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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.
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