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Friday, July 31, 2009

Weakened Australia hold firm: Ashes T3 D1

Australia 1/126 (30 ov, S Watson 62*) v England Ashes 09 T3 D1 at Edgbaston.

Australia has not fielded its best available team. Stuart Clark was once again omitted. Moreover Brad Haddin withdrew with a broken finger between the toss (won by Australia) and the start of play . England sportingly allowed Graham Manou to replace him (a decision not without some self interest as an injured yet in form Haddin was potentially more dangerous, at least with the bat, than his untried deputy). The wayward Mitchell Johnson was retained (at Clark's expense) while Phillip Hughes, surprisingly, was dropped for Shane Watson, whose opening record in the longer forms of the game has been decidedly modest.

As it turned out Watson justified his selection with an impressive 62*(105b, 10x4) . He and Simon Katich put on 85 for the first wicket against an England attack which lacked the zest it had shown at Lord's. Still, 30 overs in a rain shortened day does not a Test match make, let alone give us much of a guide to the outcome. The weather may continue to play a part, even if there's provision to make up lost play over the remaining days.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Former PM turns cricket writer...and not a bad one at that

John Howard, our former PM, has fulfilled what must have been one of his mid/ late life dreams and reinvented himself as a cricket writer, and IMO not a bad one at that if his recent contribution to the Australian Spectator is any indication.


When we planned our trip to England, largely for cricket, the itinerary was not meant to include England’s first win at the famous Lord’s cricket ground in 75 years. We were outplayed, and our hosts thoroughly deserved their victory. Having watched the First Test I found it hard to believe that England could bowl us out twice in the one match. At Cardiff they only managed to snare six Australian wickets in five days. We claimed 19 English scalps in the same time. How different it was at Lord’s. Australia’s fate was really sealed when our opponents bundled us out for 215 in the first innings, a low enough score to allow for the follow-on, which Strauss did not enforce. The run chase of 522 in the last innings was always unachievable. In the circumstances, Australia’s score of 406 was remarkable. It did not suggest that Australia had lost any of its famed fighting spirit in cricket. That is a good omen for the remaining three matches in the series. England’s bowling and fielding in our first innings was the best I have seen from them in years. They acted like a team which had got its act together. This is already a great Ashes series.

Sentiment overcame calm judgment when Flintoff was named man of the match. It may have been his last Test at the home of cricket, but his contribution to his team’s victory was, in my view, less significant than that of either Strauss or Anderson. Strauss played a great captain’s knock of 161, which was the backbone of England’s very respectable first innings total. And it was Anderson who really broke through in Australia’s first innings, and put his side in such a strong position. Given that England won, and there were some very good personal performances from their players, the man of the match was always going to be an Englishman. That said, Michael Clarke’s score of 136 was achieved under enormous pressure, was without any real flaws and showed a lot of character. Those constant crowd chants of ‘Freddie’ obviously had their impact.

Mr H is a well known cricket tragic who in his previous public comments, including guest commentator spots on radio and TV has, apart from a contentious comment a few years ago, maintained a high degree of impartiality. He's naturally never denied his support for Australia but has usually given praise to the accomplishments of their opponents.

Now that he's no longer encumbered by the burden of high office he's showing signs of being more forthright. His assessment of why England won at Lord's is astute, and if he's right that England has "got its act together" then Australia really needs to worry.

It's a pity that he hasn't applied his analytical skills to Australia. He's now back in Australia but with (almost) every ball shown live here this shouldn't stop him from offering his thoughts on the rest of Ashes 2009.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Comfortable Aust victory, but....

"Australia win, Johnson struggles": not my words but the Cricinfo report headline of the Australian team's three day game v Northamptonshire. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Stuart Clark, Shane Watson and Andrew McDonald all turned in good performanceswhile in the second innings Graham Manou redeemed his first innings golden duck Australian debut with a robust unbeaten half century. Clark surely deserves to play in T3 and Watson must also be in the selectors' minds (but with his history of injuries perhaps not in the forefront thereof) . McDonald probably won't be considered even though in each Test he's played he's performed above expectations.

Which is more than can be said for Mitchell Johnson.

I think he should be dropped.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1-0 to England: Ashes 09 T2 D5

England 425 and 6/311 dec beat Australia 215 and 406 (107 ov, M Clarke 136, B Haddin 80, M Johnson 63, A Flintoff 5/92, G Swann 4/87) by 115 runs: Ashes T2 D2 at Lord's.

England were on top pretty well throughout the match and deserved to win. Congratulations to them.

The 115 run margin was, if closer than looked likely on D4 when Australia were 5/128 in their second innings, undeniably emphatic. As the first England win at Lord's in an Ashes Test since 1934 the victory will give the team an additional morale boost.

On D5 neither Brad Haddin nor Michael Clarke was able to carry on from where they left off the evening before: Haddin was caught in the slips off Andrew Flintoff without adding to his overnight 80 (130b/ 10x4) or his team's 313, while Clarke added only 11 to his tally before Graeme Swann bowled him for 136 (227b/14x4). Mitchell Johnson's aggressive 63 (75b/9x4) featured some strong hitting and driving but but itself was never going to get Australia home. Flintoff bowled throughout the session to finish with 5/92; he was well if less ostentatiously supported by Swann's 4/87.

Flintoff won the Player of the Match Award, though as our former PM John Howard astutely observed during a guest spot on today's ABC RN Breakfast, England won the game on the back of Andrew Strauss' 161 and good bowling from Jimmy Anderson and the other quicks which skittled Australia for a paltry first inngs 215.

Where to from here?

Australia have the job in front of them to regroup before T3. There will be much discussion about what changes should be made: should Johnson, or Phillip Hughes or both, be dropped are some of the more important questions. I think that room must be made for Stuart Clark unless he performs poorly in the 3 day match at Northhampton. He can (or should be able to) provide the nagging accuracy which makes it harder for batters to break into a gallop.

England have a few issues of their own, eg can Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen keep fit enough to contribute as the former has and the latter should in first two Tests? Winning two of the three remaining Tests to recover the Ashes is a big ask, but not an impossible task.


PS British Airways and Qantas are offering 425 UK - Sydney flights for 215 pounds each . (thanks to my daughter for drawing my attention to this).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Clarke - Haddin partnership raises hopes of Aust win: Ashes 09 T2 D4

England 425 and 6/311 dec v Australia 215 and 5/313 (86 ov, M Clarke 125*, B Haddin 80*) Australia require another 209 runs with 5 wickets remaining . Ashes 09 T2 D4 at Lord's.

Thanks to Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin's unfinished 6th wicket partnership of 185 the second Test has gone into the fifth day and Australia against all expectations (and the run of the play) is still in with a chance. A slender chance yes, and one which I didn't expect to emerge from a disastrous Australian top order batting performance. Not to mention some poor umpiring: it beggars belief that a top international umpire could fail to pick up the palpable no ball with which Andrew Flintoff dismissed Simon Katich.

The stylish Clarke 125* (198b/ 13 x4) and the ebullient (and occasionally flashy) Haddin 80* (126b/10x4) batted superbly. They have set up another day's (or night's in these parts) mandatory viewing.

The key question is "can Australia win from here?" I don't think so: even if the pitch remains true it's asking a lot for the remaining batters to scrap (or, in Clarke's case, stroke) their
team to victory. But if they get within 100 runs that will show that the team is capable of landing a heavy punch on England.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

England grind Australia down: Ashes 09 T2 D3

England 425 and 6/311 (71.2 ov, M Prior 61, P Collingwood 54) lead Australia 215 ( J Anderson 4/55) by 521 runs with 4 second inns wkts in hand and 2 days to play: Ashes T2 D2 at Lord's.

Game over? After a day when England chose not to enforce the follow on, batted circumspectly until tea (2/130), then let fly to build a lead of 521 before rain stopped play, is there any other conclusion which a reasonably knowledgeable (and not too one eyed) cricket follower could draw?

The central fact is that England have outplayed Australia for the entire match and deserve to win. Australia may have a good batting lineup but its attack, especially given Mitchell Johnson's loss of form, is thin, very thin, as the match Scorecard confirms.

Disclosure: I had an early night, so I only watched the Sky/ Fox highlights of the second and third sessions.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Australian batting implodes: Ashes 09 T2 D2

Australia 8/156 (49ov, M Hussey 51, J Anderson 4/36) trail England 425 (101.4 ov, A Strauss 161, A Cook 95, B Hilfenhaus 4/107) by 269 runs with 2 second inns wickets in hand: Ashes 09 T2 D2 at Lord's)

The low point, if it can be called that, of England's day came at the outset when Andrew Strauss was out without adding to his overnight score. His individual 161 (268b/22x4) turned out to be more than the first 8 Australian wickets, in a stunning form reversal from Cardiff, could muster.

Yes, the conditions may have been more favourable for quick bowlers than at Cardiff, yes there may have been a contentious dismissal or two, but the fact remains that England barely faltered in amassing what should be an impregnable position.

The only two Australian batters who showed any form were Mike Hussey, who'd missed out in the First Test, 51 (91b/8x4) and Simon Katich 48 (93b/ 6x4).

Weather and bad light cut the day short, and may do so for the next three scheduled ones but it's hard to see Australia, despite Hussey's positive spin in the post play media conference, getting out of this one without a heavy defeat.

Scorecard .

Friday, July 17, 2009

England dominate early, surrender initiative later: Ashes 09 T2 D1

England 6/364 (90 ov, A Strauss 161*, A Cook 95) v Australia: Ashes Test #2 Day 1 at Lord's

Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook took advantage of some abominable Australian bowling, much of it from Mitchell Johnson, and slack fielding to race to 0/126 at lunch from 27 overs. Johnson's propensity to bowl short outside off stump helped first Strauss then Cook accelerate.

It was a surprise, not least to Johnson, when Cook was lbw to him for 95. Thereafter the Australians regrouped (they surely couldn't have kept going in the sub-Test standard manner) and gradually worked their way through the middle order. The bowlers were assisted by some poor shot selection, notably by Kevin Pietersen (no excuses) and Paul Collingwood (perhaps deserving a bit of slack after his efforts at Cardiff) .

Ben Hilfenhaus was the best of the attack over the day, though Nathan Hauritz blotted his copybook and dislocated a finger when he missed a hard hit return catch at 0/154.

The pitch was true and the outfield fast yet I think England had the better of the day. I thought the same after D1 at Cardiff so will wait to see what happens before predicting a result.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mind games fill three day gap between Tests

Since the Cardiff Test ended on Sunday there has been a lot of huffing and puffing from both players and commentators (armchair through to professional) about England's alleged timewasting/cheating, Australia's ditto and Ricky Ponting's captaincy.

A (far from exhaustive) sample:
On top of all this comes news of Andrew Flintoff's retirement - at the end of this series - from Test (but not other forms of) cricket. At Cardiff he faced 122 balls in two innings (37 and 26) and bowled 35-3-128-1 in Australia's only innings: a heavier workload than in his (admittedly injury affected ) 2009 IPL season.

Enough of that I'm looking forward to watching the teams get back on the playing field.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Collingwood and lower order save smidgin of respect for England: Ashes 09 T1 D5

England 435 and 9/252 (P Collingwood 74) drew with Australia 6/674 dec: Ashes T#1 D5 at Cardiff

Well it didn't turn out as I and most other commentators expected. England, more precisely numbers 5 to 11 inclusive, batted as if the series depended on their finding sufficient guts and determination to keep a good, though not world beating, Australian attack at bay.

Paul Collingwood's 74 (334 min/245b/13x4) was of course the platform around which the resistance rallied after Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior didn't trouble the scorers, or the Australian bowlers, very much.

At 5/70 England looked finished but somehow the remaining batters found some g & d: not in lavish quantities but collectively sufficient to - just - hold out. When Collingwood was ninth out out at 233 again it seemed all over but Jimmy Anderson (not surprisingly) and Monty Panesar (very surprisingly)
stayed together for the remaining 11.3 overs. The Australians generally bowled well, if occasionally erratically, though one or two of them showed signs of tiredness in the final session: has Nathan Hauritz ever bowled 37 overs in an innings before, I wonder?

Enough for now. I stayed up until after 3am local time to watch the finish. England were outplayed for much of the match but, Test cricket being Test cricket, a draw is a legitimate result. In the post match euphoria England and their supporters will feel enervated and Australia dispirited, but as the Lords Test (which starts on Thursday) draws closer the realisation that this was a moral victory to Australia will surely grow.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Aust biff 1/195 , England scratch 2/20 in short day's play: Ashes 09 T1 D4

England 435 and 2/20 trail Australia 6/674 dec (R Ponting 150, M North 125*, S Katich 122, B Haddin 121) by 219 runs with 8 second inns wickets in hand: Ashes T#1, D4 at Cardiff.

The forecast rain did not eventuate until tea, when it terminated play for the day. Marcus North's 125* and Brad Haddin's 121, were the high points of the two sessions but, without taking anything away from them, England's tactics, general lassitude (as if they were waiting for the rain to come) and blatant attempts to slow the game down backfired. This was particularly evident in the pre-lunch session where only 27 wicketless overs, 10 - the best 10 - by spinners were bowled for 98 runs.

Why Stuart Broad, the weakest of the frontline bowlers, opened the bowling instead of Andrew Flintoff (weary?) or a spinner, was beyond me. I couldn't see why a new ball was taken when Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in tandem were getting some sharp spin. A few overs' delay would probably have made North work harder for his century and Haddin for his 50. Given the acceleration which accompanied, as it often does, the taking of the new ball, the achievement of those milestones would almost certainly have been deferred until after lunch.

As it was the lunch score of 5/557, the late arrival of the rain and England's dropping its collective bundle provided a perfect launching pad for Haddin to gallop to a hundred in the afternoon. He was out, caught by Ravi Bopara in the outfield off Paul Collingwood's medium pace (which looked worth more than 9 of the 181 overs bowled) for a devastating
121 (151b/11x4, 3x6). Marcus North remained not out 125 (232b/13x4) as Australia posted its highest total against England for a long, long time.

Mentally shattered (check the TV footage and pictures if you require corroboration) and with only a draw to play for, England faltered against the rested Australian attack. On the radio Geoffrey Boycott wrote off Mitchell Johnson's first over as "tripe", though he did have a good word for Ben Hilfenhaus, before each of them struck: Alastair Cook lbw Johnson 6 and Ravi Bopara (unluckily) judged lbw Hilfenhaus 1.

Assuming there are no further weather interruptions, England need to bat for 98 overs to save the match. Not bloomin' likely.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good Australian batting+ foul Cardiff weather= draw? Ashes 09 T1 D3

Australia 5/479 (139 ov, R Ponting 150, S Katich 122, M Clarke 83, M North 54*) lead England 435 by 44 runs with 5 1st inns wickets in hand: Ashes Test #1 Day 3 at Cardiff.

England's 15 minutes or thereabouts of sunshine came before lunch as Australia slipped from 1/299 to 4/331. Simon Katich was lbw to Jimmy Anderson for a worthy if tad fortunate 122/261b/12x4, Ricky Ponting played on to Monty Panesar for a topnotch 150/224b/14x4, 1x6, and Michael Hussey was caught behind off Anderson for a scrappy 3.

Thereafter it was all Australia. Michael Clarke and Marcus North took the total past England's before rain intervened. When play resumed with the ground floodlights on (a first for England the UK) they extended their partnership to 143 before the vice-captain succumbed to Stuart Broad for a classy 83/145b/9x4, 1x6.

TV pictures show that the pitch appears to have deteriorated since the match began yet you wouldn't know that from the way England bowled.

With Cardiff now comfortably supplanting Manchester as the wettest Test venue in the UK (1,061 v 810 mm ave annual rainfall) and an unpromising forecast it looks as if a draw is now even more the likeliest result. If that happens and given the dominance of bat over ball in this match we may be condemned to several highscoring draws in the rest of this series.

I hope not, despite the quality batting from Ponting and others which, if you haven't already seen, look out for on TV or online eg here.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Katich-Ponting partnership keeps Australia in game: Ashes 09 T1D2

Australia 1/249 (71 ov, S Katich 104*, R Ponting 100*) trail England 435 on first inns by 186 runs with 9 wkts in hand : Ashes Test #1 Day 2 at Cardiff

As a spectacle the match remained attractive during the first session as the English lower order, led by Graeme Swann's 47/40b/ 6x4, thumped the Australian bowlers for another 99 runs from only 101 balls.

On a pitch where the ball occasionally removed divots 435 looked pretty good.

When Australia batted Phillip Hughes kept the momentum going with 36/54b/ 5x4 in what we now recognise as his unique style. Neither James Anderson nor Stuart Broad could exploit Hughes' weakness against well directed short bowling as Steve Harmison had done in the England Lions game. Andrew Flintoff at second change (why didn't he open the bowling?) lifted the team with a fiery spell which removed Hughes and would have done the same to Simon Katich but for a dropped return catch.

Thereafter Katich gradually overcame his early scratchiness and Ricky Ponting, who was in pretty good touch from the outset, restored the match as a contest. Their unbroken 189/ 56ov 2nd wicket partnership made the England attack look increasingly bland. Both men reached their centuries just before stumps, when Katich was 104*/219b/8x4 and Ponting 100*/155b/8x4.

Given the uncertainty about the wicket (and perhaps the weather) Australia will need many more runs to minimise the risk of defeat. Victory may be unlikely but after Adelaide 2006-07 not impossible. For the moment a draw looks the likeliest outcome, but if you can watch the first couple of sessions of Day 3, and not just to watch Ponting, if he stays in, in top form.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

England have better of day's play... just: Ashes09 T1 D1

England 7/336 (90ov, K Pietersen 69, P Collingwood 64, M Prior 56) v Australia:
Ashes Test #1 Day 1 at Cardiff

7/336 looks a reasonable score on a pitch with a bit of turn and uneven bounce, though Kevin Pietersen was out to a stupid shot when he looked well on the way to a century (having been treated leniently by the umpires earlier).


1. Why did Australia omit Stuart Clark?

He's the most experienced bowler in the squad and the pitch looked well suited to his bowling style

2. Why did Australia include Nathan Hauritz?

Sure, he got Pietersen out (from his widest delivery) and extracted some slow turn but as the TV pitch map showed he generally bowled too short. I agree with the caustic piece, written before play began, by
Patrick Smith in today's Australian .

3. Why did England include Monty Panesar instead of Graeme Onions?

Apart from England's warm up match last week how long is it since Panesar has shown any form? I thought Onions bowled soundly ( without Harmison's sharp edge) for the Lions, and well, albeit in favourable early season conditions, in the West Indies Tests.

4. Why did Pietersen play that shot?

Plenty of others, including the man himself, will have their five cents or pence worth about this.

5. Why didn't Marcus North bowl?

A few days ago he was Australia's no1 spinner. He didn't bowl particularly well in the Lions match but then neither did Hauritz or any of the acknowledged part-timers. Is he now no 4 in the spin bowling order?

6. Will the pitch improve or slowly deteriorate?

I can't say. The general opinion among experts seems to be that it'll turn more as the match proceeds.

Electronic media coverage

Both SBS and Fox Sports relayed the UK Sky TV coverage, supplemented by expert comments from the studio (SBS) and the ground (Fox). I jumped between the two and listened for a while to ABC radio's coverage. The SBS picture is a little better than the Fox one (at least on my set), yet I think it was SBS who cut to an ad during a replay at the end of one over.

Why isn't, as happens with other teams touring England, eg New Zealand, at least one of the Aussie commentators integrated into the Sky commentary team? During the tea interval Fox's Messrs Border, Julian and Blewett struggled to compete with Tom Jones belting it out over the ground PA system.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

One day to go

The build up to the Ashes continues. In today's Australian, for example, there is a glossy supplement and articles by Ricky Ponting "We've put on our Test match faces", Mike Atherton (via The Times) and, in less serious vein, the BBC's Australian Correspondent Nick Bryant "The baggy green goes metrosexual":

In this new celebritocracy, Clarke and Lara Bingle are obviously cast as Posh and Becks; Brett Lee is celebrated as much for his Bollywood melodies as his chin music; and Johnson achieves almost as much fame as the torso of the "Men of Cricket" calendar as the tormentor of visiting batsmen. After being sent home from England in disgrace, Andrew Symonds meets the televisual requirements of the age by seeking prime-time, public redemption: a soft-focus confessional on 60Minutes.

Atherton is close, though not as close as Ponting, to the action, so his views, many of which he'd expressed during his TV commentary stints during the England Lions match at Worcester, are particularly interesting. He describes what he sees as Australia's lack of "aura" or "presence" but in the end can't bring himself to conclude that England are favourites. Equals yes, but not favourites:

It is the lack of aura generally that stood out watching the Australians go about their business in Worcester. They have always been among the most down to earth, likeable and approachable of cricketers off the field. It was good to see some of them walking back to their hotel last week carrying their backpacks and not a security guard in sight, for instance - something from which England's more starry-eyed and precious bunch could learn.

But along with that bloke-next-door image there has always been, in the past decade, a heavy sprinkling of cricketing stardust. Sit a table away from Warne and Glenn McGrath at breakfast, and you knew that there were two players with more than a thousand Test wickets munching through their toast; or if you happened to be next to Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, there were 53 Test centuries staring back at you. It takes the edge off their approachability.

That aura, that presence, is just not there now - indeed, there are a few who could easily walk down any high street in England and not be recognised. England, then, walks on to the field in Cardiff as equals, in their own minds and everyone else's. That is a big change.

Australia are a workmanlike side: fit, professional, battle-hardened, as all Australian cricketers are, but workmanlike nonetheless. It is a team typified, perhaps, by the likes of Marcus North, Simon Katich, Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle, good cricketers all but none of whom would have made any Australia team between 1993 and 2001 and all of whom have yet to prove their Ashes mettle.

Ashes history points to Australia - even in England where they have won more Tests than the home side. Whatever the outcome, though, another wonderful narrative, full of great characters, great deeds and great drama, is about to unfold.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Australia bat Lions out of game as umpire's back strikes

Australia 358 and 4/438 dec (M North 191*, M Clarke 80, M Hussey 62 ret hurt) drew with England Lions 352 and 4/162: Tour match Day 4 at Worcester.


A not unpredictable result.

Postives for Australia which emerged from the match:

# Batting of Mike Hussey, Marcus North and Michael Clarke

# Brett Lee's bowling

Continuing concerns:

# Spin bowling: I thought Simon Katich looked the best of the three who bowled in the Lions' second innings

# Phillip Hughes opening the batting

# Brad Haddin's wicketkeeping.


1. Umpire Evans collapsing at what turned out to be the end of the match: note Australians first to help him.

2. Nasser Hussain during a tea interval masterclass doing an unacknowledged imitation of Victor Trumper.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

North 's century reassures Australia but other problems remain.: Tour match Day 3

Australians 358 & 4/276 (M North 106*, M Clarke 80) lead England Lions 352 (S Moore 120, J Denly 66, A Rashid 66, S Davies 53, B Lee 6/76) by 282 runs with 6 wickets in hand: Day 3 at Worcester

The England Lions lower order, despite a feisty knock from Adil Rashid, didn't bat well enough to get a first innings lead.

Then Australia wobbled once more as Steve Harmison reprised his first innings performance and exposed Phillip Hughes' weakness against the short ball (he also reminded us that Ricky Ponting is not infallible). Nasser Hussain provided an excellent televised centre wicket tutorial during the tea interval about Hughes' flaw and Harmison's exposure of it.

Simon Katich compiled 37 before Michael Clarke (80/129b/8x4) and Marcus North (106*/185b/13x4) played themselves into form against bowling of variable quality. Clarke was his usual elegant self while North was effective if no match for his vice-captain in the fluency stakes.

There may not be enough time left to force a result but there should be enough interest to keep me up late again tonight.


The other warm up game, England v Warwickshire at Edgbaston ended, as was not exactly unexpected given that only 3 days were allocated, in a draw. The national team had much the better of it. Australian supporters will be hoping that the England selectors, on the strength of Monty Panesar's figures in the match, will include him in the First Test XI.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Lee fires, other bowlers fizzle

England Lions 6/302 (81.0 ov, S Moore 120, J Denly 66, S Davies 53, B Lee 5/53) trail Australians 358 (M Hussey 150, S Harmison 4/80) by 56 runs with 4 first inns wickets in hand: Day 2 at Worcester.

A disappointing effort from the Australian bowlers, Brett Lee excepted, today after Mike Hussey's 150/234b/19x4 underwrote a reasonable team total of 358 .

England Lions got out of the blocks and more with an opening partnership of 172 before Lee, summoned from autograph signing on the boundary by his less than amused captain, produced a great spell (and almost a hat trick) which brought Australia back into the game. Unfortunately he wasn't well supported: Mitchell Johnson was prodigal, Stuart Clark merely steady and Nathan Hauritz alternated between steadiness and innocuousness.

In the field the Australians visibly lacked enthusiasm and seemed to confirm what Robin Martin-Jenkins , who played in the Sussex warm-up match, wrote in Wisden Cricketer
"they lacked the presence that the best team in the world should have". To RM-J one manifestation of this was a lack of sledging, which seems hard to imagine, but perhaps that will change when the Test series begins. On the evidence of the first two days of this match, a few other things will need to.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Australia looks good on paper, despite obvious cracks

Australians 8/337 (90 ov, M Hussey 143* S Katich 95, T Bresnan 3/36, S Harmison 3/67) v England Lions: Day 1 at Worcester.

After all sorts of off-field distractions including Michael Vaughan's retirement , Andrew Flintoff's reprimand for missing a team bonding trip to Ypres and a crackbrained proposal from the ICC president to reduce Tests to four days traditional first class cricket for the Australians resumed today at Worcester, a traditional English cricket ground.

Unlike the days when Worcester hosted the first in a series of preliminary matches (and Don Bradman invariably produced a century or double century) this is the only scheduled first class match before the Test series begins

While the 8/337 doesn't seem a bad day's work for the batting side, the scorecard reveals that without Mike Hussey's 143* and Simon Katich's 95 there's little scope for complacency, let alone hubris. Phil Hughes' weakness outside off stump was exposed, Ricky Ponting played an uncharacteristically airy shot to slip, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin were ordinary, while Marcus North looked out of his depth.

The Lions' pace attack did well: Steve "Lazarus" Harmison bowled with both fire and accuracy, the wiry Graeme Onions continued his excellent 2009 county form while the stockier Tim Bresnan came back well after a wobbly start . Sajjid Mahmood had a few moments, though Adil Rashid looked as if he needs more time to prepare himself for the longest form of the game (but I still believe he's a great prospect).

The Sky Sports TV coverage was most appropriate: its customary professionalism ( underlined by occasional crosses to the England v Warwickshire practice match) had a bucolic tinge which reminded me of a line from John Arlott's poem about cricket at Worcester "And the bar stayed open all day". In these politically correct times no commentator would dare admit on air (or in verse) to having a drink in the workplace (aka at the ground) : Michael Atherton's icecream (from the Dean's Ices van) was the closest to this, but if the obesity police have their way perhaps he'll be either reprimanded a la Flintoff or, as we say in these parts, on the outer. I hope not.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

T20 grows in Brooklyn

The New York Times isn't noted for its coverage of cricket but occasionally it finds room for a piece about the game. This week Simon Akam writes about a New York Police Department attempt to engage with local immigrant communities:

The Gateway Cricket Ground in Brooklyn is a spartan place — a grass oval tucked in by the Belt Parkway, in the shadows of the towers of Starrett City and beneath the flight path of Kennedy International Airport.

But on Tuesday morning it was crowded with players, some toting paddlelike bats, and filled with the sound of leather balls struck by wood.

The sport they were playing is as ancient as it is baffling to most Americans, yet the New York Police Department has chosen cricket as a way to foster relationships with newer immigrant communities.

The Police Department established a cricket competition for young men in the city last summer; the project was a success, and on Tuesday, play began for another season. Interest has expanded, with 10 teams and 170 players involved this year, compared with 6 teams last year.

Mr Akam makes a pretty reasonable fist of rendering the game intelligible to his fellow New Yorkers:

A cricket match can last as long as five days and still end in a tie. However, the Police Department has adopted a shorter form of the game, called Twenty20 — in this form, a match lasts around three hours. The shorter form encourages big, crowd-pleasing hitting.

Twenty20 cricket has a serious international following, but John L. Aaron, the executive secretary of the USA Cricket Association, believes this abbreviated form is particularly suited to the mind-set on this side of the Atlantic.

“The sports psyche of the average American is: get home from work, see a game and get the kids to school in the morning,” he said.

The police have also had to make other adaptations to cricket to fit New York conditions. For example, a strip of rolled and immaculately trimmed grass is normally used as the playing surface on which a ball bounces before it is struck by a batsman. But that strip is expensive and rare in this country. So the league’s matches, played at Spring Creek Park in Brooklyn and Kissena Park in Queens, use a substitute: a heavy, fibrous mat that is staked to the ground before a game.

All this reminds me of Joseph O'Neill's novel Netherland, which was favourably reviewed by the NYT when it was published last year. The Times has also made the novel's first chapter available online. O'Neill's description of a (real) cricket ground on Staten Island is magnificent:

By the standards I brought to it, Walker Park was a very poor place for cricket. The playing area was, and I am sure still is, half the size of a regulation cricket field. The outfield is uneven and always overgrown, even when cut (once, chasing a ball, I nearly tripped over a hidden and, to cricketers, ominous duck), and whereas proper cricket, as some might call it, is played on a grass wicket, the pitch at Walker Park is made of clay, not turf, and must be covered with coconut matting; moreover the clay is pale sandy baseball clay, not red cricket clay, and its bounce cannot be counted on to stay true for long; and to the extent that it is true, it lacks variety and complexity. (Wickets consisting of earth and grass are rich with possibility: only they can fully challenge and reward a bowler's repertoire of cutters and spinners and bouncers and seamers, and only these, in turn, can bring out and fully test a batsman's repertoire of defensive and attacking strokes, not to mention his mental powers.) There is another problem. Large trees — pin oaks, red oaks, sweetgums, and American linden trees — clutter the fringes of Walker Park. Any part of these trees, even the smallest hanging leaf, must be treated as part of the boundary, and this brings randomness into the game. Often a ball will roll between the tree trunks, and the fielder running after it will partially disappear, so that when he reemerges, ball in hand, a shouting match will start up about exactly what happened.

A few lines later the cricket playing narrator says that Don Bradman and Garfield Sobers have played there. I'm not sure about this though the NYC Parks & Rec website ,apart from confirming that the park is named after a prominent local cricketer who died in WW1 (very Australian that), lists Bradman and W G Grace among those who have played there.

Update 2 July

Don Bradman did play at Walker Park in three one day matches for the 1932 Australians against "All New York" on 17, 18 and 19 July 1932.

These followed three one dayers against the "New York West Indians" at another New York ground on 14 , 15 and 16 July. Six days of cricket without a break! Wouldn't happen nowadays.