Second Ashes Test Match

I need sleep, but I can’t let go of this riddle!

Here we go again. It’s Day Five, we’ve had play, we’ve had wickets and I think I’m going to need that defibrillator again. This is unbelievable. The problem is, it’s raining now!

England are rocking at 3/33, but father time and mother nature are mating again and they want a draw. Every Australian fan and neutral is screaming for more dry weather and wickets. You guessed it too. We’ve had more controversy with umpiring and DRS. Ally Cook was absolutely plumb, Jonathan Trott was out, but Kevin Pietersen… well. The umpire gave him out, he reviewed, hot spot did not support the original decision, but he was sent packing.

The increasingly impossible riddle of original decision versus referral, leading to hotspot, close camera analysis, deviation detection, noise, player reaction and gut instinct is enough to shatter the sanity of players and fans of both sides.

My initial and gut instinct was that Pietersen was not out. It wasn’t as clear as Usman Khawaja’s miss on Day One, but there was little evidence he hit it. The inadmissible snickometre detected something though, so I will say that at best Pietersen may have feathered a tiny thread of seam string. The close up photo showing the position of the ball indicates this might, just might, be the case.

Anyway. The second session is yet to commence due to rain. The full covers are out and I’m a jittering wreck of a man. I need sleep, I have heaps of work to do, my fitness is declining. This series is battering me, a ludicrous cocktail of pleasure and pain and I can’t let go, not now. I know I’m not alone either.

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2-0 to England and Australia’s invertebrate batting

Congratulations and well played England. Two nil up in the series and powering on toward what could be a resounding series victory at Old Trafford next week.

England batted for 18 minutes on Day Four with the declaration coming immediately after Joe Root got out for 180. Australia’s task was more about fighting for survival and showing character and resilience along the way, than serious consideration of a win. The highest fourth innings run chase in Test cricket is 418, so evidence suggests even the greatest of batting line ups would not have amassed the 580-odd required to win.

With Australia’s batting bereft of greatness they withered away from the start. Australia had just over 80 minutes to survive before the luncheon, but haemorrhaged three wickets before the interval. After lunch, Clarke and Khawaja provided some resistance, but when part-time spinner Joe Root nailed both of them in quick succession, the end was nigh.

Once again Australia’s bowlers, presently known for possessing more spine than their invertebrate batting colleagues, deferred the English victory until the last over of the day. The bottom four put on 85 with the number ten and eleven (Pattinson and Harris) outscoring five of Australia’s top seven.

Australia’s batting demise

There’s a lot to be said, but in brief there are three glaring issues.

Firstly, the shunting of Sheffield Shield to either end of the Australian summer to accommodate an increasingly dominant T20 “Big Bash”. It not only disrupts the Shield season, it diminishes its credibility and importance. The move sends completely the wrong message about cricket’s priorities and affects the development and skill set of young players. Not even India allows its popular IPL to clash with the Ranji Trophy, its First Class competition.

The Sheffield Shield format is not infallible. The points system pushes teams to chase outright victories. State sides are doing all they can to achieve this. In recent years pressure has been applied to groundsmen to prepare green-top pitches ensuring wickets will fall. For example, current Shield champions Tasmania turned Bellerive into a graveyard for visiting batting sides this past season.

Flicking through the scorecards of recent seasons reveals a lowering of team totals. Batsmen are becoming more fragile, less capable of compiling runs over long periods, and bowlers are robbed of the opportunity to toil and develop the skill to extract wickets on unforgiving surfaces. The pitches are a total mismatch to what is the norm in Test cricket.

Thirdly, Cricket Australia’s new excellence programs appear to rip young players out of traditional systems by changing the development pathways. Grade cricket is less and less the natural rung step for cricketers with aspirations.

Australia’s grade cricket used to be the best, at that level, in the world and provided a diverse mix of young talent, raw tearaways and qualified has-beens. It provided a tough, gritty and rewarding environment to serve a cricketing apprenticeship. Instead it seems getting a fancy tracksuit, heading down the nets to face a bowling machine and then playing in a glorified T20 carnival is more valued now.

CA have a lot to answer for. It’s time for James Sutherland and probably half the board to GO!

2nd Test, Day Three – Review (Root’s rout)

To borrow lyrics from a famous Paul Kelly song;

“there’s two sides out there and only one of ’em’s playing cricket” *

England’s Joe Root performed brilliantly on Day Three at Lords, dispelling the perception he was the weak link in the host’s top order. Root routed Australia and batted right through the day amassing an unbeaten 178 off 334 balls including 18 fours and 2 sixes. The Root epic was exactly the type of innings Australia’s top order have shown to be utterly incapable of replicating and it also established, with abundant force, just how pathetically inadequate Australia’s first innings batting display was. Across two innings Root himself now leads Australia by 56 runs, and if Captain Cook decides to carry on the punishment for Australia’s bowlers it’s possible he alone could establish a lead Australia couldn’t successfully chase.

Declaration

England’s Captain will declare at some point during the first session on Day Four, perhaps providing Root enough time to nail a double tonne and to push the lead beyond 600. Some may have questioned why the declaration hasn’t come already. With plenty of time and a good weather forecast, why wouldn’t England take this opportunity to belt Australia into total submission, by setting an impossibly gargantuan lead and physically and psychologically brutalising Australia’s only strong point, its bowlers.

With another three Tests to play in this series – and another 5 in Australia soon after – this is good captaincy from Cook. In an intensely psychological game, nobody should underestimate the lasting impact this approach may have on England’s opposition.

My night

I missed most of Day Three as I was otherwise engaged. I did manage to see a few overs in a bar late on in the second session when I joined a heap of the lads for a pint. The English amongst our posse were quick to remind us of the tortuous pain they’d endured from a many a big mouthed Aussie, when Australia battered England for a 15 year period. We weren’t getting any sympathy from them last night, as they enjoyed the spectacle and cheered on Joe Root and co.

 

* This is a reference to a quote by Donald G Bradman who made this statement during the infamous Bodyline series – the 1932-33 Ashes Series in Australia. Paul Kelly wrote a song about Bradman in which this statement is quoted.