a six in a 148 run partnership with Smith that completely turned the game on its head.

Australia’s tail wasn’t done there. Lyon, Starc and Hazlewood piled on another 110 runs and took Australia to 505 all-out in the first over after tea.

India should have bowled Australia out for well under 300 and instead, in utterly dispiriting circumstances, surrendered their ascendant position, keeled over and allowed Australia to assert outright dominance.

However, this game ain’t done yet. With a run rate of over 4 per over throughout this series, the remaining six and a bit sessions will deliver several surprises. All three results are still possible. India are now 1/53, trailing by 56 with about 19 overs remaining on day three.

 

Feed the dogs: Test cricket is back

The stomach dogs are barking, they must be fed. Their thirst for battle and starving demand for a cricket contest must be appeased. A fiery beginning on a GABBA green top usually satiates their relentless desire, but unscripted events have delayed salvation.

The southern summer does not begin on 1 December, it arrives with the first ball of an Australian Test. Desperate fans crave the moment.

Cans of ice cold beer will be heard cracking across the weather battered southern land this afternoon and couches will get a hammering, because just as hot thunder storms smash the east coast from the Victorian border all the way to Cairns, Adelaide has provided a sparkling blue sky for Test cricket.

Finally the dogs will rest. The scoop of chips and never ending summer snaps into action with four DRS-less Test matches: Brisbane next week, then Melbourne and Sydney.

Recent seismic events are well publicized and although speculation about bouncers and helmet safety may continue in the background, today we move on and get back to watching quality cricket. India arrived in Australia to compete aggressively and attack Australia’s shaky batting order. One billion Indian fans demand it. They will not back down from this intent. Bouncers will be bowled and tactics of torment will be deployed. This will be significant contest.

David Warner has rocketed into action with a run a ball start placing Australia at 2/88 approaching lunch. Rogers and Watson the men out. Clarke is fit and playing and Ryan Harris returns to bolster the bowling, while Virat Kohli assumes the Indian captaincy from the injured MS Dhoni.

Summer is all around you.

10 Tests without victory: Has England lost its spine?

England are only 1-0 down in the series against India, but it feels like they’ve just been beaten 5-0 again. The reaction to yesterday’s defeat at Lords and the projections radiating from England are all dire. A lack of quality, bad execution, ordinary tactics, poor fielding and troubled county and player development systems… I’ve read it all in recent days, but the dressing room problems that stalked England’s tour of Australia appear most relevant.

India bounced England’s batsmen out on a day five wicket, that on day 1, looked as green as the 18th at Royal Liverpool. Chasing 318 for victory with 4 sessions to play, England were in the box seat, but Ishant Sharma shredded them with 7 wickets – many of which were caught in the deep. England asked India to bat first on a green top and failed to capitalise, with their seamers consistently bowling too short on a pitch demanding a full, seam-nibbling length. India toiled hard with the bat throughout and set a competitive 4th innings chase. It was more than a touch ironic that short bowling undid England’s batsmen in the end. The difference between carefully executed, field appropriate short bowling and banging it in too often has never been plainer.

Twelve months ago England were ranked 2 in the world and were on the way to beating Australia 3-0. Now you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 1999. It’s not and England shouldn’t be this bad, but a packet of off-field problems are destroying them in the middle.

The big question for me is why somebody like Matt Prior is now quitting after two Tests?

“To treat injuries” is his reasoning, but Prior is the third (Trott and Swann) top 11 player to walk out on England mid-series is less than 9 months. They’re all legitimate reasons you say? Well ok, maybe so, but if England were preparing as well as they should be then Trott’s mental state would have been exposed and managed internally before he was obliterated after one Test in Australia and Prior’s “injuries” (and perhaps stomach for a fight) been adequately appraised before this absolutely vital home series against India. The bloke has quit when times are tough and injuries aside, I wouldn’t expect he’ll play for England ever again as some of England’s insiders are smarting.

The second issue is Alistair Cook. A great player with an incredible batting record that has seemingly been in steep decline ever since Andy Strauss stepped aside. Cook seems like a “lovely lad” as described by Strauss overnight, but is he a leader of men? I’m not convinced and the sight of bowlers changing fielders behind his back without consent and the general body language of certain players towards him looks bad, but I wouldn’t be demoting him during this series. This again, for me, comes back to preparation. If the head honchos at England cricket do not believe that he is the man to lead the  side then why go into this series with him at the helm? Why do these things keep needing to be dealt with mid-series?

Australia’s terrible, ill-fated tour of India in 2013 threw up several mid-series dressing room fiascos. When these incidents began to emerge on the subsequent tour of England and it was evident that they had not been managed, the head coach was sacked and a new leadership group redrawn before the first Test. Some decried the timing, but it has turned out for the better.

Cook absolutely needs runs to take some of the sting out of the criticism being fired his way. But, he could score hundreds and if England keep losing and their bowling and fielding plans lack shape and distinctive strategy, then his leadership will continue to be questioned.

The upshot is that England are only 1-0 down with three Tests to play. India are a very good side, but they’re not at the top yet and England is a difficult place to win (Australia hasn’t won in England for 12 years). Cook and the rest of the England unit must fight on and win this series at home, or be the subject of a rabid inquisition unseen in English cricket for at least a decade.

 

 

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.

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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Australia Resurrected – What about the sledging controversy?

Australia have annihilated England in an amazing First Test at Brisbane. The magnitude of this victory is so great that early observations point toward a possible shift in continental cricketing power. With four Test Matches to go in this series there’s a long time before any compelling assertions can be made about that, but the writing is on the wall for England.

The rivalry between these players is immense and I have no doubt that England will attempt to stage an aggressive fight back. Australia will be ready.

The needle

On Saturday night David Warner accused England of being scared. England’s captain Alistair Cook refuted this and believes Warner’s comment was “disrespectful”. He is probably fair in his assessment that sledging should be kept on the field of battle. I detected a slight agitation from the normally composed England captain and I sense that England’s dressing room will be bristling about this defeat and some of the incidents. Quite a bit of savage needle was exchanged in the middle.

Update: Now that Johnathon Trott has returned home to England with a stress related illness Warner’s comment is attracting even more attention and criticism. I think it is outrageously harsh to pin any blame for Trott’s circumstances on David Warner. He wasn’t to know Trott’s state of health, which is likely to expand well beyond any comments about cricket performances. Trott seems to be a good bloke and he is an exceptional cricketer. I wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery.

Michael Clarke gave James Anderson a significant spray late on the final day and some media have suggested he overstepped the mark, but I say leave it to the players. They know the limits, they know what is proportionate and as Clarke has said “he gives as good he gets”. England have certainly given it. James Anderson is one of the most prolific sledgers going around.

This is high stakes professional cricket and it is a massive rivalry. Let’s not forget that there are two umpires out in the middle and they are the arbiters, not the random punters phoning radio stations on a moral crusade.

Update: The ICC has since fined Clarke 20% of his match fee. I find this to be a popular reactionary measure issued only because the stump microphones were erroneously left on and the broadcaster beamed the sledge “get ready for a broken f*&^%$g arm” into lounge-rooms.

Both captains received extra treatment from bowlers and surrounding fielders.

The resurrection

On the fourth and final day, with the match on the line, Mitchell Johnson chose to get stuck into the England captain and didn’t hesitate to remind the Barmy Army about his resurrection. And what a resurrection it is. Johnson was slaughtered by England fans and media during the 2010-11 Ashes series and was criticised for his supposedly weak mentality.

It’s clear this man possesses a strong character and a supreme work ethic. To return from where he was – out of the side and on the alleged decline – is an outstanding personal and professional achievement. In this Test he scored over 100 runs and was dismissed only once. He took 9 wickets with some huge scalps thrown in. It was rather fitting that the match ended with him taking a catch off his own bowling. I thoroughly enjoyed his hostility. It reminded me of the great West Indian quicks I recall from growing up. Long may it continue.

Are Australia back?

Australia have snapped a streak of nine Test Matches without a victory and they’ve done it with sensational style. There’s a lot of cricket to go before we say Australia are back though.

The victory was completed with notable contribution from all eleven players and this is vital. The form of David Warner, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and the bowling effort from Johnson and Lyon is ominous for England. In the past 18months Australia’s Test team has resembled a metropolitan bus stop. With various players coming and going and shifting up and down the order. In stark contrast Australia now looks solid. The revolving selection door may just have slammed shut. Suddenly it is England who will consider changes.

I note that Sky Sports in England is running a poll asking readers to vote whether Johnathon Trott should be dropped.

Update: If David Warner should be targeted for criticism, will sections of the English sports media be singled out too? Some immediately after the Test defeat, launched a savage campaign to sack Johnathon Trott.

There will be questions about Chris Tremlett and Joe Root, but mainly because England may consider an all-rounder or extra spinner at Adelaide.

Pending fitness, Australia shouldn’t change their team. George Bailey must be given the entire series to prove is he cut out for a top six Test batting spot. Nathan Lyon sparked the collapse of England’s batting on Day Two and took the vital wickets of Cook and Prior on Day Four. Peter Siddle consistently beat the bat and snared the prized wicket of Ian Bell on the last day. Ryan Harris remains Australia’s spearhead bowler. Steven Smith contributed an invaluable 32 runs in Australia’s faulty first innings and Chris Rogers is Australia’s rock.

England’s batting

Six wickets for 9 runs in 53 minutes on Day 2. England simply didn’t bat well enough in this Test Match. They lost 4/10 after the thunderstorm had passed on Day 4 and eventually 6/37 to lose. They failed to score 200 in either innings on a good cricket wicket and Stuart Broad was the only player to score more than 8 in both innings. Bad batting and brilliant bowling combined with well executed tactics ensured England perished well short of par.

The record of most of England’s players indicates they will respond. If there’s one player who might break Sachin Tendulkar’s record 51 Test centuries it could be Alistair Cook. He has 25 and is 28, but Cook has four 50s against Australia in his last 12 Test innings, and no centuries.

The England captain needs to lift if his team are to fight back and retain the Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen is another who must lift. He has 1 century and three 50s against Australia from 12 innings in 2013. Johnathon Trott has two 50s and no centuries against Australia in 12 innings. The time is nigh for these batsmen and Adelaide is the pitch. If they cannot redeem themselves there then the chorus of discontent will reverberate loudly.

Update: It seems England’s obvious choice to replace Trott is Johnny Bairstow with perhaps a likely reshuffling of the batting order. Tim Bresnan is another candidate, but it seems England require a full-time batsmen.

Closure

I had a cracking time watching the First Test in Brisbane. I had to leave the ground early on the final day when the hail stones hit. Alas, I had to return to my home port for work on Monday. I was able to catch the last few wickets on the television at the airport. As I entered the Qantas Club lounge at Brisbane I was greeted by roars of joy as hundreds of people in the lounge were huddled around televisions cheering on Australia. Those who think Test cricket is dead, think again. It is alive and thriving and so is this Test Series. See you all next week for the Adelaide preview.

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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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