wickets

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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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, 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…