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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The last person to fall foul of the Adelaide Oval dress code this season?

While the England media contingent downsized significantly after the Ashes series, a few fresh faces arrived to cover the one-day series. One of them, from the Daily Mail , fell foul of the Adelaide Oval dress police, who didn't seem to relax their vigilance one iota on Australia Day, even though the Australian of the Year, Dr Tim Flannery was presented with his award in Canberra wearing attire which, as this photo suggests, would have seen him barred from entry to the Oval.

NZ prevail over England in high scoring ODI

Australia - New Zealand -England: The pecking order of the tri-series is now confirmed after New Zealand defeated England by 58 runs (7/318 v 8/260) in Perth. In truth the margin should have been greater as the Black Caps eased off in the last hour and were very sloppy in the field. Not that England had been exemplary when they'd fielded: once again we were reminded of the gulf between the fielding standards of the Australian and the other teams.

NZ batted first and made rapid progress against an unfamiliar England opening attack of Chris Tremlett and Liam Plunkett, both of whom bowled promisingly (how often has that word been used or abused this summer?) but inaccurately. Lou Vincent (76/111b) continued his form of the weekend while Ross Taylor (71/81 b) impressed again as did Jacob Oram (54/33b) who for once was able to build on a solid foundation instead of having to repair early damage. Monty Panesar was the best England bowler (10 - 2 -35 -2), slowing the scoring when a huge total looked likely, while Plunkett (9 - 0 -54 -3) suggested that he should have played more earlier in the tour. 318 from 50 overs was a good, almost certainly a winning, total but it was inflated by the self-harm of 37 extras (no byes but 22 wides) and some slack fielding (one excellent stop from Bell was wasted when his return went for four overthrows), not to mention ordinary pace bowling.

A rearranged England batting order, with Andrew Strauss at no 4, gave Ed Joyce (66/ 82b) a chance to display his batting talents once again. Despite some ordinary NZ bowling and slipshod fielding, once Bell (31/ 42b) was second out at 99 nobody was able to stay long enough to produce the late order Oram-style assault which was necessary to accelerate the run rate sufficiently. Paul Nixon and Plunkett came together at 7/184 and rode their luck (as well as making some of their own) until Nixon (49/47b) was well caught in the deep by Oram from the last ball of the game.

England now must defeat Australia at the SCG on Friday to have a chance of making the finals. While there were glimmerings of improvement in some departments today I can't see them lifting enough to produce the upset of the season.

Scorecard

Reading for pleasure when there's not much pleasure to be had

Cricket has a reputation for fostering fine writing, yet most followers of the game probably don't know (or care) about the leading players' reading tastes (or whether they read at all). It therefore comes as a surprise to read on Cricinfo that the troubled England team has set up, apparently at the instigation of Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff, a book club:

"They bring their own books in to discuss and exchange them with the others. Fred has just given me a new book to read," said a team spokesman, "he felt it would be a good idea to help the guys talk and think about things not associated with cricket."

Speaking of good writing, David Fine, the poet of the Ashes, is negotiating with a publisher about producing book of his poems.

[Also posted at Casting a short shadow]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

NZ can't stand heat, get out of catching

This title may seem unfair as NZ came within 8 runs of beating Australia in a high scoring match played in Perth today. Yet Stephen Fleming in the post match interview acknowledged the truth of it.

The Black Caps did have the worst of the conditions, having to field first in temperatures which were well into the 40s for the first hour or so, during which time Matthew Hayden was missed twice. Not surprisingly he rode his luck and made a century. Ricky Ponting relied more on skill to record yet another hundred and the middle order hitters Symonds, Hussey and White each accelerated in the final overs to register what looked like, especially after the low scores previously in this tri-series, an unbeatable 5/343 from 50 overs (actually 48 as the first two of the innings were maidens) . Several of the bowlers were unlucky with dropped catches but only Vettori (who blotted his copybook by dropping an easy catch from Hayden before he'd scored) bowled economically.

I doubt whether anyone expected NZ to win, but I reckon everyone hoped that they'd make a reasonable fist of their reply. They certainly did this as Lou Vincent , Stephen Fleming and Peter Fulton brought up 100 in 105 balls for the loss of only one wicket. I don't know why Vincent isn't guaranteed a permanent place against Australia as he always seems to perform well. He did so again tonight with 66/82b (and given out l b w when the replay showed he'd hit the ball). Even so wickets fell at regular intervals, two of them to Michael Clarke, who is clearly being groomed to be at least part of the solution to Australia's spin bowling problem.

When Clarke bowled Ross Taylor NZ were 5/198 in the 36th over. That looked to be the end of the contest. Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum thought otherwise and launched a sensible assault, as they'd done against England in Adelaide, starting relatively slowly but accelerating (in Oram's case dramatically) in the final overs. Unfortunately the asking rate always looked to be just out of their reach, and so it turned out. A brief pause for rain didn't help them to maintain their momentum either. Nevertheless it was an impressive attempt, and one which exposed a few frailties in the Australian bowling and fielding . In his post match interview Ponting acknowledged this.

For their part NZ must keep working on all aspects of their game. Oram has now had two excellent innings: his highest two in ODIs, with tonight's being the fastest ever century by a New Zealander. He's no longer, as The Australian patronisingly described him last week, "the poor man's Chris Cairns", but he can't be expected to keep producing batting like these last two innings each time he goes to the wicket.


NZ now are clear favourites for the second spot in the finals. It's hard to see England, even if Michael Vaughan returns to bolster the troubled batting, regrouping sufficiently after their recent drubbings to be sufficiently competitive.

Scorecard.

Bad hair days forbidden under new Zimbabwe dress code

Cricinfo reports that three Zimbabwean cricketers: Keith Dabengwa, Tawanda Mupariwa and Christopher Mpofu, have been ordered to have their hair cut as part of a new board dress code. Given the country's recent international performances it's reminiscent of the old adage "if you can't be a cricketer, at least look like one".But then I wonder what's behind a lot of much more important things that happen (or don't happen) there.

PS If the miscreants start to perform like Andrew Symonds (or even Hamish Marshall) will they be allowed to grow their locks again?


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Lights never go on as England continues its decline

England 10/110, Australia 1/111 (quadruple Nelson) Words fail me, so I'll just link to the scorecard and disclose that, as I had an overlapping engagement, when I heard (which didn't take long) the direction in which the match was heading I decided not to go to see the inevitable Australian victory.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

England save energy and allow lights to go out early


Another low scoring ODI played in Adelaide today in ideal conditions saw England give short measure to the
spectators and their supporters as they capitulated for a pathetic 120 in 37.5 overs. As the picture above shows, darkness had not completely descended (except upon England's confidence) when the match concluded with Jon Lewis tamely snicking Shane Bond to Stephen Fleming at slip for his fourth catch of the innings. Yes, it was the kind of match we don't often see in this form of the game in Australia (though this season has produced some exceptions): one where the ball dominates the bat.

Only one batter - NZ's Jacob Oram - was able to impose his footprint on the match with a well-constructed (solid platform, later aggression) 86 which enabled his team to come off the ropes of 5/67 to reach 210 all out of the last ball of the 50th over. Each England bowler, except for Jamie Dalrymple (3 overs for 22, inc 2 wides) bowled well, though probably the Black Caps scored 20 -25 runs more than they should have.

Why? Because the England fielding was substandard. One or two chances were put down, but there were several instances where fielders did not even try to catch balls hit in the the air which the Australians and, on today's showing, many New Zealanders, would make an effort to dive or leap for. Ed Joyce was the main, though it must be said not the only, offender. At least twice Oram lofted balls towards midwicket, but each time Joyce tamely slowed down and waited for them to bounce and, on another occasion, to reach the boundary. An Australian - Symonds, Ponting, Clarke, perhaps Hussey - would have dived, and more often than not completed the catch. Paul Nixon, who is very visible on TV for his aggressive wicketkeeping, also has some odd habits: he bounces up and down on his haunches like a jack in the box as the bowler delivers and, when taking returns from the outfield, stands in front of the stumps, not behind them as the textbook (and commonsense) advises.

When England batted the NZ went into boa constrictor mode, squeezing the breath out of the top order. With five specialist bowlers, none of whom was hit out of the attack, there was no need to fall back upon the dibbly dobblers Astle and McMillan. First Franklin, then Vettori, Oram and Bond harried the English, except for Joyce (47/70b), into submission, with magnificent support from the field. If there was a faint hope that Joyce could muster the tail it was shattered by a magnificent catch in the outfield by Mark Gillespie. Shortly after this Nathan Astle caught Panesar with one that was almost as good (the photo doesn't really show how difficult it was, but the caption is a good description). I can't imagine any England player in today's team today who could have matched either of these efforts. That's one of their problems, and one which they'll need to think hard about before Friday's confrontation with Australia.

Scorecard




Monday, January 22, 2007

Warne's interview with Parky economical with truth?

While I've always had the highest regard for Shane Warne's on-field ability, and for many of the cricket-related things he's done off the field, I don't think that it's possible to gloss over the dark side of his cricketing life. Overlook them perhaps, but not deny or falsify them.

Alas, this may have happened with his recent interview with Michael Parkinson, as today's Age claims.
According to the paper the program was pre-recorded and then edited, with the executive producers Warne, Parky and someone with a foot in both their camps (and a hand in both their pockets) having the final say.

Here's
The Age's summary of some of the discrepancies between the interview and the O'Regan report into the betting allegations:

WHAT WARNE TOLD PARKINSON"… He never told me he was a bookmaker. I didn't know that."

WHAT THE O'REGAN REPORT SAYS

"… John said he was an Indian bookmaker but he did not then ask Warne to agree to provide information in the future".

WHAT WARNE TOLD PARKINSON

"I then found out later, that when Mark Waugh and I were called into Cricket Australia (in February, 1995), that he (John) was a bookmaker, and that I'd given him information."

WHAT THE O'REGAN REPORT SAYS"By (early October, 1994) they had both accepted money from John whom they then knew to be a bookmaker who betted on cricket."

WHAT WARNE TOLD PARKINSON

"Once I found out that (John was a bookmaker), I never took any call again from him."

WHAT THE O'REGAN REPORT SAYS

"Shane Warne was never contacted after a call to Perth in early February 1995 and it seems that he had nothing to do with the cessation of the calls. John must have decided for his own reasons not to continue the contact."

WHAT WARNE TOLD PARKINSON"The bookmaker stuff was 13 or 14 years ago. I was 22 years of age."

WHAT THE CALENDAR SAID

Warne turned 25 the month he met John.


One person's meat....?

There's yet another addition to the list of former Indian cricketers who have fallen fall of the law (though not all have yet been dealt with, so this is not to be taken as sub judice). The former slow left armer and opening batsman who is remembered in these parts as Shane Warne's first test wicket, Ravi Shastri, now is the subject of an action against him for hurting the religious sentiments of his community. His (alleged) offence? Eating, or admitting to a partiality for, biltong, a South African dried meat product similar to jerky.


I've not tasted biltong, but if it's anything like jerky I'm surprised that anyone who professes to be a vegetarian (as Shastri's antagonists apparently believe him to be) could be converted to meat eating after gnawing their way through a strip of it. Perhaps the South Africans know how to make their biltong more palatable.

If it's good enough for India, why not for Australia?

Cricinfo reports that Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, Indian the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister has threatened to legislate for all cricket matches involving India to be broadcast on the state run TV network.

This issue has arisen before. When I was visiting India two years ago a court ruled that the state network should telecast the tests with Pakistan, which is what happened, and at short notice. I was expecting a relatively low standard of presentation, but once I got used to the multilingual commentary team, which switched seamlessly(when a word or two of warning wouldn't have gone amiss) back and forth between English and, I assume, Hindi, it was OK. In fact it reminded me that the pictures, not the words, are paramount in televised cricket commentary.

Speaking of television commentators, I see that Ravi Shastri has offended some of his compatriots for admitting to liking biltong, a South African dried meat product. Perhaps this deserves a separate post.



Sunday, January 21, 2007

One Day International in NYC...but where?

Cricinfo has alerted me to reports by Daniel Lane in The Sydney Morning Herald and Robert Craddock on foxsports.com.au about a proposed One Day International series to be played between Australia and India in North America, possibly in New York.

The lack of an appropriate cricket ground seems not to be worrying the promoters, who seem satisfied to play any games in a football stadium. This may please the (mostly Indian) television audience and may even up the contests, though I wonder how far this project to construct a cricket field in Queens has advanced since it was announced in August 2005.

Australia capitalise on NZ fielding lapses to win by unexpectedly close margin

The Australia - New Zealand game at the SCG has just finished and I've already heard two people - one on radio and the other on TV - describe it as "going down to the wire". This isn't an inaccurate description but I must say that I found it hard to believe that a team as resilient and with as much self-belief as Australia could falter, even though wickets kept falling as they recovered from 3/17 to reach their target of 219.

Two blunders in the field reprieved the Australian top scorers Michaels Clarke (75) and Hussey (65 n o). Clarke was dropped by James Franklin at backward square leg (similar to but much easier than the catch which Giles dropped from Ponting in the Adelaide Test - I've just checked it on the DVD). Hussey should have been run out by Vettori, who did not gather the ball properly before knocking over the stumps.

Earlier a NZ upper order collapse: 1/5, 2/7, 3/38, 4/53, didn't suggest that the game would run its allotted course, but veteran Craig McMillan took advantage of a Hussey type umpiring decision (ie he looked out but was adjudged not out) to wallop the Australian bowling for 89 from 87 balls. He also inspired the normally modest NZ tail to support him: the 57 runs he added with Franklin for the 8th wicket gave the team something to defend.

The NZ team was reconfigured to strengthen the batting (shades of England in the Tests!) with spinner and good fielder Patel omitted for Hamish Marshall. The four specialist bowlers didn't let the side down and captain Fleming bowled them out in the quest for victory. This left the dibbly dobblers Astle and McMillan to plug the fifth bowler gap just as Symonds and White had done for Australia, with equally modest success.

If Australia has an Achilles heel at present it's with the fifth bowling position (though some of the batting needs to improve as well).

NZ exceeded my expectations. Their bowling is, dare I say it without sounding too patronising, surprisingly good, even without Bond. The word is that reinforcements in the form of Jacob Oram and possibly Steve Styris are on the way. If they are fully fit they will strengthen both batting and bowling, and certainly be a match for England and perhaps even provide Australia with another challenge like today's. I'm looking forward to the NZ _ England match here on Tuesday.


Scorecard




Inept SA batting surrenders game to WA in two days

I've been waiting for some sign that South Australia's season has bottomed out. The news from Perth indicates that is not good.

The Redbacks collapsed twice, for 114 and 120 to lose by an innings in two days. The bowling remains reasonably effective (WA made 9/289 dec) while Gillespie and Tait are performing well, but the batting minus Darren Lehmann (out with an injured hamstring), is inept.

Scorecard

The Adelaide Now website has a scathing but not inaccurate report "Jellybacks roll over" by Jesper Fjelstad including some handwringing words from SA chairman of selectors Paul Nobes:


"The pitch had a lot of bounce in it and it was always going to be a struggle for them," Nobes said. "Of course it's disappointing.But we now need to look at these younger guys and keep persevering with them and make sure that we can develop one or two or even more of them to make sure they're ready to go next year. We've got to start looking at preparing for next season and make sure we give these guys a chance to find out if they're good enough and that's exactly what we'll be doing.It's disappointing that when the pitches are competitive – or bouncy – we get find out and we need to do a lot of work in that area.It's a true comment (that nobody bats with any confidence). What they need to do is to find the repertoire to cope with first-class cricket, which is totally different from district cricket.We need to learn and learn quickly."

Perhaps there are too many district (grade) clubs, or perhaps there's something seriously wrong with the coaching and/or team leadership, perhaps the underperforming players need to take more responsibility for their own performances...etc etc. Nobes doesn't mention these points and he doesn't seem to have much of an idea of which of "these younger guys" might be "ready to go next year".

At present the Redbacks are the England of Australian domestic cricket.I hope that SACA will conduct a major review of SA's performance at the end of this season, with terms of reference broad enough to allow some recommendations of substance.






Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mr Snickit spurred on by English wicketkeeper

Some repercussions from a doubtful decision in yesterday's one dayer from, for example The Guardian (which defends the batsman's right to stand his ground if he knows that he's snicked a ball), and The Age .

Is Mr Snickit now a more appropriate nickname for the person hitherto known as Mr Cricket?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Man with no name energises England but not enough others follow his lead

Today Malachi Loye was plucked from playing cricket in Auckland to make his international debut at such short notice that he had to take the field without his name and number on a shirt.

He nevertheless showed a refreshing belligerence in making 36 of England's first wicket partnership of 52. After his departure the wheels fell off the coach as Australia grabbed the game by the throat with some excellent fielding, notably two catches by Brad Hodge and an excellent run out by Cameron White, and good tight bowling from all the bowlers, especially Nathan Bracken and, after an expensive opening spell, Glenn McGrath. Flintoff and Dalrymple scraped together enough runs to make the game go into the night, but 155 all out in 42 overs looked well short of a competitive score.

It didn't turn out that way. James Anderson and Jon Lewis put Australia back on its heels with a fiery opening spell. Lewis had the better figures (4/36 from 10 overs) yet Anderson (2/29 from 10) continued the improvement he's shown since the fifth Test and looked especially dangerous.


Australian wickets fell at 26, 30, 35 and 48, two of them to outfield catches from big hits which weren't really necessary given the modest target. Anderson was convinced that he had Hussey caught behind early in his innings: unfortunately umpire Harper didn't agree , so Mr Cricket (who looked a tad sheepish when the appeal was turned down, as if he knew he was out) was able to hang on while two more wickets fell at 93 and 108. Enter Brett Lee who, not for the first time, steadied then rallied the innings and took his team to a win which looked comfortable on paper but was closer than it looked.

While England were clearly the inferior side they didn't drop their bundle as they've done at other times this summer. The scorecard shows that their batting is sorely deficient, but not that their running between the wickets and ground fielding is well below Australia's standard. As for Australia, their middle order batting is not yet collapse proof (only three of the top seven reached double figures - Brad Hodge alas made a duck after fielding brilliantly), but as tonight's recovery showed it's good enough to do what needs to be done with a reasonable margin of safety.

Despite the loss England now looks to be improving : still with some gaps to plug, but capable of testing and possibly even extending Australia for longer than a few overs at a time.

Scorecard



Other observations

While I watched the game on TV I listened to the ABC radio commentary which today was of a high standard. Kerry O'Keefe was at his incisive best, ie focusing on the play and, for a time, on an interview with Andrew Hilditch the Australian chairman of selectors about selection policy in general and the new intake into the Centre of Excellence in particular.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Freddie preferred to Jonah for captaincy

The English media eg theTelegraph have been pushing for Andrew Strauss to step into the injured Michael Vaughan's shoes as captain for the next ODI.

Fortunately an element of fairness , if not decency, has prevailed and Andrew Flintoff has been given the job.

I think that this is an eminently sensible decision: Flintoff stands head and shoulders over his teammates, as his part in yesterday's victory over the Kiwis showed. Strauss may be closer to the job description of the ideal English captain - public schoolboy, sound batsman and all that - but he's failed to make his mark on both the Ashes and (to date) the one day series. It's unfortunate that he's suffered from so many poor umpiring decisions but he's also not distinguished himself in the field. He's become England's Jonah.

While Cricinfo describes Strauss as the"logical choice" (why?) it does acknowledge some good reasons for reverting to Flintoff:

...[H]is reappointment is a welcome show of faith from a selection committee who are desperate not to portray their talismanic allrounder as a scapegoat for the team's failures on this tour. Though the logical choice would have been Andrew Strauss, whose poor batting form might be galvanised by the extra responsibility, it has been deemed that the long-suffering Flintoff does not deserve a second demotion.

England will struggle to make the finals of the competition and have Buckley's chance of winning it, so they need their best player to continue keep performing. Taking the captaincy away from him would be another kick in the guts, and will make it harder for them to be a force in the World Cup.




Is Australian cricket casting its net wide enough?

In today's Age Peter Roebuck has a thoughtful piece about what he sees as Australian cricket's failure to cast its net wide enough to encourage players from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds to become involved in the game.

It's unfortunate that his article appears the day after ethnic tensions at the Australian open tennis, produced comments in the media such as this. Nevertheless he makes some good points. One them is a reference toAdil Rashid, a promising young Yorkshire leg spinner of Asian descent (Roebuck doesn't name him, but other people have told me about his talent.)

Golfer to lead England out of the rough

The news that the English authorities have engaged a former golf administrator to chair a review into the Ashes defeat has been greeted by the media, eg Cricinfo and the Sydney Morning Herald, with some irreverent headlines.

As an Australian supporter who likes to see a reasonably close contest (eg Tests going into the fifth day and ODIs finishing in the dark) I was surprised to see that the review committee will include two of yesterday's men - Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton -who have both captained previous England teams in Australia without, to put it mildly, distinguishing themselves, and , as far as I can tell, having their shortcomings scrutinised so publicly. Nothing has been said about the methodology of the review, so I wonder whether anything constructive will come out of it. It's one thing to put things down on paper (as we saw when England's tactics were leaked to the media) but quite another to do bring about some effective changes.





Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Close finish diverts attention from weaknesses in both sides

In today's National Bank (as Mark Nicholas incorrectly described it at the beginning of his first commentary stint) match at Hobart, England , who had looked the better side for most of the game somehow struggled to get over the line by three wickets with one ball remaining. At least it was a win, their first of the tour.

At the start of the innings James Anderson bowled belligerently. Jon Lewis at the other end had neither the pace nor the accuracy to complement this, so the runs flowed more fluently than they did than in the rest of the innings. Despite this wickets fell steadily to Anderson, then Flintoff and Collingwood, who made the most of the conditions and his ability.

A partnership of 39 for the 8th wicket, the largest of the innings, took NZ to within striking distance of 200, which was duly achieved - just - as the last two overs produced only 9 runs.

9/205 looked well short of par, though Nathan Astle, who topscored with 45, said in an interview between innings that batting wasn't easy. At the time I took that with a pinch of salt, yet he turned out to be right, as England stolidly constructed what they hoped was a launching platform for a later assault. They too lost wickets, the first at 39 as Michael Vaughan, whose leg was causing him sufficient problems to require a runner, pulled Franklin without much conviction to midwicket. The next wicket was the result of an umpiring blunder as Strauss(who else?) was adjudged l b w by Umpire Davis. Replays showed a substantial deflection from bat to pad.

The NZ pace attack was not as hostile as England's: James (as Bill Lawry called him at one point) Bond and Mark Gillespie lacked the impressive nip they'd shown against Australia on Sunday, but spinners Vettori and Patel in the middle of the innings and, at the death, the dibbly dobblers Astle and McMillan kept things in check despite Andrew Flintoff's counterpunching. A crucial moment came at 8/185 in the 47th over when Flintoff was reprieved: caught from a Gillespie full toss which Umpire Davis no balled for being above waist high. The replay showed that there was some justification for the call.

NZ refused to wallow in their disappointment at the no ball call, whereas England, who should have cantered home from that position, faltered in the face of their opponents' tenacity. At 198 Nixon was run out (another close third umpire call) and at 201 Dalrymple was brilliantly caught in the gully by Patel (who fielded brilliantly today: I retract my previous imputation about him being an underperformer in that department).

At start of the 50th over Lewis was facing (they'd taken a single off the last ball of the 49th!) and 4 runs were needed to win. Here's what happened over: . 1 2 . 1 - and the match won. Just.

A good game because of the low scoring and the closeness, but one which showed that both teams are well short of Australia's standard. Flintoff was the difference between the two sides: I'd like to see him do something like this against Australia.

Scorecard

Simon Taufel's 100th ODI prompts thoughts on umpiring

A good Cricket Australia media release pays tribute to Australian umpire Simon Taufel who has just umpired his 100th ODI.

Simon, who because of ICC policies never officiates in Tests featuring Australia , is at 35 the youngest umpire to reach this milestone. Given the poor standard of Test umpiring we've seen here in recent years perhaps it's time to review the situation, and allow quality umpires like Simon to stand in Tests as well as ODIs.

I also can't see why three umpires can't rotate during a Test with, say, each standing on the field for two sessions of a day's play (the one not thus engaged would as now serve as the TV umpire). Not more than one umpire from each opponent should be on the match panel.

After seeing so many incorrect or doubtful decisions this year I also think that TV replays should be used to judge more types of dismissal. I know that this may increase delays (which the TV companies would appreciate as it allows more commercial breaks) but the third umpire should be instructed to give the batsman the benefit of the doubt if a decision is not clear from the first replay.

Enough for that for now. Congratulations, Simon. I hope (but don't really expect) to see you umpiring Tests involving Australia soon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ashes series 1920-21 revisited: gentlemen unable to prevent Australian clean sweep

While the memory of Australia's clean sweep of the Ashes remains fresh, here's a reminder of the only previous occasion when that's happened.

The 1922 Wisden Almanack reported on the trials and tribulations of the team which "as finally chosen" consisted of

  • Mr. J. W. H. T. Douglas ( Essex), captain.
  • Mr. P. G. H. Fender ( Surrey).
  • Mr. E. R. Wilson ( Yorkshire).
  • J. B. Hobbs( Surrey).
  • H. Strudwick ( Surrey).
  • J. W. Hitch ( Surrey).
  • J. W. Hearne ( Middlesex).
  • E. Hendren ( Middlesex).
  • F. E. Woolley (Kent).
  • H. Makepeace ( Lancashire).
  • C. H. Parkin ( Lancashire).
  • W. Rhodes ( Yorkshire).
  • A. Dolphin ( Yorkshire).
  • A. Waddington ( Yorkshire).
  • H. Howell ( Warwickshire) and
  • A. C. Russell ( Essex).
Note the first three names with the title "Mr". They were the amateurs, aka gentlemen, who played without payment (though not necessarily without reimbursement of their "expenses"). They considered themselves a cut or two above the professionals, aka players, who made up the rest of the team.

Note also this comment, which apart from providing a reasonably accurate appraisal of the team's playing strengths, also reflected the social divisions within it, and especially the convention that only amateurs were fit and proper captains:

Mr. R. H. Spooner was asked to be captain, but after accepting the post he was obliged, for domestic reasons, to give it up. Hitch, travelling by a later boat than the others, filled the last place when Mr. Jupp found that he could not leave England. The general feeling in the country when the team left home was one of full confidence in the batting - quite justified by the form shown in 1920 - but grave doubt as to the bowling on Australian wickets. It was clear, moreover, that the side would be short of first-rate outfields. On this point the M.C.C. were at fault, but otherwise, except that Holmes should certainly have been picked in preference to Makepeace, they chose wisely from the players available.

The first choice captain not able to make the trip, doubts about the bowling and fielding, and criticism of the team selection. Does this sound familiar?

Check out the results of the Tests and you'll see that while some things, like the amateur - professional distinction at the top level, have changed, others, like underperforming England teams in Australia, remain the same.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hat trick at wrong end of innings doesn't help NZ

Like England on Friday, New Zealand weren't able to match Australia's all round cricket in today's one day game at Hobart.

Once again openers Gilchrist and Hayden got off to a cracking start against some untidy bowling from James Franklin and, to a lesser extent, Shane Bond. They raced to 83 at a run a ball before Mark Gillespie, who bowled at a lively pace, induced a leg side edge to the keeper from Hayden. Gilchrist looked to be heading for a century but was l b w to Jeetan Patel for 61 (58b). 2/104 became 3/117 when Ricky Ponting, in a rare appearance in his home state (for whom he still occasionally plays) was caught at short extra cover by his opposite number off Gillespie for 10.

That was the high water mark for NZ.

The middle order Australians gradually accelerated, with Andrew Symonds (69/70b) and Cameron White (45/32b) particularly effective . A total of 300 looked, as it had done for much of the innings, possible until Bond's hat trick (White caught at midwicket, Symonds nicking to the keeper and Bracken bowled by a beauty which just clipped off stump) put that just out of reach.

If NZ thought they had a chance of chasing 289, then losing their first two wickets for 5, one to Nathan Bracken the other to local debutant Ben Hilfenhaus (who looked very impressive), would have dashed their hopes. Captain Fleming (29/47b) and Peter Fulton (37/44b) plugged away while Ross Taylor played well for 84/82b. Taylor was fourth out at 161, followed soon after by Craig McMillan, brilliantly run out by Clarke in yet another demonstration of just how good Australia's fielding is. The rest surrendered meekly to the pressure.

Sure Australia are very good, but what can NZ do to be more competitive? Like England they are suffering more than their fair share of injuries to key players, and not all the replacements, or some of the longer serving players who might otherwise have struggled to keep their places, showed their best today. The batting on paper looks reasonable but today it was found wanting: players like McCullum batted higher in the order than their ability justifies. That said, the attack isn't too bad: Bond and Vettori are good bowlers while Gillespie is promising. Whether Franklin can regroup (and/or recover from today's migraine) and whether Jehan Patel will be able to bring his economy rate down to a level that makes it worthwhile to bowl him for 10 overs, remain to be seen. The fielding isn't too bad either, on recent evidence perhaps better than England's (though Patel looked to have a touch of the Strauss disease - twice he just failed to pick up hits which a Ponting, Clarke or Symonds would probably have caught or at least got a hand to).


On Tuesday NZ play England. I'm tipping England, despite their losing Pietersen. Their batting has more depth (not to mention more players who look capable of improving) and their attack, though similar to NZ's, may have just a little more bite. Each side will need to select its best available team, especially which bowlers to pick.
So I'm tipping England, but won't be betting on them (I haven't even looked at the odds).

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Two views of the shortest form of the game


In the last two days The Age has published two pieces about Twenty20 cricket: the first, by
Waleed Aly, yesterday, and the second by H G Nelson today.

Whereas Nelson's approach is characteristically manic and scattergun (like Twenty20 itself), Aly begins by describing the game earlier this week as "a parading freak show" (a touch of Melbourne-Sydney rivalry here?) but goes on to make some good points about the differences between it and Test cricket:


Test cricket has a natural, but variable rhythm. Therein lies its secret: it is the subtle, sometimes sudden changes of tempo that make it so gripping, so intoxicating to the initiated.

Twenty20 has no secrets, having, as it does, all the subtlety of a summer sitcom. This game is fast all the time. As a cricketing experience, it is the equivalent of a rollercoaster ride: frantic, extreme and disposable.

Which is why it is such raucously good fun. Test matches are slow, tense battles of restraint, guile and attrition. Twenty20 is an expression of unadulterated freedom.

PS Tonight in the final of the Australian domestic Twenty compVictoria beat Tasmania, thereby preserving their unbeaten record over the two years the competition has been running.




Friday, January 12, 2007

Australia thrashes England and removes KP for rest of series

Returning to the 50 over game after its unsuccessful one off foray into Twenty20, England never quite looked like making enough runs to give its bowlers a reasonable chance of bowling Australia out. In the context of the series the worst thing that happened to them was not the loss of the game, but the tour ending broken rib sustained by Kevin Pietersen, whose 82 underpinned the total of 8/242.

The top order England batting looked to be building a platform for a late innings assault, but Pietersen's injury removed the most solid plank. The Australian pace bowling was generally good, though Stuart Clark wasn't quite the immaculate bowler we saw in the Tests and Cameron White ("Craig White" as Bill Lawry of all people described him once on Channel 9) was too expensive.

The openers got Australia out of the blocks against some ordinary England pace bowling. Adam Gilchrist was himself (no need to say more), and Matthew Hayden played an anchor role. They were out with the total at 101 (93 b) and 118 (109 b), by which time only one result looked possible. And so it turned out, thanks to aggressive batting from Ricky Ponting and Clarke, abetted by another poor England fielding display (Jon Lewis is becoming the team's butterfingers).

Where next for England? Pietersen will be very hard to replace, but with more support from the the bowlers and the fielders, they should still be able to lift a notch or two. This should be enough to make them competitive against New Zealand, but against Australia...?

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Aussies win big bash easily

Twenty20 (is that how it's spelt?) cricket seems to favour the side batting first, especially in the current season where a few domestic games have been squeezed in over the new year.

So it was, at least from Australia's perspective, in tonight's "big bash" proved to be just that, . They reached 5/221 from their 20 overs, to which England, who lost too many early wickets, replied with 9/144.

Adam Gilchrist("Church" according to his shirt) for a time looked slow for a time but made 48 from 29 balls. Brad Hogg ("George" - his real name) bowled reasonably well (is he a candidate for a place in the Test team?), James Anderson ("Anderson"- the England players didn't go in for fancy names) conceded 64 from his 4 overs, and the England fielding was poor.

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Some English media perspectives on the Ashes (and wine)

The English media were present in Australia in force during the Tests. I say were because many of their representatives have returned home, usually after penning their summaries of the series.

Here's a selection, in no particular order.

Simon Wilde of The Times has paid tribute to the Australian team, though he's placed them in the context of the 10 best teams as he sees them.

Simon Barnes also in The Times (reprinted in The Australian ) described where he thought the series turned: in the first session of the final day at Adelaide. I disagree with him (the second session was more important as England could should have scraped more than 40 runs for their last five wickets.

Also from The Times probably the two longest serving cricket writers in the world John Woodcock (who I'd assumed had retired from reporting the game) and Christopher Martin-Jenkins say their respective pieces.

For The Telegraph Simon Hughes provided some characteristically incisive analytical audio and video reports, often with Terry Jenner. (The blog to which I've linked his name doesn't give much of an indication of the quality of his work).

Michael Atherton also contributed to The Telegraph (as well as commentating on Sky Sports), while Derek Pringle, another one of the paper's contingent, seemed to sample more wine than cricket: though he deserved what he got (a "5 - berocca hangover") for washing down some high quality wines with ouzo.

For The Independent Angus Fraser and James Lawton wrote contrasting assessments: Lawton was very courageous (in the Sir Humphrey sense) to predict that England will have a much easier time of it in 2009.

In The Guardian Kevin Mitchell skimmed a lot of ground in a discursive piece which provided some interesting figures about how much Australian players (state as well as test) earn.

The BBC had a large pool of contributors, of whom Jonathan Agnew was at his best on the radio (but nevertheless still good in his online reports, which must have been dashed off in odd moments between commentating for both the BBC and ABC). Another worth looking at is Robbo , one of the many BBC bloggers, a voice (as forthright as you'd expect) from Teesside .

There were a few who dropped by briefly. In the New Statesman Jason Cowley wrote about the Adelaide Test, though it was obvious from his description that he was only there for the last one or at most two days (the only really hot day was the last one)

Finally, a couple of pieces designed to lift the burden of despair from English shoulders:

The Sun produced a list of the worst sports teams of all time, while back at The Times Simon Barnes wrote about Superteams , which in his opinion include the 2006 - 07 Australians though not the 2009 variety, whom he predicts will still be "a damn good team" though not a super one. I'd be very reluctant to stick my neck out so far ahead of the event: he could be right but his argument is based more on the assumption that Australia will be weakened by retirements than that England will revive. We shall see.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

32 y o with 90 y o knees dismissed last week by 74 y o, now appointed England captain

Andrew Miller in Cricinfo has rather irreverently pointed out these facts (well two facts and one opinion) about Michael Vaughan, who has just been restored to the England captaincy for the second , minor part of the tour.

To be fair, Miller also acknowledges Vaughan's "ramrod straight back and willingness to engage" at the media conference when his not unexpected appointment was announced. His comeback has been quite low key and, it must be said, not notable for large scores. I also wonder how complete his recovery from injury has been.

ODIs by their very nature can narrow the gap between teams, but I'd be surprised if England can regroup sufficiently from their physical and psychological battering in the Tests to overcome Australia. To do so Flintoff and several others will need to lift their game several notches while several Australians (I have no idea who) would need to fall away badly. Will NZ be tougher opposition, I wonder?

Attempt to bring football and cricket closer fails

Today the Redbacks beat the Blues in a 20/20 domestic match played at Newcastle. The Blues team included Andrew Johns , who is much better known (at least in NSW) as a rugby league player. Johns bowled one over for 9 runs (some of which was shown on the Channel 9 news tonight) and batted number 11, where he faced one ball and did not score a run. NSW captain Simon Katich shielded him from the strike in the tight last over, effectively conceding the game.

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Johns apparently played Newcastle district cricket with some success before he took up rugby.
Not so long ago it was possible to play both cricket and a football code (AFL, rugby union or league and , more in the UK, soccer) at the highest levels. Both Denis Compton and Keith Miller after whom the Compton- Miller medal (awarded to the player of the Ashes series) was named, did so (Compton soccer, Miller Aussie Rules) .

Now this is simply not possible, as even below top club level the extension of the football season and its pre-season training requirements effectively require young players to choose one sport over another. Yesterday's Australian had an interesting article about this, and quite properly made the point that there are more opportunities for players to break into AFL teams while they are still relatively young. Cricket may have more opportunities for international travel but the road into the Australian test and one day teams is harder because once a player is established they reasonably expect to remain at top level until they are in their mid 30s and thus block others from taking over from them.

Adam Gilchrist's career in test cricket is likely last less than 10 years: less than that of each of the recent retirees Messrs Warne, McGrath and Langer. Australian cricket has worked out a succession plan for eminent players like them, but increased fitness levels, not to mention remuneration, have both allowed and encouraged players to stay on. True there are some who don't last the notional distance (eg Jason Gillespie, who nevertheless remains a force in domestic cricket).

What about the young players like Tony Notte, who is mentioned in the Australian article? According to his school sports master he's a promising leg spinner, yet he's chosen an AFL career path, which is likely to confine his future cricket to the backyard or the beach. Is there any chance of cricket reclaiming him at the end of his AFL career, say after he turns 30? Or are there few transferable skills between football and cricket? This wasn't so in Compton and Miller's day. But then most cricketers and footballers weren't paid much then.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reflections on a one sided Ashes series

First of all, an unequivocal "Well Done, Australia". They were clearly the better side.

Why? Essentially because, as someone has said, they were both a team of champions and a champion team.

In moments of adversity there was always at least one, and often more than one, player who stepped up with a significant performance.

After losing the first Test easily, England regrouped at Adelaide, but Australia just kept on plugging away, keeping in touch for four days and then grasping their opportunity on the fifth to turn a likely draw into a victory.

In Perth Australia's first innings of 244 offered England some hope but they couldn't take a first innings lead. Australia then ground the attack into submission with its third 500 + innings of the series (with Adam Gilchrist's ultra quick century rubbing more salt into the wounds) , leaving England a huge fourth innings target. But only four players (and extras) reached double figures in a total of 350 so Australia won the Ashes back with a convincing 206 run victory.

The Boxing Day Test began with another feeble England batting display: all out 159 as Shane Warne took his 700th test wicket and then some. Australia's overnight 2/48 became 5/84 on day 2, but then Hayden and Symonds took the total to 363, in the face of which England again capitulated losing by an innings.

And so to the SCG for the final act. After a modest first innings of 291 (though hopes of better things remained at 4/245), a top order Australian batting wobble did not translate into a collapse. A 102 run lead knocked the stuffing out of England, who effectively threw in the towel,
handing the match to Australia by 10 wickets.

Some of Australia's strengths

#
Four all time great players (Warne, McGrath, Ponting and Gilchrist)

# Two very good Ashes debutants (Clark and Hussey)

# Two players who seized the opportunities they were given through unexpected circumstances (Clarke and Symonds)

# Three established players who each dispelled any concerns that they weren't up to the job (Hayden, Langer and Lee).

# A very high standard of ground fielding which helped choke England and generally good catching

# Good running between the wickets

# A desire for revenge after the reverses of 2005

# Good off field support from coach Buchanan and his team.

England's weaknesses

I agree with many other commentators' views eg inadequate preparation, poor team selection (to much harking back to 2005), unfit and underperforming players, poor tactics. I'd also add poor fielding and running between the wickets.

All that said I don't think that England fielded a full eleven of test standard at any time during the series: Anderson, Mahmood and Giles struggled, Strauss may have been roughly treated by the umpires but he didn't live up to his reputation, Harmison got off to a woeful start and while both Jones and Read kept proficiently (the latter more so than the former) neither looked to be the batsman all modern test teams expect their keepers to be.

Was 5 - 0 an accurate reflection of the relative strengths of the teams?

I think that it probably overstated Australia's advantage a little, yet only for the first four days at Adelaide and sporadically elsewhere (a good stroke or delivery here, a good session there) did England compete on anything like equal terms.

One thing they didn't have was the better of the umpiring decisions: nearly all the marginal ones seemed to go Australia's way.

They dropped some crucial catches, notably Ponting at Adelaide, but events elsewhere in the series suggested that even had this catch (which was more difficult than it looked) been taken the other Australian batsmen would have made a reasonable fist of their reply.


I couldn't see why England declared at 6/551 in their first innings at Adelaide. Batting on would have increased the likelihood of a draw, but it would have given them a psychological fillip which may have helped them to lift for the following Tests.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Barmy and nasty too"

Today's Australian publishes a letter from Margaret Lindley of South Hobart complaining about the Barmy Army :

Throughout the fourth Test, I was forced, along with thousands of others, to endure its repeated insults to Australia and Australians, particularly to Australian women.

I invite the army’s admirers to listen, for example, to its version of Waltzing Matilda. Probably the only repeatable line in this foul-mouthed parody is the first, “We all shag Matilda”. If a group of Lebanese youths gathered in a public space to chant precisely the same words as those sung by these visiting Englishmen, there would be a national outcry.


I was interested to hear the speakers in today's post match presentation ceremony praise the Barmy Army. Even Mr Creagh O'Connor, the Cricket Australia chair, paid tribute to them. This is a bit twofaced given all the trouble that CA and its affiliates went to to exclude the Barmy Army trumpeter (the least offensive member of the army since they don't sing along when he plays) . CA has also, as I've previously posted, put the boot into its media competitor (and generally more reliable source of information) Cricinfo over its relatively mild comments about Justin Langer. In comparison with the BA's chant about Langer, which makes some very scurrilous claims about him, this is small beer indeed.

For a while it looked as if England wouldn't add another run: Fifth Test Day 4

First Kevin Pietersen out without addition to his and the team's score. Then Monty Panesar foolishly, needlessly run out for a 19 ball duck, just as the Channel 9 commentators were drawing the longest of bows and talking up his batting ability. Come on guys, why couldn't you have just reverted to type and reminisce about the old days? You might also, to put Australia's margin of victory into a broader test cricket perspective, have mentioned the near and actual "blackwashes" (as they were called at the time) achieved by the great West Indies teams of the 1980s.

Back to the present. Sajjid Mahmood scored the first runs of the day with a boundary off McGrath. 7/114 became 8/122, 9/123 and, thanks to some biffing from Harmison, all out 147, which left Australia to make 46 to win. The batting order did not change, despite some loopy suggestions from the blogosphere that McGrath and Warne should be promoted, and the mission was duly accomplished without loss and without sentimentality, as Matthew Hayden, not Justin Langer, hit the winning single.

And then the presentation ceremony, at which the speakers generally avoided any reference to the drubbing which England had received.

So, a series that was disappointing for its lopsidedness comes to an end. I'll have some other things to say about it anon, so please watch this space.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

England again fail to grasp opportunities so face defeat: Fifth Test Day 3

The Channel 9 review of the day called it "morning madness". The first session, extended to make up for time lost to the weather on previous days, began with James Anderson having Michael Hussey caught behind: 5/190. Adam Gilchrist, in his customary aggressive mode, and a more circumspect Andrew Symonds took the score to 260 before Monty Panesar lured Symonds into a swing and a miss which bowled him.

Enter Warne, who immediately began to bat as if there were no tomorrow (for the game, not just his career). His aggression and good fortune in not being given out caught behind off Panesar, being missed once or twice (depending on how rigorously you assess chances) and escaping a run out chance, rattled England. Their only compensation was having Gilchrist adjudged caught behind for 62, by which time Australia 7/318 had already taken a first innings lead.

To my mind the missed run out chance was a turning point: Sajjid Mahmood did not observe the elementary principle of getting behind the stumps at the bowler's end. Had he done so he would have been able to gather a slightly wide return and break the wicket with Warne still out of his ground. At lunch Australia were 7/325. Lee was out immediately on the resumption of play but, as in the first session, the wicket signalled a further Australian revival as Warne continued to ride his luck (and play some very good strokes) with robust support from Stuart Clark.

Warne didn't get his hundred, as he was last out stumped off Panesar for a quickfire 71, the highest score of the innings. 393 looked 50 more than it should have been.

England's reply was in keeping with so much of its cricket in the series: an early wicket (Cook), 1/43 at tea (with 12 taken from Warne's only over offering them a scintilla of hope)), but then back to the past with a collapse leading to 5/114 at stumps. Strauss, Bell and Collingwood all, as previously in the series, got a start. Strauss was hit on the helmet by Lee and visibly distressed (though he batted on until Clark got him lbw) and Collingwood was well caught by Hayden in the gully. The worst offender was Bell, who flashed at a ball from Lee which was well wide of his off stump (as Flintoff and Jones had done in that second innings in Adelaide).

Flintoff himself dragged his back foot on to the crease to a classic leg break from Warne. The third umpire took an eternity to decide (and I'd have understood if he'd given Flintoff the benefit of the doubt), leaving Pietersen, resolute as usual on 29 not out, and Panesar, sent in as nightwatchman ahead of Read, to await tomorrow to try to build on their 12 run lead.

Barring monsoon rain, the only question is when Australia will complete the 5 - 0 whitewash, which will be only the second in Ashes history and the first since 1920 - 21 that this has occurred. (Gideon Haigh in The Guardian has written a good little piece about that occasion).


Scorecard.

...gnomes will never harm me? Not if you're Justin Langer or Cricket Australia

How pathetic. Cricket Australia has taken offence at Cricinfo for allowing some posts on its website which refer to Justin Langer as a gnome.

I can't find a reference to the incident(s) on either party's website, nor on the ABC's, where Peter Roebuck during his commentary stint this morning IMO quite rightly chided CA for blowing the whole thing out of proportion.

Other media coverage is a bit sketchy (are they frightened of falling foul of Cricket Australia?), though I've found reports on The Australian , The Age and News of the World websites, the last of which summarises the situation most succinctly:

Respected cricket website cricinfo has been hauled over the coals for referring to Langer as a "gnome" in their online commentary.

The remark was meant tongue in cheek and the angry reaction from the home side's press department is way over the top.

Can't Langer take a bit of ribbing? For someone who has gone on record about the "badges of honour" bruises which he's received from fast bowlers he sounds very sensitive. If he is, then he's obviously not heard the Barmy Army's scurrilous chant about him and which I heard during the Adelaide Test. I could understand it if he was offended by that.









Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Australian bowling dominates early but England avoids knockout blow: Fifth Test Day 2

After another rain interrupted day in which 78.4 overs were bowled Australia, at 4/ 188, are less favourably placed than England were at stumps yesterday. Yet nobody seriously expects Australia to lose their last 6 wickets for 57 tomorrow, as England did today. Andrew Flintoff, out for 89, showed his full potential with the bat for the first time in the series and may be able to turn it on again in the second innings, provided he gets more substantial support from his lower order team mates who buckled against the Australian new ball attack (and Shane Warne's sole but significant 1,000th wicket in international cricket).

Why isn't Australia likely to fold? Because Michael Hussey, England's batting bogeyman of the series, is still there with 37 and looking comfortable; because Andrew Symonds has built a platform of 22 upon which he may be able to build tomorrow; and because the batsmen to come after them ought to be able to help their team to a modest, and maybe even a comfortable, first innings lead of 50 to 100.


This scenario might be amended by the England bowling, which today, at least in the persons of Messrs Harmison (pleasingly), Anderson (surprisingly) and Panesar (much as expected), was able to sustain pressure for longer periods than it had done for much of the series. The ground fielding was good, too, and Anderson's run out of Ricky Ponting for 45 was a pivotal moment (sure Ponting misjudged the situation but Anderson's throw under pressure was good and reminiscent of his throw from the deep in the tour match against South Australia which ran out Darren Lehmann going for his hundredth run). One potentially crucial gaffe was Andrew Strauss's failure to dive for a catch at short leg off Hussey: he's obviously not comfortable fielding there and he didn't touch the ball so it doesn't count as a chance but he should have observed the convention that short leg fielders should stay down for as long as possible.


My prediction that an England collapse this morning would allow Australia to get a firm grip on the game has been proved wrong - for the moment - by England's refreshing tenacity, which saw them recover to win two of the day's three disjointed sessions. England can't afford to have another bad session like this morning's: it can lose one (and just conceivably two) on points but must avoid the knockout punch which may come from either a significant Australian batting revival or another feeble batting performance.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

England batting more determined but match too early to call: Fifth Test Day 1

On a day where rain delayed the start of play England won the toss, batted and reached 4/234 from 80 overs.

Had they lost one or two fewer wickets England would have had more cause to be pleased with their day's efforts, but at least the batsmen displayed more collective determination than they have done since the first innings at Adelaide. Unlike Adelaide, however, nobody played a big innings: the openers grafted but both were out caught at the wicket by the time the total had crept to 58. Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen steadied things with a 108 run partnership (when a 208 run one was needed) but both were out to Glenn McGrath within a run of each other (Pietersen well caught by Michael Hussey from a mistimed pull, Bell bowled), leaving their team 4/167. Fortunately captain Flintoff, who looked as good if not better than he's done in the series, and Paul Collingwood stayed together until bad light stopped play.

While the match is still alive, and it's hard to pick a clear winner on the strength of an abbreviated day's play, I think that Australia had the better of what play there was. England would be disappointed that each of the four batsmen dismissed got a start yet none really went on with it. Bell in particular looked very solid and I was surprised to see him bowled off an inside edge.


The Australian bowlers, each of whom bowled tightly if without quite the same degree of menace they have displayed for much of the rest of the series, will be looking for an early breakthrough when play resumes. England will be hoping to bat on and on and to get well beyond 400: in practical terms this means that Flintoff and Collingwood will have to stay together for some considerable time. Both sides are well aware of the brittleness of England's lower order batting, so the first hour or so's play will very likely give a pointer to the ultimate result.

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