Ian Bell

Moving Day: Shane Watson versus England (and the Australian public)

England is on top at Sophia Gardens and the stage is set for Shane Watson to silence his critics and keep his side in the Test. The first two days have been difficult for Australia and England has proven resilient and disciplined with bat and ball.

Coming in, Australia’s bowling was its strength and England was primarily concerned with how to manage that threat. Flat and deadened pitches were expected and Cardiff has delivered. But from a position of strength in bowling, Australia now looks slightly uncertain with the ball.

The series started terribly for Australia with the loss of their main strike bowler and pack leader Ryan Harris. England feared Mitchell Johnson after he murdered them in 2013-14, but will feel slightly less threatened after he finished with 0/111 from 25 overs. Johnson received a huge, stadium-wide standing ovation after ‘scoring a ton’ and the taunting will get louder in the second innings if wickets elude. Johnson bowled far better than the stats demonstrate and remains a potent weapon.

England’s resilience was proven after they moved from 3/43 to 430. They stole 87 runs for their last 3 wickets at the start of Day 2 and pushed the Aussies off the field looking flat. England were led by the superstar Joe Root (134) – who was dropped by Haddin on 0 – and an excellent lower order dig by Moeen Ali (77), who is probably the most overqualified number 8 to play Ashes cricket. Ian Bell’s failings are papered over for now. He has 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12 and 1 from his last 8 Test inns.

The Aussies navigated a tricky 45 minutes before the lunch break. Broad and Anderson hovered and their superior knowledge of the conditions was demonstrated by their fuller length. England plundered runs square of the wicket, proving that Australia’s bowlers banged it in too short, too often. Broad and Anderson were at the stumps and at the pads, full and swinging both ways and were rewarded when Warner snicked up for 17.

England’s discipline persisted and their well-executed plans rewarded them with a position of ascendency. They have removed Australia’s top five batsmen and although each of their bowlers contributed to Cook’s plans of building pressure, the Australians will be smarting at the nature of their dismissals; five questionable shots and five catches.

Thousands of Australians have joined a growing chorus of ridicule directed at Shane Watson and were outraged when he retained his place in the side of ahead of Mitch Marsh. But as soon as Harris went down, Watson became a certainty. He is a better bowler than Marsh and provides stiffer support to Starc, Johnson, Hazlewood and Lyon, but his batting is most maligned and now it is what Australia needs most to stay in the match.

Watson is 29 not out and Australia trail by 166. Nightwatchman Nathan Lyon joined him in the fading light yesterday and only Brad Haddin remains in the shed for Australia. Starc and Johnson can bat a bit but Watson must deliver if Australia is to get back at England. Day three – moving day – awaits.

Australia become number 2 and England give India a real blue

Seismic shifts in world cricket. They’re busting up proceedings all the time. Last week England were in  tatters. They hadn’t won in 10 Tests, their Captain was eyeing off a bloody guillotine and the wicket-keeper had walked away. Today their Captain sits comfortably at slip and marshals a buoyant and aggressive bowling unit who have the scent of Indian blood firmly ensconced in their nasal passage.

Overnight their batsmen plundered an indolent India and declared after scoring over half a thousand runs. Their new wicket keeper battered 85 off 83 – leading to ridiculously premature comparisons with Adam Gilchrist – and Gary Ballance and Ian Bell looked a million pounds on their way to 156 and 167. On Day 1 Ali Cook had at least bequeathed some of the pressure on his batting towards his leadership qualities by scoring a gritty 95. Now he has India precariously perched on 1/25.

England must win this Test Match. Mathematically, if they don’t they can still win the series, but the bounce they’ll get and the critics they’ll savagely retort (including me) at least in the immediate short term will propel the dressing room and startle India – who are known for lacking a bit of fight when things get tough away from home. But, let’s not get carried away. England’s had two better days at playing cricket than they’ve had for a little while. The uncertainty of Cook’s leadership and tactical nous remains and administrative and dressing room issues require much more work.

A development that might stir up an incredulous response from Australian cricket fans is the change in ICC Test Rankings overnight. South Africa have retaken number one billing off Australia after winning a 2 Test Series 1-0 in Sri Lanka. It could have been so different. On a dreary last day of the 2nd Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo South Africa resisted a desperate Sri Lankan bowling attack to nut out a thrilling draw. With the Proteas leading 1-0 their foci lay on preservation and defiance. At 6/118 with 13 overs remaining rain fell. But, it quickly subsided and the Proteas had to face the wrath – or more accurately the Rangana Herath, who took 5/40 off 45 overs. But, South Africa’s tail clung on at 8/159 securing a 1-0 win and a return to the top of the pops.

In other news the ICC is to “investigate” pro-Gaza wrist bands worn by England’s Moeen Ali during the Test v India. Apparently political messages are banned by the ICC. And Kevin Pietersen has signed up to play for the Melbourne Stars in Australia’s Big Bash League in the southern summer. Could be the first time the bloke isn’t unanimously booed at the MCG?

KP has also come out and said that he “feels sorry for the geezer” when discussing former England Captain Andrew Strauss’s recent on air gaffe where he labelled KP “an absolute c***”. Clearly the personality feud continues even though both men are now ex team-mates.

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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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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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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The Bell tolls for thee – Australia wrung out in Durham

Ian Bell and Ryan Harris. Easily the two best contributors to Day Three of the fourth Ashes Test. Ian Bell is emerging as an almost certain candidate for player of the series after striking a third century, and he’s looking very good at returning on the 13-1 bet I had for most runs.

Who reckons Australia can claw back from here?

Nothing that occurred on Day Three indicates Australia possess the collective strike power to win this Test Match. Perched perilously on the precipice of an enlarging deficit showing no signs of abatement, Australia can pretty much kick themselves, again.

Losing 5/40odd at the beginning of the day was never going to achieve them a pass mark, even from the easiest of graders. Like most of Australia, who I hope had just watched the Federal election debate – and not one of those pathetic, mind numbing, commercially driven, spew worthy “talent”, singing, dancing and cooking shows – I set up post-debate in the hopes of seeing Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers bash out a worthy lead.

Perhaps I should have been clutching myself and gushing at some trumped up rubbish singer from the boonies hitting it big in front of wanker pop stars who I’ve never heard of, or convulsing with electrified tension as a contestant who “I really relate to” was about to stuff up the application of sauce in a competitive cooking show.

The Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Liberal opposition leader Tony Abbott failed to inspire and instead delivered the usual broad language, two-sided populist dross indelible to Australia’s rapidly declining political spectrum. A dull conservative quagmire and restrictive, short-sighted approach aimed at appeasing the lowest common denominator isn’t quite what the Australian cricket side’s approach could be described as. So the similarities between it and Australia’s major political parties aren’t entirely extensive, but as if depicting the standard of Australian politics and capturing the times, the cricket side squandered their resources and surrendered a position of ascendancy.

England’s bowlers barely had to raise a sweat and only Ryan Harris resisted gainfully, but it didn’t stop the rot and Australia were required to bowl before the luncheon.

Chris Rogers’ century was a fine knock – a tough, unattractive, but mightily admirable 110 run collection. Without this Australia would be absolutely miles behind. As I stated yesterday with Australia having to bat last at Durham I think that a first innings lead of 100 was required. There’s no evidence that Australia can chase down England, especially if the total required reaches beyond 250…

Australia now trail by 202 and England retain five wickets. It’s only Day Four tonight so theoretically England have plenty of time to amass a chase total beyond 300. Tim Bresnan came out to bat ahead of Matt Prior so the three lions have kept some serious fire power in the sheds. Prior hasn’t exploded with the bat this series, but the scene could be set for a serious lower order assault on Australia’s one-short bowling attack.

At some point tonight Australia will have to bat. I really hope it’s because they’ve knocked England over in the first session and not because their hosts have declared sitting atop a highland of runs.

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2nd Test, Lords – Day One review

Fabulous Lords, cricket’s majestic home. Doesn’t it look scintillating in the beaming sunshine!

Seeing the big golden fire ball beating down on England inspires one’s self to want to travel there and get amongst it. But, just ask any of us who’ve been lured in at the prospect of sunshine, lollipops and smiley times in the rolling hills. It’s bloody rare! I’ve been disappointed a few times.

Sitting at Lords last “summer” watching England v West Indies, we were clad in heavy coats and beanies, supping red vino. Loving the venue and appreciating a Shiv Chanderpaul special, but cursing the bitterly cold wind and 12 degree temperature. The elite and the lucky weren’t doing that last night (yesterday).

I was disappointed Australia lost the toss as the “belter” of a wicket indicated batting first would be advantageous, despite the tinge of green a top the famous slope. Australia confirmed a couple changes that had been leaked ahead of the toss, Starc and Cowan out for Harris and Khawaja. England dropped Finn for Bresnan.

The start was delayed somewhat by, it appears, Her Majesty the Queen who eventually greeted the players and allowed proceedings to continue toward first ball. Australia’s belligerent and highly admired former Captain Steve Waugh had the honour of ringing the Lords bell, which signals the beginning of the day’s play. Champion Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt rang the bell when we were there last year.

First Session

A slightly wayward start by James Pattinson permitted Alistair Cook to get a few easy runs early for England, but after just four overs Australia’s captain Michael Clarke took the brave decision to bring on Shane Watson. Australia’s fourth choice fast-medium bowler. Clarke knew it was a great batting day and early wickets would be vital. It proved to be a stroke of Captaincy genius as Watson immediately snared the prize wicket of A Cook, trapped LBW.

Two more wickets followed, snaffled by Ryan Harris and England are now 3 down for 28. Great beginning for Australia and boy, didn’t my neighbours know about it!

I was a bit tired after watching rugby league’s State of Origin the night before and a big day at the office. At one point I thought I might just sneak off at the lunch interval, 2215 or so, but three consecutive wicket celebrations oxygenates the blood and stokes the adrenal glands. Next thing you know you’re looking beyond the break and into the second session, denying sensible decisions and the existence of pressing occupational matters the following morning.

A flurried exchange of text messages from several mates, with some of the usual suspects – Damo, Dave and Brad – all providing their froth and excitement, ensured I wasn’t the only one sat up.

J Root and K Pietersen were the other batsmen dismissed in the first session. The former was adjudged LBW, a decision Root referred via the DRS. There was an inside edge and at one point it looked as though it was bat before pad, or even simultaneous connection. But, one side-on view of hotspot confirmed that the pad had been struck first by the Duke ball. I paused the television and photographed this and promise to submit the evidence to this blog’s audience, as soon as I get the required technical guidance!

Some solid and conservative batting from J Trott and I Bell steered England through to the tucker break without further loss, at 3/80.

Second Session

England have started well and are currently 3/114. I think it will be a tough day in the field from here on in.

Typical with the twists and turns of Ashes cricket I go to log off and Trott skies one to deepish mid-wicket and he’s caught by Khawaja running in off the bowling of Harris. 3 wickets now for Harris and England are 4/134 as I attempt to log off again nearing midnight…

Summary

It was great to see some footage of the Long Room at Lords. It’s one space where I really can appreciate the gentile and conservative elite! The MCC members all huddled in there clapping, portraits of great players and contributors to cricket, it must be a real pleasure descending the stairs from the dressing rooms and walking through on your way out to bat. Not so nice coming back in after a duck!

I also enjoyed having an Australian in the commentary box. Shane Warne joined the group of former England Captains who dominate the Sky box, and with West Indian legend Michael Holding, the two non-English (and bowlers) in the group add some much needed, varied perspective.

I admit I succumbed to the call of bed at about 1230, hence missing the third session. England were still 4 down when I turned in. A nature call had me checking the score about 90 mins later and England were still 4 down. I thought, crikey, looks like that good batting strip is working now.

So England finished the day on 289 runs for the loss of 7 wickets. Steve Smith nabbed 3 late wickets with his part-time “leggies” removing the last three recognised batsmen. Ian Bell scored another 109 and should be praised for a great knock. Johnny Bairstow made a useful contribution of 67. The late wickets bring Australia back into the match and probably leave Day One honours about even.

Don’t be fooled though, England sent Jimmy Anderson in as nightwatchmen. He accompanies Tim Bresnan, who can be considered an all-rounder averaging 31, while leaving another two useful tailenders in the shed – Broad and Swann.

Australia need to contain England and ensure the score doesn’t exceed 350 tonight. Hopefully Australia’s James Pattinson has a better outing on Day Two as he was extremely wayward on Day One. The Aussies need quick and consecutive wickets once again and then, well, if you read my Lords Preview, then you’ll know exactly what they need to do with the bat…