Test Match

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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No golf tees or driver were required – Day One at the Ashes in Australia

Hair was torn from Australian scalps today and a bright sunny day in Brisbane failed to deliver a predicted violent thunderstorm. Golf ball-sized hail did not materialise. Besieged by storms in recent weeks, it was feared that Brisbane would again be battered by inclement weather, hence disabling the critical opening exchanges of the Australian Ashes.

As I staggered up Vulture Street in south Brisbane this morning, alongside thousands of other frothing cricket fans, it was 50+ suncream you wanted. Not an umbrella or Titleist driver.

Describing the vibe leads me to reflect. Today was nothing like 2006. You know? The home series after we lost 2-1 in England in 2005. The one where everyone in the Asia-Pacific pawned their grandmother to secure a ticket to the follow up Ashes Series in Australia. Today didn’t have the frantic pre-game buzz of that series or the anxious dry retch inducing tension.

Fans today were a little more circumspect, perhaps understanding that all that really stands between England winning four Ashes Series in a row for the first time in over 100 years is an immensely unexpected performance from Australia. Winning the toss was nearly the best thing that happened to the green and gold all day. On a top-notch batting strip, Michael Clarke sent us in hoping our top order could cash in.

At six wickets for 130-odd Australian fans were facing an horrific reality – being bowled out for stuff all on Day One in Brisbane on a batsman’s paradise.

Townsville boy Mitchell Johnson and wicket-keeper Brad Haddin dug Australia out of a fairly deep pit.  8/273 at the close of play turns out to be acceptable. But, let’s not be too tactful here – we can leave diplomatic dialogue to the Australian Government and bid them well in their attempts to salvage the rapidly declining relationship with Indonesia. We need to face the facts.

England are on top and Stuart Broad has been ignited. The attempts of the parochial Brisbane crowd – including me and my friends – to unnerve Broad fell to the wayside as the Nottingham quick ripped into the Aussies with aplomb.

Strangely enough, earlier in the day Broad inquired about changing a misshapen ball. A mate of mine, Ian, a tall fast-bowler similar in stature to Chris ‘The Giant’ Tremlett, leaned across and described a bizarre dream from the evening before where he was forced to bowl with a ball so beaten out of shape by furious batsmen, it resembled a potato. The umpire obliged a request to change the potato; Ian was provided a hexagon. Well, at least you might get some decent seam movement, I thought.

Australia’s attack will need loads of that tomorrow as it is certain that they’ll be bowling at England before lunch on Day Two. Here’s hoping Brad Haddin (78 not-out) goes all the way and scores a tonne before that happens.

See you tomorrow at the GABBA.

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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…