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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

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.



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