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Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: end of a season as well as a year?

From an Australian (and, alas, also a South Australian) perspective the cricket, like the bushfire, season has peaked early.

The Ashes are lost and the rubber is dead. England (or some English players) are talking positively but the stuffing seems to have been knocked out of the team's collective will to resist. IMO this is not because each of the four matches played has seen Australia on top throughout, rather because whenever England has gained the ascendancy, as it did for much of the Adelaide and some of the Melbourne test, Australia has lifted beyond reasonable expectations.

Underpinning Australia's success is the fact that it hasn't really had to carry any passengers. Of the newer faces Stuart Clark and Michael Hussey's abilities were well known beforehand, while Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds have exceeded expectations.

And England? Apart from being weaker than Australia they've also made some tactical errors which cost them dearly: the decision to declare in Adelaide at 6/551 looks more and more like a blunder, while some of the team selections have beggared belief. Monty Panesar may not be the spin whiz his devotees think he is but he's more effective than Ashley Giles and should have played from the outset.

What does England need to do to lift in Sydney? In previous Ashes tours where it has grabbed a facesaving win in a dead rubber it has usually done so on a platform of solid batting performances coupled with some unexpectedly penetrative bowling. The potential is there, and has been demonstrated, eg by the Pietersen - Collingwood partnership in Adelaide, but Australia is now openly pursuing the 5 - 0 series result, so there's unlikely to be any easing up there, as may have occurred in previous dead rubber wins.

Whatever happens, the fifth Test may well provide more interesting cricket than the limited overs games which follow hard on its heels: watching whether England can shake itself out of its mental lethargy should hold one's interest for at least the first couple of days of the test. England's one day squad is quite similar to its test one (though the captain has yet to be appointed) , and while Australia will be, as it has for some time, minus Shane Warne, in recent tournaments this has not proved to be a fatal flaw.

And beyond that... the World Cup. Still technically in season 2006 - 2007, but to be played in faraway countries of which we know little, and what we do know from occasional reports, such as one in The Age today which suggests that the tourist/ logistical infrastructure isn't all it could be.

And South Australia's year/ season? They are like England in several ways, not least in having a number of under- and modestly- performing players as well as a few like Shaun Tait and Jason Gillespie, who are effectively carrying the team. However, unlike England 's opposition , the composition of Australian state teams (both four and one day) fluctuates due to test and one day international commitments, so that the Redbacks may still be able to lift their game(s) for the rest of the season. I live in (some) hope.

A good joke for the moment.

This comes via my mate Noel:

Billy was at school one morning when the teacher asked all the children what their fathers did for a living.

All the typical answers came out, fireman, policeman, salesman, chippy, captain of industry etc, but Billy was being uncharacteristically quiet so the teacher asked him about his father.

"My father is an exotic dancer in a gay club and takes off his clothes in front of other men. Sometimes if the offer is really good, he'll go out with a man, rent a cheap hotel room and let them sleep with him."

The teacher quickly set the other children some work and took little Billy aside to ask him if that was really true.

"No," said Billy, "he plays cricket for England but I was just too embarrassed to say."



Thursday, December 28, 2006

Redbacks at last win trophy

The South Australian Redbacks have had an appalling start to their season. They are now at the bottom of both the four day and one day competition league tables.

A glimmer of hope is at hand, though. Cricinfo reports today that the Redbacks, in the person of allrounder Mark Cleary, won the "Biggest Basher" competition.

What is this? A promotional stunt for the 20-20 competition which will be run next month.

How did SA win? By hitting a yellow plastic ball across the River Yarra.

And the trophy? A yellow plastic bat.

[Amendment 31 January 2006]

I saw tucked away in a corner of the The Age (which I can't find online) that none of the contestants managed to hit the "ball" across the Yarra, which means that the winner must have been determined by another method.


What are the next steps?: Fourth Test day 3

Yesterday morning, during a pre-play interview with Mark Nicholas, Glenn McGrath said that he was expecting not to have to bat that day. His wish/prediction came true.

Today his prediction took the form of advice to the commentators: pack your bags, because the match will be completed today. That also turned out to be correct.

Australia added 47 further runs to reach 419 all out . A big advance on 5/84 at one stage. England's initial resistance suggested a bit more guts and determination: Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss survived the 12 overs to lunch and made 28 runs. The partnership eventually reached 41 before Stuart Clark bowled Cook off an inside edge. The floodgates then opened, with further wickets falling at 48 (Bell) , 49 (Pietersen, batting no 4 for the first time in the series, b Clark 1), 75 (Collingwood) , 90 (Strauss topscorer with 31), 108 (Flintoff), 109 (Mahmood completing a pair), 127 (Harmison), 146 (Panesar) and 161 (Hoggard). The pitch wasn't much if at all to blame: it was after all a third not a fifth day wicket, and Warne didn't turn the ball as much in the second as he did in the first innings. The Australians played on the mental frailties of the English: the bowling was superb. A special mention for Lee who has often been criticised in this and other series for poor returns, taking 4/47 from 18.5 overs.

By many criteria, not least the duration of the game, this was England's worst performance of the series to date. Even the Brisbane Test saw some signs of greater resolve from them in the last day and a half.

Yesterday I described England as being discombobulated by the turn around in Australia's performance. Perhaps I should have saved the term for today because it's even truer now than it was then.

As someone once said "the situation is hopeless, we must take the next steps". What should England's next steps be? The team and its management probably need at least a day or so to come up with some fresh ideas. So do I.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

England's tactics leaked to media


Today ABC Radio broadcast a leaked document which revealed the England tactics for dealing with each Australian batsman (right down to Glenn McGrath).


It's also been posted on several British websites, including theTelegraph online.

IMO much of it is not too controversial but there are some detailed instructions for dealing with players such as Ricky Ponting which have been shown to work, eg "Pulls Infront of Square in Air (Depth)" was reflected in his dismissal today, as the Cricinfo report confirms:

Flintoff to Ponting, OUT, GODDIM! Flintoff banging it in, short and wide and Ponting tries to pull it, gets a top edge to Alastair Cook at midwicket who steadies himself and swallows an easy catch.

I don't have too much of a problem with the document's publication, and would even like to see the ABC refer to it more. Today when their commentary team was discussing it I heard more description of bowlers' field placings than I've heard for a long time.

England discombobulated by Australian recovery: Fourth Test Day 2

The fall of wickets says something about the game: overnight 2/48, then 3/62 (Ponting), 4/79 (Hussey) and 5/84 (Clarke). 5/111 at lunch, while hardly a full blown recovery, raised slender hopes among Australian supporters that their team might just get its nose in front of England's modest first innings 159.

No wicket fell in the afternoon session: at tea the score was 5/226 (Hayden 109 , Symonds 61). The sixth wicket, Matthew Hayden's,
who was caught behind from a tired looking shot for 153, fell at 363.

England's dream morning turned into its nightmare afternoon as Hayden and Andrew Symonds pummelled the England bowlers, who had looked so good in the morning, and who didn't bowl particularly badly thereafter, though the pitch became progressively easier to bat on. Hayden has a formidable test career under his belt, but certainly not, after today, behind him; Symonds hitherto has been generally considered to be a very good one day player, but not up to test standard. Remember that he's only playing now because of Shane Watson's injury.

Form and critical perceptions of Symonds counted for nothing as the pair ground out runs, then began to play more of the shots we knew they could, even if we not have expected to see Symonds play his in a test match (but it was not a great surprise to see him reach his century with a six).

Hayden was more circumspect than the Hayden of only a few years ago, but the situation he was in required this of him, and he delivered. Symonds looked a little hesitant at first, or was this merely that he was striving to hold his aggressive impulses in check until he felt more at ease with the bowling? He took a long while to get off the mark and scored slowly by his standards for a time thereafter, but by stumps, with 154 not out (his first test century) he and Hayden,, had, by adding 279 for the fifth wicket, taken the match from a situation where it seemed to be within England's potential reach to one where it's now, unless other unforeseen circumstances intervene, in Australia's grasp.

Scorecard.


[Link to definition of "discombobulated" added 28 Dec 2006] .

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More or less according to Australia's script: Fourth Test day 1

Shane Warne's 700th test wicket was understandably the highlight of today's play. Andrew Strauss was a worthy victim, who'd made his first 50 of the series before being bowled by the great man with a big spinning leg break which easily found a way between the left hander's bat and pad. The dismissal has already been replayed many times on TV here.

It shouldn't be overlooked that it was the first of yet another five wicket return which helped Australia to dismiss England for 159, a disappointing if not (I think I've said this before) unexpected total.

The same elements were there as in the first innings at Brisbane, the second at Adelaide and, to a lesser degree, in both at Perth: tight bowling by all the Australians (including Andrew Symonds), inadequate batting by the English top order, and a surrender by the tail. If Australia took all the chances that were offered the total would have been lower, but 159 was still temptingly low enough for Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer to charge at it one day style. Only two late wickets in successive balls from Andrew Flintoff slowed progress towards a first innings lead. At 2/48 Australia should achieve this, even if the pitch looks to have more to offer bowlers than the others we've seen in this series. The cold weather didn't help either side, but you'd think that the England players would be more accustomed to interruptions due to rain.

Scorecard.

Shane Warne's 700th test wicket arrives as expected

Congratulations, Shane. A magnificent achievement and testament to your great ability and endurance.

This is how Cricinfo described it:


46.2 Warne to Strauss, OUT, 700 for Shane Warne! There it is, his 700th Test wicket and what a ball to reach the milestone! Outside Strauss's off stump, spinning massively back past Strauss's expansive cover drive

AJ Strauss b Warne 50 (132b 1x4 0x6) SR: 37.87

England 101/4 KP Pietersen 0* (0b) SK Warne 3.2-0-15-1


Doubtless Cricinfo, Cricket Australia and many other media outlets will have much more to say about this milestone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Commonsense prevails over pettiness: Barmy Army trumpeter to play at MCG


The Herald Sun reports that a sensible compromise has been reached about the Barmy Army's bugler. Not only will Bill Cooper be allowed to play during the test subject to certain conditions, eg stopping if other patrons complain, but he has been invited to perform at the pre-match breakfast.

This is eminently sensible and once again reminds us of the pettiness of the ground authorities at the Gabba and the Adelaide Oval. Are SACA and the QCA able to learn something from their counterparts in Perth and, now, Melbourne?

"The most hilarious press release ever issued by a senior politician"?

This (minus the question mark) is Matt Price's assessment of Mike Rann's tribute to Shane Warne (who today took his 700th test wicket). It hasn't yet appeared on Mr Rann's website but Matt has transcribed it to his blog. A print edited highlights is at Matt's sport column at p39 of Saturday's Australian.

I'm reluctant to agree that it's the most hilarious press release ever, but I concur that it is over the top. It is certainly much more flowery than the statement issued by
Prime Minister Howard in a doorstep interview (but perhaps he didn't want too many people to ask him about his retirement plans).


[Slightly different version posted at Casting a short shadow]




Wednesday, December 20, 2006

PM not to retire...just yet

In The Australian earlier this week Prime Minister Howard, to use the Australian vernacular, had a go at the new Leader of the Opposition:

What is interesting is that, having promised a new style of Labor leadership, Kevin Rudd has adopted the same basic approach as every one of his predecessors since 1996. The same crude demonisation of the Government on grounds of fairness. The same hyperbolic overreach. The same absence of solid facts and coherent argument.

He then turned, as we would expect of a self-confessed "cricket tragic", to Australia's regaining of the Ashes. Various versions of his comments have been published, including one online on the Herald-Sun website and an expanded version in The Advertiser (not online), in which he offers what by the standards of the rest of the Australian media is a restrained assessment of Australia's victories. There's still nothing on his website, which is unusual for someone who likes to preserve every public utterance, from doorstep interviews to major speeches, on the record.

In previous years during the SCG test Mr Howard has done guest commentary slots on both ABC Radio and Channel 9 TV. Perhaps he's angling to join Richie Benaud, Mark Nicholas and co after his retirement from the PMship. There again he might be happy just to take heart from Richie, who is still going strong well into his 70s and 40+ years on TV, and stay in office.

The PM's cricket writing is much less forceful than his political prose. For example, he says this about the England team's Kevin: "Kevin Pietersen has performed extremely well and tested the Australians with his great determination with the willow".

If this is the best he can do then, setting any personal feelings to one side, I'd advise Mr Howard not to give up his day job...just yet.

Warne to retire

The media, including the ABC, the BBC, theThe Daily Telegraph (News Ltd) and The Age (Fairfax) are abuzz with speculation that Shane Warne is about to announce his retirement from international cricket.

With this weight of opinion (leakage?) I don't see the need to put a question mark on the title.

Several reports indicate that Cricket Australia was not expecting the decision, though that Channel 9 has been, which is an interesting comment on the realities of contemporary cricket. As the ABC website puts it:

Channel Nine said cricket's leading wicket-taker would hold a press conference on Thursday to announce his career is over...Cricket Australia would neither confirm nor deny the reports but said it would be up to Warne and McGrath to make any announcements regarding their futures. "There is nothing we can say," said spokesman Peter Young.

There is no doubt that Warne is - still is -a great bowler and that over his career he's been one of the greatest ever. If he's to wind down his career playing for Hampshire I wonder how much satisfaction (other than financial satisfaction) he'll get from that.

Nor do the Australian selectors seem to have a succession plan, if this report is accurate.















"Nets tomorrow at 9am. I trust I shall see you there": cricket revival in USA?

[Previously posted at Casting a short shadow 8 October 2006.]

An unexpected source, The Smithsonian magazine , describes the growing popularity of cricket in the USA. The author, Simon Worrall (one vowel away from a great cricketer's surname) includes a succinct historical summary with some interesting facts, eg that NYC Mayor Bloomberg in 2005 announced plans to build a $1.5m "pitch" in Queens.

Worrall also describes the spread of the game beyond its original bases in Philadelphia and New York, though IMO he underrates the influence of the West Coast, where British Empire/ Commonwealth expats in Hollywood such as Sir C Aubrey Smith ( who once appeared for England at cricket as well as in many movies such as the 1939 version of The Four Feathers
), Laurence Olivier and Boris Karloff raised the profile of the game and where, as Cricinfo reminds us, a match was televised in 1958. It was "Round the Corner" Smith (the soubriquet derived from his bowling runup, not from any propensity to unsporting behaviour) who set the tone for the Hollywood Cricket club which he founded in the 1930s and which still continues with, we are told, support from such latter day cricket fans as Mick Jagger.

For the un-, or insufficiently, initiated
The Smithsonian website also has a companion piece "Cricket for Dummies" by Matthew Engel the editor of Wisden. His (or his sub-editor's) summary: "It's a lot like baseball. Except that it's profoundly different". This and much of what he goes on to say is generally OK, though by describing bowlers' "throws" he may be sowing the seeds for future controversies if cricket really does take hold in the USA.

[Addendum 22 December 2006] More about cricket in the USA

The State Library of SA's Bradman Digital Library of which Volume 15 of his scrapbooksfeatures material relating to the Don's visit to Hollywood in 1932, including this photoof the team meeting some Hollywood actors, including Boris Karloff, and this onepurporting to show C Aubrey Smith (but would a stickler for protocol like him appear on a cricket field attired like this?).


The current issue of The Monthly has an interesting half pager by Shane Maloney about the meeting between Don Bradman and Boris Karloff (aka William Pratt). It's not yet online, but in Australia you can read it (on p 82) at a newsagency for the next month or so while the magazine is still on sale.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ashes lost too soon as curate's egg team reverts to type

Justice was done and seen to be done today when Australia defeated England by 206 runs to win the series 3- 0 and recover the Ashes.

I don't want to take anything away from Australia who collectively and individually have performed well. Not one player, including Damien Martyn in the first two tests (just) and Andrew Symonds in the third (definitely), has failed to make a substantial contribution to the team's success. Of course Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and, in one incredible innings , Adam Gilchrist, have produced performances which will be remembered for a long time.

It's now clear, if it hasn't been for some time, that England have not (1) always fielded their best available XI, (2) performed consistently to the level needed to be competitive for an entire five day match and (3) been mentally tough enough to resist the onfield and mental pressures to which they've been subjected. To put it another way, England's performances have been like the proverbial curate's egg: good in parts. Pietersen, Collingwood and, latterly, Bell, Cook and Panesar must be wondering how their efforts have gone unrewarded.

The crucial test was the second, and the crucial day of that game was the fifth, when Australia, perhaps willing to settle for a draw, were inspired by their attack, led by the indefatigable and unforgettable Warne bouncing back from 1/167 in the first innings, to give them the scent of victory. Which, as is their custom, they achieved.

A (brief) selection of media comment

Andrew McGlashan's Cricinfo Bulletin.
Gideon Haigh's Cricinfo blog (a very different view of Michael Hussey from a couple of days ago).
Richard Williams in The Guardian.
Simon Barnes in The Times.
Simon Briggs in the Telegraph Ashes Blog
(no comments as I post this but should be worth watching as English supporters vent their spleen).












Sunday, December 17, 2006

Another feeble South Australian performance

Today, after being set a target of 385, SA folded embarassingly in its second innings for 104 to hand outright points to the Qld Bulls. The scorecard is here, and the Cricket Australia report here.

The margin of defeat (280 runs) and the short time needed for it to happen ( 3 days) are symptoms of major problems with the team, which on paper has a mix of experienced and younger players.

The batting is a particularly poor while the bowling, apart from Jason Gillespie (who had best ever match figures of 10/110) and Shaun Tait (who missed this game through injury) lacks penetration.

The Redbacks are now the chopping block of the first class competition. Even England have more backbone than they do.

Five overs too many for England today

With five overs to go and after almost a full day of resolute resistance, England were probably as well placed as they could have hoped to be. Then Glenn McGrath struck twice in fading light to have Alistair Cook caught behind for 116 and two balls later to bowl nightwatchman Hoggard. England on 3/265 would not be out of trouble, but at 5/265 they are looking decidely rocky.

To their credit England did not surrender without a fight, and both Bell (87) and Cook (116) produced their best form of the series to date.
Even before his innings Rod Marsh had predicted a great future for Cook, as yesterday's
Age reminded us
he once did for Ricky Ponting.
There is now a chance that the weather may yet play a part in the outcome, as the forecast suggests :
Thundery shower or two, clearing late morning or early afternoon. Light/moderate
S/SW winds, tending fresh near the coast in the afternoon.

We shall see.

Scorecard.

"The hurdy-gurdy/whirligig six-hitting/machine" and other media reports of day 3

The title comes from David Fine's piece on - who else but? - Adam Gilchrist .

Other commentators/ commenters/ pundits have offered their assessments of the Gilchrist innings. Gideon Haigh in his Cricinfo blog opines that he is the "greatest batsman wicketkeeper", whereas Alan Knott is the "greatest wicketkeeper batsman", and, relying on Sir Donald Bradman's judgment, that Don Tallon was the greatest wicketkeeper of all.

I never saw Tallon, but I have seen Knott on a number of occasions in both England and Australia. While I agree that he was a good wicketkeeper, I also recall that many people considered him inferior to Bob Taylor as wicketkeeper.


Haigh's Guardian piece is more focused about Gilchrist's achievement, though this time his comparison of Michael Hussey to the old movie actor Erich von Stroheim "the man you love to hate" takes artistic licence (or bluff) to its limits. He assumes that his readers are familiar with (or know something about) both Hussey's batting style and von Stroheim's films, an unlikely combination even for
Guardian readers.

Enough digression, Here are some links to other comments about day 3:

Andrew McGlashan's Cricinfo Bulletin.

Kevin Mitchell at Guardian Unlimited (via The Observer).

Simon Wilde at Times Online:

You’ve got to wonder now, though, whether England’s dressing-room won’t soon be carrying the memo-to-self: Don’t Ever, Ever, Ever Think of Winning the Ashes Again.

This series in Australia has had a text and a subtext. The text has been Australia’s utter determination to reclaim the urn that was surrendered to English hands last year. The subtext, eerily evident from some of the rum goings-on of the past few weeks, is that Australia are intent on not only beating England but breaking them. They want to win in such crushing fashion that their old jaw-dropping supremacy is restored, all the more to diminish what happened in England in 2005, and to lay the ground for victory back in England in 2009. In a bloody hot country, it is chilling.

The Age has a summary of English press comment plus a comment from Peter Roebuck about Stuart Clark and Hussey.

In The Hindu Ted Corbett has another succinct summary of the day's proceedings.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

South Australia infected with English disease

SA, without an injured Shaun Tait, did well to have Qld 3/17, 4/44, 5/53, 6/58 and 7/77, thanks mainly to Jason Gillespie (5/41). Then, as often happens in these games, the tail wagged and eventually posted a total of 192, which was enough to see off SA's feeble response of 171. The Bulls are now 2/138 in their second innings. The scorecard is here.

This is very disappointing. After the Redbacks won the one day match on Wednesday with a six off the last ball I was expecting this spirit to be carried over into the four day game, but so far, with a couple of notable exceptions, eg Gillespie, it hasn't been.

Yesterday Cricinfoand Adelaide Now reported that bad feeling has been generated between the coach and players on the one hand and the SACA hierarchy on the other.

If SACA leaked the story to the media this was not wise, but it's obvious to anyone with the slightest interest in the Redbacks that they have underperformed this year. While Qld is in the better position in the current game, the home team should, repeat should, be capable of fighting back, otherwise people will believe that they've contacted the same disease as seems to have infected the England team.

Australia waiting to collect Ashes after pummelling England

There are some things that the scorecard doesn't say, for example that the weather in Perth was hot , that some difficult catches weren't taken and that the close umpiring decisions, as they've done throughout the series, favoured the home side.

Put those points aside and look at the facts: in 75 overs Australia went from 1/119 to 5/527 dec; Adam Gilchrist's 102 not out in 59 balls was one of the most destructive innings ever played in test cricket, yet it was preceded and supported by four other innings of high quality played by Ricky Ponting (75) , Matthew Hayden (92), Michael Hussey (103) and Michael Clarke (135 no ).
And of course England are 1/19, Strauss, as the Cricinfo commentary, which concurred with the view from my armchair put it:

Lee to Strauss, OUT, poor judgment, this time, shocking in fact and Australia strike! Lee swung that one in at him again, the ball at full length, and for some inexplicable reason Strauss shoulders arms to that one. Plumb. Actually, on second thoughts (courtesy of the replay), that looked to be going over the top...

Despite the hammering it received the England bowling never really fell apart until late in the innings, when Gilchrist took 24 off a Monty Panesar over and belted the others for the slightest lapse in line or length. Nothing can replace the images in my mind's eye of his powerful hitting but the Cricinfo commentary describes each ball he faced (it's also far superior to the Cricket Australia commentary which doesn't even describe each ball of the 24 run over).

What next? The weather forecast is good, or rather doesn't indicate rain, just more heat. Can England bat out the next two days? No, but they must try to make as good a fist of the challenge as they can. If they can bat through tomorrow that will be a giant step towards refreshing their self-respect (and the respect of all cricket followers). If they can do so and only lose two or three wickets I'll accept this as confirmation of a miracle.

Duncan's Folly comes crashing down, and other media reports of day 2


Andrew Miller in Cricinfo
is one of several critics (another is Matt Price in The Australian) who flay Duncan Fletcher for not selecting Monty Panesar until this test. Miller draws a parallel between the England coach and Bradford Duncan, a "visionary"architect and Caribbean resort developer, who sounds like a character from a Werner Herzog movie:


Duncan's larger-than-life persona radiated thoughout his entire community, and his business cards described his position as "Governing Overlord of Utila". Alas, none but he could see the goal towards which he was working, and as bankruptcy swamped his enterprise, there was no substance upon which to fall back on. No working drawings of his complex exist, for instance, for they were all inside his head.

Duncan's Folly is also the name of a cricket team that is currently being buried in the Australian outback. A similarly ambitious project, pioneered by an inscrutable seer named Duncan Fletcher, it had the stated aim of becoming the foremost cricketing power in the world by the year 2007. With two weeks to go until the calendar clicks round to that date, the weeds are already growing tall around the foundations.


A selection of other comments


In The Australian Andrew Ramsey writes about the "tr
ampoline style pitches" which he sees as bedevilling modern cricket. He links this to the recent TV rights deal, about which I've also commented:

Last week, the Singapore-based ESPN-Star Television network reportedly agreed to pay $US1.1billion ($1.4bn) for cricket's global media rights for the next eight years, roughly double what the previous rights holder paid for the same privilege seven years earlier.

You don't hand over that sort of cash without some sort of implicit understanding that Test matches scheduled to last five days don't finish in two and half. The surest way to stretch a game close to its allotted 30 hours is to stop batsmen getting out in quick succession. And short of tweaking the laws to reduce the number of stumps to one, the way to achieve that is trot out benign pitches.

I believe that the agreement covers only limited overs international games, not Tests, so his comment isn't strictly accurate. That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see the ICC issue some edict about making test pitches last (or even to learn that they'd already done so informally).


Andrew McGlashan's Bulletin in Cricinfo is a more conventional summary of the day's play.

David Fine at Ashes Poetry is most succinct:

Perth Day Three - prediction

Forget Dr Fiffle-Faffle's fiffle-faffle.

Best hope is the poms to bowl like drains and bat like kings, relying on Ponting's Declaration Manifest to eke out a draw.

Peter Roebuck in The Age.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Times.

Simon Hughes in the UK Telegraph.

Ted Corbett in The Hindu.

Gideon Haigh in The Guardian.

Gripes


The ABC Radio commentary should concentrate more on what's happening on the field than behind the microphone. Over the last couple of days Kerry O'Keefe's tetchiness had detracted from some of the more thoughtful and analytical comments which I've come to expect from the likes of Jonathan Agnew, Jim Maxwell, Glenn Mitchell and Peter Roebuck. For example it would be helpful if from time to time they could describe the field settings and other tactical developments.

The Australian can't even print the stumps score. Today the best it could do was to give the score "midway through the last session" ie at 7pm CST . With all the News Corp interest in modern technology you'd think they'd be able to do better than this.

Not over yet, but how confident would England be? Day 2 Third Test

Australia, now 148 ahead with 9 second innings wickets in hand, appear to be grinding England down and heading for victory. The best England can hope for must be an Australian collapse in the first session on Day 3 or, more plausibly (despite Adelaide), holding out for a draw after Australia has batted them out of the game.

The first scenario requires a repeat of England's improved first innings bowling performance, the second a combination of Australia batting too long and brilliant performances from at least two and solid performances from each of the other England batsmen.

The key session was, as everyone who ventured an opinion (including me) suggested, the first. The scorecard says enough: 2/51 overnight to 6/122 at lunch.

How did it happen? Good Australian bowling, notably from (as expected) Stuart Clark and (as not expected) Andrew Symonds, backed up by tight and often brilliant fielding (Symonds again). Some of the England batsmen, to put it as tactfully as possible, didn't help their own cause. This was underscored by the rally of the last wicket pair which took the total past 200 and to within what optimists would see as a respectable distance of Australia's.


Matthew Hoggard's bowling of Langer between bat and pad with the first ball of Australia's second innings raised English hopes and Australia's hackles. For the rest of the day Australia steadily continued to assert their superiority. By stumps, superiority was approaching dominance.


Scorecard

Friday, December 15, 2006

Barmy Army trumpeter at last allowed to play, and other media comments on Day 1

The Age's The Tonk blog, a collaborative effort between Alex Brown, Trevor Marshallsea and Chloe Saltau, reports

The Barmy Army's trumpeter was a welcome addition to the WACA Ground's outer yesterday. Billy Cooper, the second-most controversial Englishman on this tour after Duncan Fletcher, had his instrument barred under ground regulations in Brisbane and Adelaide but was given full rein yesterday since Perth has no such rules. No one was deafened, the cricket went on and life as we know it didn't stop.:

The Australian's Peter Lalor and The Times's Mark Pougatch also mention this in their blogs.

A selection of other comments

Andrew McGlashan's Cricinfo Bulletin.

Malcolm Conn in The Australian.

Simon Hughes in the London Daily Telegraph.

Simon Barnes in The Times.

Gideon Haigh in
The Guardian.

Peter Roebuck in The Age.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

England performs with ball, but with the bat...? Third Test day 1

England had a good day, or more accurately first two and a bit sessions. Their loss of two wickets for 51 when they batted in the final session has taken some of the gloss from their earlier efforts, yet they remain in a competitive position after a day of mostly traditional test cricket laced with some one day style bursts.

They'll be very pleased to have bowled Australia out for 244, and especially so that Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison bowled very well. Panesar's ball to dismiss Justin Langer was for me the ball of the day: the TV replays showed it subtly creeping between bat and pad to hit off stump.

Panesar was subsequently handled roughly by Andrew Symonds, who hit him for 17 in one over (including two straight sixes). Both he and his captain showed very good temperament (the latter by not taking him off and Monty by regrouping and inducing an edge from Symonds to which wicketkeeper Jones clung at the second attempt). 5/92 was probably better than most people, including me, would have expected from Panesar in his first Ashes appearance (and at Perth at that), but the figures were well-deserved. They were also, it has since been reported, the best by an English spin bowler at Perth.

The wicket was livelier than those for the previous two tests, but several Australian batsmen including Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Michael Clarke got out when they seemed about to go on to bigger things. Symonds delighted spectators with his hitting but he forgot that he was playing in a test match, not a limited overs game. Captain Ponting and vice-captain Gilchrist failed: Harmison's dismissal of Ponting lbw showed how far he's come since that first ball in Brisbane.


All this is very well, but set 2/51 against the Australian 244 and the match looks evenly poised. Think about the fiery opening spells of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath and the two probing overs bowled by Stuart Clark (during which Collingwood was dropped at slip) and it might even seem that the home team has the edge. The first session tomorrow is likely to be crucial. I'll be glued to my seat.
Scorecard

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

England face uphill task but supporters not deterred by travel advice

The Third Test starts tomorrow in Perth. The BBC Ashes website has a number of views, not many of which are particularly optimistic about the side's chances. This is hardly surprising.

On a more positive note there has been little to suggest that English supporters have been put off by the argument advanced by an ethicist.

What does sale of international TV broadcast rights mean?

The announcement that the ICC has awarded international cricket TV broadcast rights to 18 tournaments spanning 2007 to 2015 hasn't attracted a lot of comment in Australia. Perhaps it should have, given (1) the importance of TV coverage to the health of the game, (2) the amount of money involved ($US 1 - 1.1 billion), and (3) the growth of other forms of coverage of matches, such as the online "live commentary" provided by Cricinfo and others.

True, the agreement doesn't cover test cricket, but it does cover the major one day international events including the World Cup and the Champions Trophy.

Gideon Haigh in his Cricinfo blog goes behind the hyperbole about "ploughing back" profits and developing cricket on a "much wider front" and asks some very pertinent questions:

[H]ow much should junior countries be benefiting anyway when only India, Australia and England among the Test nations operate profitably? What kind of development? Where? By whom? What about the players? The umpires? The administrators? And how accountable and equitable are those who distribute and spend the money that the game raises? After all, what do we have to show for the developing we’re already meant to have done?

The comments, many of which disagree with his proposition, are also worth reading.

Another comment, by Martin Tormey in today's Crikey (subscription only) suggests that the agreement will preclude bodies like Cricinfo and otehr media organisations from providing online "live coverage". With the decline of radio coverage of many matches, online coverage is becoming a feasible alternative for cricket followers who can't be glued to a TV (or their mobile phone) for hours at a time to watch play. If this is to stop or to have its wings clipped so that, for example, only occasional rather than ball by ball or over by over, updates are permitted this will surely shut out a significant potential audience for the game.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Simon says: get up Punter's nose

In todays Australian (via the UK Sunday Times) Simon Wilde offers the England team some advice about how to discomfort (and dismiss) Ricky Ponting.

Wilde recommends following these steps:

1. Get on his nerves ("Ponting has a temper") and try to provoke him into doing something stupid which may just lead, given his record in these matters, to his being suspended.

2. Bowl very accurately to him at the beginning of each innings.

3. "Keep the ball outside off stump, make it swing away, and let him nick to the catchers in the close cordon. But don't stray too wide, or he will murder you."

It goes without saying that any chances he offers should be held. Wilde also thinks that, as early in his career Ponting struggled against spin, a high quality spinner might also have a reasonable chance of dismissing him. I'm not too sure about that one; the others are mostly commonsense and would apply to other good batsmen.

These things said, Wilde's comments about the beginning of Ponting's first innings in Adelaide reveal that he is a close observer of the game.

[After Ashley Giles dropped him]The jitters weren't finished yet. When James Anderson came on, Ponting drove and edged just short of gully. He then played and missed. Then he survived a leg-before shout; the ball was just going down leg. Soon he went for a foolish single that would have cost him his innings had Paul Collingwood's throw from midwicket hit its target. All this, remember, on a pitch deader than a Norwegian parrot.


I'd have liked to see something about the captain's second innings when he reached 49, at which point Ashley Giles (the high quality spinner?) dismissed him against the run of the play.

I'll be watching Ricky's batting in Perth very closely to see if the England bowlers heed Wilde's advice and, more importantly, if it works.

The not so secret diary of Ashley Giles, aged 30 something

Poor Ashley Giles. After revealing his innermost thoughts ( eg "Bono is a great performer but I don't like all the politics") in his diary in the London Independent, he has to suffer the indignity of having his pearls of wisdom cast before swinish Australian cricket followers via Peter Lalor's blog in The Australian. Here's a sample:

He is so bored he's been to see Borat twice, he's going so badly even English fans are ringing him with abuse and he was so ill-prepared for the series that being picked for the first Test caused him "mixed emotions".

Giles even says he had a premonition of the team's calamitous collapse on day five in Adelaide. To make matters worse, he finds the Australian fans are better sledgers than the players -- and reveals the only local he has taken a shine to is Kylie Minogue.

Giles has even turned to drinking to get him through, declaring: "You drink to celebrate and drink to forget."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bobby on beat at SCG

[I've updated this post - see below]



A senior UK police officer will be flown out (at NSW taxpayers' expense) to sit in full uniform with England supporters at the SCG Test, reports the Sydney Daily Telegraph :

Dressed in full uniform, top cop Bob Dyson will be positioned among the Barmy Army while Australia and England do battle at the SCG...Police Minister John Watkins arranged the visit by the Assistant Chief Constable from South Yorkshire after asking the UK Government for help in combating thuggish behaviour...the Iemma Government will pay an undisclosed sum covering his airfares and expenses during the Down Under posting..."In his British police uniform he'll be a friendly face for the Barmy Army and other cricket fans and will help to ensure that the Ashes Sydney Test remains a safe and enjoyable event for everyone," Mr Watkins said.

Some questions:


1. How long since the Assistant Chief Constable has been on the beat?

2. Will he be subject to the same restrictions as other spectators entering the ground?

3. Will he be armed?

4. Will he have the same powers as NSW police, including powers of arrest?

5. Will he operate alone or with other police ?

6. What are the occupational health and safety implications of his wearing a uniform designed for northern English conditions in an Australian summer environment?

FURTHER THOUGHTS 12 December

I may have been a tad unfair to ACC Dyson as his biography on the South Yorkshire Police website reveals that he spent some time in Australia in his younger days, and was at one stage a police cadet in Victoria. It's therefore possible that he's been to the MCG either on duty or as a spectator (or both) and therefore has more knowledge of what to expect than the Daily Telegraph report indicates.

That said, the notion of a uniformed bobby (with helmet?) at the SCG is mind boggling. Perhaps there's scope for a video in the style of this Yorkshire Airlines one? It could be shown on the big screen to let spectators know that he's there to help, not as part of a British tourism promotion campaign.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Requiem for Duff Batting and other poems


I recommend David Fine's latest pieces, which he wrote soon after last Tuesday.

Here's an extract from "The English Disease":

Like syphilitic medieval kings, England
suddenly went mad. No apparent cause,
no seeming attempt to stem noble pause
in bedlam's frenzy to lose without stand.
Fumbling wickets tumbled from their own hand,
Misery's drubbing unconceived before
they gouged their own wounds to bone...

The poem elaborates upon the comment made by Greg Baum in the SMH and Age:

Like medieval royals with syphilis, they went suddenly mad. England lost its last nine wickets for 60, the same England that made 6-551 declared in the first innings.


Out of the Territory

Now that Damien Martyn's international career is over there is, as far as I can tell, only one Northern Territory born Test cricketer still playing : and he's not an Australian player.

Where is cricket's left field?

"Voges call comes out of left field" is the headline of an article attributed to Courtney Walsh (the former West Indies quick bowler?) and Malcolm Conn in The Weekend Australian (not online) which reports an unexpected selection in the Australian squad for the third cricket Test..

"Out of left field" is a term which derives from US baseball, not cricket. It's global English managementspeak missapplied to this situation. Why should our
distinctive and descriptive sporting language have to follow the current iteration of our foreign policy and be embedded in the US variety?

What's wrong with "Voges surprise selection in squad" as a headline?

The current issue of Quadrant
has an article "Americanising Australian English" by Robert Solomon (not online) which explores this further.

[Also posted at Casting a short shadow.]








Saturday, December 09, 2006

Domestic interlude

Over the last week South Australia have been on tour in Tasmania where they've lost the one day game on Sunday at Launceston and could only gain a first innings win in the four day match at Hobart which finished today.


According to the Cricinfo Bulletin (which despite Cricket Australia's forbidding them to do ball by ball commentaries is on the whole as good an analysis as can be found anywhere in the Australian media) Tasmania, who were set 315 to win, came close to doing so, but were stopped by two late wickets from Shaun Tait. In the four day comp the Redbacks aren't performing as badly as England are doing in the Ashes, but their batting is inconsistent and their bowling relies heavily on Tait and Gillespie.

Bottom of both four and one day comps at this stage of the season doesn't augur well for the immediate future. The matches in the coming week against Qld may be the last chance to begin a revival which will lead to a place in the finals.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The first Australian casualty?

Damien Martyn has announced his retirement from all international and domestic cricket.

A subsequent statement from Cricket Australia suggests that he fell, not that he was pushed, though he couldn't have too pleased with his performance in the second Test. His last scoring shot in the second innings was a great one day biff, but his dismissal was soft. That said, he probably played fewer tests that he should have, even though he'll probably now be seen as the first Australian casualty of this Ashes series.

Cricinfo has published some highlights of his career.

Former Test cricketer in trouble with the law

"Ex-cricketer MP jailed over rage killing" says a technically inaccurate headline in today's Australian.

As the report under the headline says, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has for the time being suspended the three year sentence on Navjot Singh Sidhu to allow him time to appeal. The offence occurred in 1988, so it's taken a long time for the judicial process to reach this point.

He's not the only Indian cricketer awaiting the outcome of a court case with a potential prison term at its end: a case
(also in the P & H jurisdiction) against Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi,aka the Nawab of Pataudi, aka "Tiger" is still pending, as this report from September 2006 states.

If Sidhu's appeal or Pataudi's case fail then they'll qualify for inclusion in the Cricinfo list of players who have been in trouble with the law , a list which has a few omissions, including at least one from my neighbourhood, Alexander Crooks, whom the Australian Dictionary of Biography online forthrightly describes as "bank manager, cricketer and embezzler".

There is also scope for a list of people who have narrowly escaped being in trouble with the law. Such a list would include W R Gilbert, a cousin of W G Grace, who was apparently caught stealing from players' belongings in a dressing room. In his obituary the 1925 Wisden stepped coyly around this black mark:

At the beginning of 1886 he became a professional, and the season was not far advanced before his career in first-class cricket ended abruptly. He then left England for Canada. He kept up the game in the Dominion and made hundreds in both Halifax and Montreal.


Premature evacuation

One of the few blemishes on Alan McGilvray's reputation as a cricket broadcaster was that he missed the end of the Aust - WI tied test at Brisbane in 1960 because he concluded that Australia would win easily and caught an early flight back to Sydney.

He has now been joined, according to Geoff McClure in The Age , by several other august names from the cricket commentariat including its doyen Richie Benaud (who played in the 1960 game). The others outed by the paper were Damien Fleming, Tony Greig, Geoff Lawson and Jim Maxwell.

I'm sure there have been other instances of this happening, but it does make me wonder how expert these so called experts are if they completely eliminated from their planning the possibility of a close finish which might require their attendance.

In retrospect it now looks more as if the main reason SACA opened the Adelaide Oval gates at 5pm on Tuesday was to allow easier egress for the departing commentators and the security guards double booked for the Robbie Williams concert, not
to allow locals to watch the end of the match free.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"There was nothing which savoured of disgrace about our downfall": England captain positive after Adelaide test loss

Never, perhaps, was a match fought out under more even conditions; for the wicket...remained practically perfect to the end, and not one drop of rain fell during the five days over which the battle waged. It was a thoroughly well-deserved victory. We had to surrender but we marched out with all the honours of war, and there was nothing that savoured of disgrace about our downfall.

Andrew Flintoff yesterday? No, Mr (as he then was: he was later knighted) P F (Plum) Warner writing about this Test match played in 1904 .

It was the third test of a series which England (in fact the first team to tour Australia under the auspices of the MCC) eventually won 3 - 2. The quotation above comes from p 198 of Mr Warner's book How we recovered the Ashes, reproductions of which I noticed on sale at the excellent Ashes Urn exhibition, which is now en route to Perth, and will later travel to Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart: for details see here . The State Library here has a copy (of the book, not the urn).

Even in 1904 the media were not to be trusted, at least according to Mr W:

The inner history of the tour, naturally enough, never got into the papers, and a great deal that did get get into the papers, more especially in the way of criticism and comment, was so distinctly incorrect and misleading that I believe most lovers of cricket will like to have the true story set before them clearly and simply. And I hope I need not say at the beginning that, if I set down anything with favour, at least I shall write nothing with malice. I only want to tell the plain truth in the plainest possible way. (p1)

I'm curious to know something of the "inner history" which didn't make it into the papers. Does he mean that scandals were covered up? If so, who was involved? Mr B J T Bosanquet, who gave his name to the bosey (aka wrong 'un: a term which in those days had decidedly raffish connotations)? I'll read further (including between the lines) and post more.





Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not the 1.40 at Fontwell

The London Independent and the Melbourne Age (not online, pS12 in print edition) have both reported the fluctuations of the UK and Australian betting markets during yesterday's play.

The Independent notes:

A horse called Warne's Way in the 12.40 at Fontwell confounded its price of 9-2 to romp home as the winner, while at the same course in the 1.40, a horse called Flintoff, which vied for favouritism before the off, could only manage second place like its namesake and part-owner.

Why England slept

The post mortems on England's loss in the Second Test (and by implication the loss of the Ashes) have filled many column and cyberspace centimetres. Most of the commenters have looked at the game as a whole, which is surprising since many of them (including me) and the bookies had, at the start of play yesterday, expected a draw.


As I saw the situation, Australia, having for the first four days stayed in touch with (without ever getting far ahead of) their opponents, were on the final day able to play the inner and outer games of cricket much better than them.

These are the key elements of yesterday's play as I saw them:


# Australia went into the last day scenting a possible victory, and tried to make something happen, whereas England were Micawberish, hoping for something (like a draw) to turn up.


# The Australian bowlers were able to lift their individual and collective games soas to make it hard for their opponents to score freely. Clark, Lee and Warne were superb.


# Some England batsmen saw demons in the pitch and the Australian bowling which they didn't have either the faith in their own abilities or the talent to exorcise.


# The Bell run out exemplified the difference between the two teams: one asleep at the crease and thus likely to make mistakes, the other alert to most opportunities and riding its luck. Clarke's throwing the ball to Warne, who'd failed to back up behind the stumps at the bowler's end, showed great presence of mind, while the bowler redeemed himself by completing the deed.


# Kevin Pietersen, having won every round in his fight with Shane Warne over the course of the match, lowered his guard and was knocked out (admittedly by a great delivery). His later buffoonery in the field which saw seven runs coming from the one stroke was also inept, but the game was well and truly lost by then.


# Andrew Flintoff's dismissal flashing outside the off stump was soft just when a little more resolution might have bought additional runs and time. His subsequent bowling showed that he could lead from the front in a gung ho Light Brigade style charge, though no one has yet owned up to being the"someone [who] had blundered".


# Geraint Jones was out to a soft dismissal (see Flintoff above) after looking for a very short time as if he could be the little Aussie battler who could help save England.


# Ashley Giles was, to put it tactfully, unable to reproduce his first innings fluency with the bat. His bowling was, to put it tactfully, quintissentially Gilesian.


# Paul Collingwood made little effort to shield the last three batsmen from the strike.


# Once the target had been set Australia were always likely to get the runs. Hayden, Langer and Martyn were out biffing (were the openers trying to stake a claim for the World Cup?) and Ponting by his standards and our expectations failed (out for 49 and to Giles).


# Flintoff's captaincy during the fourth innings was, like his field settings, all over the place. He was right to open the bowling himself, even if he's exacerbated his injury, but why didn't he use Hoggard more? He didn't seem to lack advice: at one stage I noted three of his teammates (and not the most senior ones) around him.


# Andrew Strauss made no effort to catch a lofted pull to midwicket from Hussey just after he'd come in: there was no guarantee that Strauss would have made it but it was worth risking four runs for the chance of another wicket.


# James Anderson was out of his depth, as Steve Harmison appeared to be (but since he has performed at Test level in the past I'll reserve judgment on him).

# An umpiring mistake (Strauss given out when the ball hit his pad, not bat) by Umpire Bucknor added to England's uncertainty, but a good side should have been able to move on from this. Others have commented about the lbw decisions given by Umpire Koertzen against Harmison and Anderson, but spectators, as invariably happens when something in the least contentious happens, weren't shown replays of them so I can't comment further.


The English spectators sitting near me were devastated by the turnaround. Probably only the true connisseurs (and perhaps their partners) came to the stands. I was sitting near a very knowledgeable Yorkshireman called Martin and a couple from Cambridge who were going back on Friday to what they admitted would be, after this result, a bleak Christmas.

The Barmy Army sent a smaller contingent than on the previous days, but reinforcements arrived in time for the surrender. It's a pity that the cricketers couldn't have taken something from their supporters' fortitude in coping with the 35 degree heat, not to mention the stringent controls imposed by Cricket Australia and SACA and enforced by a combined (and larger than necessary?) force of police and security guards.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

And I thought it would be centre wicket practice...


Not in my wildest dreams would I would have predicted that what happened today could happen.

England spent two sessions crawling from 1/59 to 129 all out: 30 runs in the pre-lunch, 40 in the post-lunch session would have been dull watching had not wickets kept falling almost a rapidly as those runs were scored.

Australia were set a fourth innings target of 166 in 36 overs. In limited overs cricket this would normally be considered to be achievable, provided too many early wickets weren't lost.

And so it happened today.

England threw the game away with some inept batting and running between wickets. Australia regrouped powerfully, grasping the nettle and the opposition by the throat to ease home comfortably by 6 wickets.

It will be very difficult to keep the series alive now, and England will be glad of a few days' respite before battle is rejoined in Perth.


Scorecard.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Poet in residence at cricket funded by Arts Council England

I've just come across The pen is edgier than the blade blog.


David Fine is an English poet who is travelling around Australia following the Tests and writing poetry and other observations about the Tests and his travels. He is funded, albeit on a modest scale (backpacker accommodation no corporate boxes), by the English Arts Council. Yes, Australian readers, you read that correctly: I could go on about why an Australian arts funding body hasn't done something similar, but I won't. Instead I'll just recommend that you read, and for future reference bookmark, the site.


He's just posted today's piece, which includes two poems, one of which celebrates Matthew Hoggard's achievement with the ball over the last three days. A brief sample (apologies if I've breached copyright):


You climb each hill, break its back before
it breaks yours, seven times
for one hundred and nine long runs, dogged
against these hounds you never let off the leash.



David also has another blog
Blog Before Wicket.


His email address is david@fineandandy.co.uk.

I think of N&D as a modest blog but after reading David's work I understand how much I have to be modest about.