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.