James Anderson

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.

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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The Little Master’s farewell & war between the old enemies

Welcome back men of gentle persuasion, and ladies who love or tolerate cricket. Only a few more days until the Ashes contest commences, so get the coronary surgeon on speed dial and book some leave from work. Five Tests in Australia, four in 2013 and one in 2014, and it all commences next week in Brisbane. Right now though, the game’s greatest batsmen of the past 25 years is playing his final ever Test Match in Mumbai.

Sachin Tendulkar

Enormous content will be generated in the wake of Tendulkar’s retirement. Eulogies and comparisons will trigger reflection and debate. The most prominent comparison will be between he and the late Sir Donald Bradman. I must assert that this is unnecessary. Both are brilliant batsmen, eternal legends of the sport, but the sheer gap in time between their careers and the vastly different conditions in which they plied their trade renders them incommensurable.

Tendulkar scored 74 against the West Indies yesterday and moving into Day Three, with the visitors 3 down and 270-odd behind on a 1st innings deficit, it’s likely we’ll never see the Little Master bat again. Perhaps the only man who can allow the world to see Tendulkar once more is West Indian legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who at 39 is playing his 150th Test. A rearguard innings from Shiv might see the West Indies force India to go around again, but it would have to be a timeless special. I hope the Guyanese hero can do it and with the big Jamaican Chris Gayle still in, there’s a slim chance.

I don’t think it should have ended like this though… a raging dispute between South African cricket’s CEO Haroon Lorgat and India’s BCCI has robbed the cricket world of what should have been an epic four or five Test match series in South Africa beginning on Boxing Day or in the new year. I argue that Sachin’s last stand would have been far more memorable had it been nutted out in the trenches of Test warfare against the world’s best, rather than in a hastily arranged “farewell” tour against an unprepared and relatively weaker West Indian side. Alas, scatter-gun personality politics and an unbridled BCCI gave us what we have.

Tendulkar’s record is stunning: he will have completed 200 Test matches, at least 51 Test centuries and amassed around 16,000 runs at an average over 53. He’s also knocked out over 18,000 runs in 463 One Day Internationals. He’s only played 1 international T20. Says a lot doesn’t it?

Goodbye and thank you Sachin, you’re a fine cricketer and a gentleman and as New Zealand’s former captain Daniel Vettori aptly described, “you’ve been in form longer than some of our guys have been alive”.

The Ashes Series in Australia

There’s no debate to be had on the assertion that England are favourites and Australia are underdogs. Beaten 3-0 in England only a few months ago, optimistic Australians have argued that there were many “moments” where we could have won Test Matches or forced a closer contest. Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Durham spring to mind, but let’s examine a few truths.

England possess more proven quality, and they did manage to beat Australia 3-0 without their best batsmen firing. Ally Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Johnathon Trott didn’t pile on the runs in the old dart. It was the fine batting of Ian Bell supplemented by a collection of notable cameos that saw England through, and it was the relatively poor, often collapse-prone batting of Australia that ensured we couldn’t sufficiently return fire at the crease. Australia’s revolving selection door, which fostered about as much stability as a contemporary Egyptian democracy, seemed not to assist the Australian effort.

Australia’s strength was its bowling, particularly Ryan Harris. Australian fans should be energetically fist pumping at the prospect of a fully fit Harris, while the English should take note that this man presents a genuine threat to their hope of retaining the Ashes.

Of course, Australia requires more than the fine effort and return of any one man. Australia’s batting must deliver big runs. Not just from Michael Clarke. I fancy that the mean innings scores in Australia will be higher. Even more runs will be required. A tall order for Australia’s lean order, but not an impossible prospect.

First Test,The GABBA, Brisbane

Australia have recalled Mitchell Johnson and added One Day Captain George Bailey to their 12 man squad for the first Test. Johnson was a destructive force on a recent ODI tour of India and has a massive opportunity to excise demons from past Ashes campaigns, hit back at critics and reinstall himself in a Test team that faces South Africa the other side of the Ashes. George Bailey has been selected on the basis of ODI rather than Shield form – not ideal in my view – but I do think the Tasmanian has the character, maturity and mental resilience to succeed at Test standard.

The new faces join a list of players, all of whom played a part in the 3-0 defeat in England.

I think the squad is about right. Obviously Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson are injured and Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja have been overlooked.

There’s some familiar speculation about Shane Watson’s fitness. Pending his fitness to at least bat, then I think James Faulkner will be 12th man and finally we’ll be picking a 6-1-4 formation. Four front line bowlers should be able to take 20 wickets.

England have had a long preparation in Australia, arriving in October and completing various tour matches. The only questions for them appear to be the fitness of wicket keeper Matt Prior and which fast bowler should accompany Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

It will be a cracking contest next week. There’s a lot of fierce storm activity in southern Queensland at the moment and I do fear this one will be interrupted by rain and possibly some golf ball-sized hail, so bring the driver and a few tees. A warning to English fans, the GABBA is nicknamed NAZI dome for the way its security and QLD police aggressively assert themselves in the lives of cricket spectators. The atmosphere will be great, but it would be so much better without the nanny state attempting to frog march 50% of patrons from the ground by Tea for a range of ludicrously petty “violations”.

Anyway, I’ll be there in Brisbane with a bunch of other cricket tragics, so I look forward to reporting pitch-side then.