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Monday, November 29, 2010

Huge England score leads to draw and poses many questions for Australia

England 260 & 1/517 dec (152 ov, A Cook 235*, J Trott 125*, A Strauss 110) drew with Australia 481 & 1/107 (26.0 ov, R Ponting 51*): T1 D5 at the Gabba Brisbane: series level 0-0 with 2 matches to play.

Yes, the First Test ended in a draw and, yes, England struggled for the early part of the match, but at the end it was they who had the measure of Australia.

For the record today England added 208 runs in 51 overs without losing a wicket against an increasingly dispirited and, to Australian supporters, dispiriting opposition. Several chances were offered but none accepted by the fielders, sapping even more of the bowlers' diminishing reserves of energy and,no doubt, motivation.

Enough of that. Let's give due praise to the magnificent batting of Alistair Cook 235*/428b (26x4) and Jonathan Trott 135*/266b (19x4) who added an unbroken 329 for the 2nd wicket, the highest partnership for any wicket by England in Australia.Had the match been a timeless Test the mind boggles at what the final total might have been: quite possibly (probably?) a four figure one. But it wasn't: England declared, left Australia up to 41 overs to make 297, and Shane Watson and an impressive looking, though hardly Cook or Trott standard, Ricky Ponting prevented England from causing even more embarassment.

The Second Test starts here in Adelaide on Friday. England has a few areas, eg middle order batting and perhaps Graeme Swann's bowling, requiring attention but these look minor issues compared to the home team;s woes. So what is Australia to do?

"Regroup" the pundits of the media, couch and pubs will say. What does this mean? For one thing there must be change(s) in the eleven: Mitchell Johnson and perhaps Marcus North and others must make way for Doug Bollinger or Ryan Harris, who've been added to the squad. But beyond these changes there needs to be a recovery of that elusive quality of self-belief, which has been a hallmark of so many Australian teams over the years. I know this sounds vague, but today at Bellerive in a Sheffield Shield match, overshadowed by events at the Gabba, bottom of the table South Australia beat Tasmania after being bowled out for in their first innings for 55 . Not a bad regrouping, eh?


Fox Sports Report with video highlights.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Test heads for stalemate as England bats as Australia did: T1 D4

England 260 and 1 /309 (101 ov, A Cook 132*,A Strauss 110, J Trott 54*) lead Australia 481 by 88 runs
with 9 second innings wickets in hand: T1 D4 at the Gabba, Brisbane.

After another bad light induced early finish the First Test is heading for a stalemate.

This is because England batted through D4, adding 290 runs from 85 overs, and losing only one wicket, Andrew Strauss stumped off Marcus North for 110/224b (15x4). They are now 88 runs ahead of Australia.

Strauss and Alistair Cook both batted well and more freely than last night, though each was dropped (by Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke respectively) off hard but not difficult chances. Each side has had some crucial fielding lapses, which have exposed the shortcomings of their attacks even more. Today it was Australia's turn as ball after ball didn't appear to me to deviate much (the Channel 9 video protractor usually confirmed this). The bowling wasn't bad, it just didn't look penetrative, and it became progressivly clearer that Strauss and Cook had its measure. Strauss looked almost as annoyed with himself to be out for 110 as he did afterhis first innings duck.

Tomorrow there'll be, as there was today, an early start to try to make up some of the lost time. Cook will resume on a substantial 132*/270b (11x4), while Jonathan Trott is motoring along nicely on 54*/118b (8x4).

I don't believe in miracles, so I can't see any result other than a draw. The wicket has been scuffed up in places but looks to be playing reasonably well. England don't need to win this match so a tempting (or even any) declaration looks unlikely. I can't blame them if Day 5 turns out to be, as it looks like doing, a dud.


Fox Sports report with video highights.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

307 stand trumps 260 total on Hussey and Haddin's big day: T1D3

England 260 & 0/19 (15 ov) trail Australia 481 (158.4 ov, M Hussey 195, B Haddin 136, S Finn 6/125) by 202 runs with 10 2nd inns wkts in hand: T1 D3 at the Gabba, Brisbane.

Make no mistake about it: despite some early uncertainty against the new ball and some close, though favourable, calls from the umpire decision review system (and the umpires themselves), Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin's 307 6th wicket partnership has shifted the first Test in favour of Australia.

Hussey, 81 overnight, had already saved his cricketing life. He went on to 195/330 b (1 x6, 26x4), while Haddin added another 114 before he was snaffled at slip off Graeme Swann for 136/287b (1x6. 16x4).

The last five wickets, including Mitchell Johnson for a duck, fell for 31 runs as the persevering Steve Finn picked up 6/125. Graeme Swann's 2/128 reflected his modest bowling, though Jimmy Anderson's 2/99 significantly understated his continued probing at the batsmen.

From here, thanks to Hussey, Haddin and the bowlers, Australia should win, though a draw isn't beyond the realm of possibility.


Fox Sports Report

Friday, November 26, 2010

Resilient England come back though Hussey resists : T1D2

Australia 5/220 (80 ov, M Hussey 81*, S Katich 50) trail England 260 by 40 runs with 5 1st innings wickets in hand. T1/5 D2/5 at the Gabba, Brisbane

Australia lost only one wicket before lunch, but collapsed afterwards losing an out-of-sorts Ricky Ponting for 10/26b (1x4), an unsettled (or unfit?) Michael Clarke for 9/50b and an out-of-form Marcus North for 1/8b as Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn came out fighting after a potentially dispiriting first session when only one wicket, Shane Watson 36/76b (6x4), fell despite some close calls (and rejected umpire decision reviews).

As so often, Watson and Simon Katich, with a patient 50/106b (5x4) had put Australia on track to pass England, but Anderson, who'd bowled well in the morning session, and Finn pulled the game back England's way with three quick wickets;.

Mike Hussey, playing for his place (and cricketing life) came out fighting. He punished Graeme Swann, who bowled more shortish balls than his reputation suggested he would. When rain and bad light stopped play he was 81*/144b (1x6, 13x4) and, with Brad Haddin's circumspect 22*/71b (2x4). had taken the total from 143 to 220.

So the match is more or less evenly poised, though England's resilience and resolution must have given them a lot of heart, despite their inability to break the Hussey-Haddin partnership. They may be a bowler light, but then Australia, on the evidence of today's play, look to be two batsmen light.

Watch as much of it as you can.


Fox Sports Report with video highlights.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Siddle's special day with hat trick gives Australia upper hand : T1D1

Australia 0/25 (7 ov) are 235 runs behind England 260 (76.5 ov, I Bell 76, A Cook 67, P Siddle 6/54 inc hat trick) Ashes T1/5, D 1/5 at the Gabba, Brisbane.

At tea England were 4/172 and seemed to have had slightly the better of the day's play.

After winning the toss and choosing to bat they'd recovered from the hiccups of 1/0 (Andrew Strauss caught in the gully off the match's and Ben Hilfenhaus' third ball) and 4/125. Paul Collingwood 4 had failed, while Jonathan Trott 29/53b and Kevin Pietersen 43/70b couldn't build on promising starts but Alistair Cook and Ian Bell looked solid.

After the interval Cook and Bell continued the recovery until, at 197, England's wheels fell off in one over. Peter Siddle, who many (including me) wondered whether he should have been included at the expense of Doug Bollinger, induced Cook to edge to slip, then next ball bowled Matt Prior. He completed his hat trick by trapping Stuart Broad lbw with his next.

One well set batsman, as Cook's 67/168b (5x4) suggests, one with a record as a good lower order player and the third with a recent Test century under his belt: not a bad trio of scalps. And all on his birthday!

After this Bell tried to rally the tail, with moderate success. Graeme Swann became Siddle's sixth victim before Bell, when 76/131b (8x4), hit out and gave Xavier Doherty his first Test wicket. Doherty, who'd earlier in the day not yielded to Pietersen's attempt to knock him off his length, polished off Jimmy Anderson to return a respectable 2/41 on debut.

But it was Siddle's 16-3-54-6 which has put Australia well on top after D1. The conditions gave some assistance to the bowlers, so 260, while a disappointing total, may not be a bad one. Provided, that is, the the England attack performs as well as its recent reputation has led many English supporters to hope, and Australians, bearing in mind their shaky batting order, to fear.


Fox Sports coverage with links to video

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Australia's courageous selection(s)?

Even though the bookies may still have Australia as favourites, it's England who look, on the eve of the First Ashes Test, to be on the front foot. In the preliminary matches the visitors have defeated WA, had the better of a draw against SA, and walloped Australia A by 10 wickets.

The England approach has been low key: quiet confidence which stops well short of hubris. On the other hand Australia's has fluctuated between confidence and confusion as injury worries and selection issues attract a broad spectrum of opinion ,much of it critical.

The England team is, and probably has been for several weeks, settled. Each member, Kevin Pietersen perhaps excepted, is in form. The Australian selectors have, by dropping offspinner Nathan Hauritz in favour of the unTested slow left armer Xavier Doherty, taken what Sir Humphrey Appleby (and many others) would call a "courageous decision". I'm not one of them, not because I believe that Doherty demands a place but because, after watching much of the two-Test series v India, I don't think that Hauritz is bowling all that well.

While all the indications are that Australia will, like England, play three quick and one slow bowler, the nature of the Gabba wicket (and maybe weather) together with Australia's relatively strong quick bowling resources might have inclined the selectors to omit the specialist spinner.

Let's hope the conditions allow a good contest. If I had to stick my neck out I'd opt for a draw, not least because the weather forecast for the next few days isn't too promising.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Another good day for England, and bad ones for key Australians

England 5/335 (89 ov, I Bell 121*, P Collingwood 74*, A Cook 60) lead Australia A 230 by 105 runs with 5 1st inns wkts in hand: tour match D2/4 at Hobart.

By reducing England to 5/137 Australia A secured the initiative but then surrendered it as Ian Bell 121*/158b (1x6, 15x4) and Paul Collingwood 74/128b (1x6, 9x4) regrouped against some inceasingly toothless bowling.

There are still two days to go, so a result (aka England victory), despite Bellerive's reputation (which Bell and Collingwood are in the process of confirming) as a good batting track, seems likely.

A highlight of the Channel 9 telecast (which was truncated for the second day running) was the incisive analysis of Richie Benaud, who is still as sharp as the proverbial tack. Worth tuning in just for this.

In the Sheffield Shield matches Tasmania need 90 more runs with 7 wickets in hand to beat NSW at the SCG, at the MCG Victoria 3/77 are making heavy weather of chasing WA's 368 (Mitchell Johnson 121*) while at the Gabba SA are squandering their narrow first innings lead over Queensland : 223 & 4/32 plays 196.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

First day of Australia A & Sheffield Shield matches provide few grounds for local optimism

It can't be often that four first class matches are played at the same time in Australia. Even though almost every notable Australian player is appearing either for their state or for the A team, the first day's play in each game produced few positives for supporters of the national team (not to mention the selectors) with the First Test a week away..

England XI 1/22 trail Australia A 230 (S O'Keefe 66, S Smith 59, C Tremlett 4/59 by 208 runs:
Tour match D1/4 at Bellerive Oval Hobart).

Channel 9 are televising the most important match, which it incorrectly billed as a "Test". In a chilly Hobart Australia A struggled against the England second string bowling attack in conditions which were initially favourable to bowlers.

5/66, with 31 of those contributed by late replacement Ed Cowan, suggested that Australia's batting depth is much less than many people think. Only Steven Smith and Steve O'Keefe enhanced their reputations. Smith's 59/121b (1x6, 5x4) reinforced the view of those who, like me, think he is essentially a batting allrounder, while O'Keefe's 66/116b (2x6, 6x4) helped restore the home team's fortunes to a moderately respectable 230. At stumps England, who are fielding the same batting lineup for the third game on the trot (doesn't Eoin Morgan deserve a run?), are 1/22.

Sheffield Shield

In Sydney day 1 of a low scoring match saw New South Wales 97 & 0/18 trailing Tasmania 125 by 10 runs with 10 2nd inns wkts in hand . For NSW Simon Katich made 1, Shane Watson 6 (he's 13* in the second innings) and Brad Haddin 10, while for Tasmania Ricky Ponting made 7. The quick bowlers turned in good figures: Doug Bollinger's 3/25 provided some good news (though neither Nathan Hauritz nor Xavier Doherty -the two supposed contenders for the Test spinner's role - have had a real opportunity to show what they can do).

In Perth Western Australia, with 6/319, are comfortably placed against Victoria thanks to Wes Robinson 78, Adam Voges 91*and, most welcome, Mitchell Johnson 82*. Alas, both Mike Hussey (0) and Marcus North (17) failed, which will probably give them both a sleepless night or two and encourage the national selectors to keep thinking hard about the composition of the Test XI.

In Brisbane, where fewer big names are playing, Queensland are 2/27 in reply to South Australia's modest first innings of 227 .

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spot the difference

Two pics of Adelaide Oval scoreboard: the one on left taken 11 November, that on right on 12 November.

The scores are diifferent, but what else has (been) changed?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

England take much satisfaction from draw against S Aust

England XI 8/288 dec & 1/240 dec (52 ov, A Cook 111*, A Strauss 102) drew with South Australia 221 & 2/48 (20.5 ov): Tour match Day 3/3 at Adelaide Oval.

Another rain -interrupted day provided enough time for England to bat South Australia out of the match.

Alistair Cook 111*/162b (1x6, 18x4) recovered and Andrew Strauss 102/121b (4x6, 13x4) consolidated their form. Even though this was achieved at the expense of a toothless South Australian attack the time in the middle would have been good practice for both batters.

It was a pity that rain and bad light intervened to prevent more play. Had the match run its full course the Redbacks would have struggled to fend off defeat against a keen attack supported by excellent fielding, notably Jonathan Trott's catch at midwicket to dismiss Michael Klinger.

I thought the appeal against the light, which the umpires (who IMO had been a tad slow to restart play after rain) upheld, was unreasonable. The floodlights were, as they had been for much of yesterday, on, Paul Collingwood was bowling at one end, and grade cricket continued on two grounds a short walk from the Oval. South Australia's appeal was effectively a concession that it had lost the match. I'll refrain from venturing an opinion as to whether any player was concerned about preserving their reputation.


Friday, November 12, 2010

England thrive in English style conditions

England XI 8/288 dec & 0/94 (23.0 ov, A Strauss 56*) lead South Australia 221 (67.4 ov, G Swann 4/68) by 161 runs with 10 2nd inns wickets in hand: Tour match D2/3 at Adelaide Oval

Yesterday's heat persisted overnight (the temperature stayed in the high 20s) but in the early hours of the morning gave way to cooler weather and rain which persisted throughout the day, delaying the start and interrupting play later. In these conditions so redolent of home England secured the upper hand by chipping away at the modest South Australian batting and then building on the first innings lead to be in a position where they can decide how to play the final day.

Batting practice or sporting declaration? That is the question for Day 3.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

New look Adelaide Oval hosts old look tour match

England XI 8/288 dec (78.3 ov, P Collingwood 94, I Bell 61) v South Australia 0/26 (9ov)
Tour match D 1/3 at Adelaide Oval

The new western stand at the Adelaide Oval was opened to SACA members, who have underwritten its construction, for the first time today on Day 1 of the SA - England tour match. There is much to admire about it, not least the elevated viewing and the access options: lifts and escalators supplement the stairs. No doubt this latter will appeal to the less agile members, whose ranks I may eventually join, though having climbed several times from ground level to the upper tier (counting 105 steps on one occasion) without any shortness of breath I'm resisting that classification for now.

There are some unusual features: for example incoming batsmen enter from the centre of the stand while dismissed ones and, at the intervals, each team, leave through separate tunnels.

Now to the match itself. Andrew Strauss won the toss, chose to bat and initially struggled against Peter George before Alistair Cook, a form seeking (but not finding) 32, and Kevin Pietersen, whose 33 showed glimpses of his best (and worst) held things up for a while.

It was a warm, some would say hot, day with temperatures in the low 30s despite cloud cover which may have helped the bowlers. Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood ("Collingwod" as the scoreboard dubbed him) took the initiative in the middle session and gradually got on top of what, George and perhaps Tim Lang (a bowler in the Max Walker style) apart, was essentially a modest attack.

Their 131 for the 5th wicket took England to a modestly respectable position, which could have been stronger given the superiority the bat had over the ball after tea. Collingwood looked set for a century when when at 226 he was caught in the gully for 94/113 b (1x6, 13x4) from a loose stroke while Bell continued in mainly watchful mode before being bowled for 61/117b ((9x4). 6/255.

Three days isn't really enough time to force a result without declarations This happened in the WA tour match . Strauss followed the convention and declared at 8/288, giving his bowlers 9 overs at the Redbacks, whose openers survived until stumps.

Another declaration tomorrow? Very likely I'd say.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Plenty of cricket on TV: India- NZ Test the one to watch

Since my return I've had plenty of cricket viewing options on both Free to Air (Channel 9's coverage of the Australia- Sri Lanka ODIs) and Foxtel (India - New Zealand Tests, Pakistan - South Africa ODIs and Aust ODD). ABC radio, at least over the weekend, has also kept a reasonable finger on the pulse of other matches, notably the Western Australia- England XI one.

I've sampled much of the coverage. The most interesting by far has been the India - New Zealand Test in Ahmedabad where, after four days, India 487 and 6/82 lead NZ by 110 runs . At one stage India were 5/15 in their second innings as Chris Martin, who I'd hitherto thought was at best an honest trundler, ripped the guts out of the Indian top order.

India's hopes rest chiefly with VVS Laxman (again). I sensed that the Black Caps lost their edge in the last session: perhaps, not for the first time in Test matces, they can't believe the good position they're in. Watching Day 5 if you can.

Oh, and Australia have at last managed to win a match: the dead rubber of the three match ODI series v Sri Lanka , while in a slightly contrived (though genuine first class) warm up match in Perth England defeated Western Australia.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Australia's fortunes at low ebb

I've just returned from overseas, hence the absence of posts. Not that there's been much joy for Australia, who haven't won a game in any format for some time (not exactly sure how long).
The Test and ODI series v India were lost while in the last week Sri Lanka have won the T20 and currently lead the ODI 2-0 with one to play. Not good for Australia as the Ashes approach.