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Friday, July 31, 2015

Australia narrowly avoid defeat in two days...but still face big loss: T3D2

Australia 136 & 7/168 (55ov, Warner 77/62b/11x4, Nevill 37*, Finn 13-3-45-5) lead England 281 (67.1ov, Root 63/75b/1x6 9x4, Moeen Ali 59/78b/11x4, Bell 53, Cook 34, Broad 31, Lyon 3/36, Hazlewood 3/74, Johnson 2/66, Starc 2/71) by 23 runs with 3 2inns wkts in hand: T3,5 D2/5 at Edgbaston.

When Mitchell Johnson removed Johnny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in the space of three balls, England were 5/142, a lead of only 9. But that turned out to be the high water mark of Australia's day as the bowlers were unable to confine England to a total around 200-220 which the seam bowler friendly conditions (albeit with more sunshine) seemed to the experts and me to be both desirable and achievable.

But it was not to be. Joe Root took his score to 63, Jos Buttler went cheaply before Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad, the latter looking more comfortable with the bat rhan he'd done for some time, added 87 for the 8th wicket: no record (as far as I know) but very significant in the context of this Test.

Australia batted again, Chris Rogers fell cheaply but David /Warner played his natural game and raised hopes ( or wishful thoughts) that he might lead the team to set a target which would challenge England batting last.

But this wasn't to be either.  Steve Smith, Michael Clarke (a real worry this), Adam Voges and Mitchell Marsh compiled 17 runs between them as Steven Finn, who was deemed unselectable during England's last tour here (18 months ago), cleaned them all up: 5/92. When Warner fell to Jimmy Anderson, who later walked off injured, Austrslia were 6/111. Peter Nevill marshalled the tail, and has taken the Test into a third day, but a likely short day ending in a heavy Australian defeat and a 1-2 series deficit.

Tonight I will grit my teeth, pour myself a glass of red, and watch England complete a well deserved victory. This doesn't mean that I believe that the Ashes will change hands, especially given the roller coaster nature of the first three Tests ( not dissimilar to the three Test series in Soiuth Africa last year. But then we had Ryan Harris. But now England may not have Anderson. Enough wishful thinking for now!


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Anderson leads demolition of Australia: T3D1

England 3/133 (29ov, Bell 53/56b/10x4, Cook 34, Root 30*, Lyon 2/3) are  3 runs behind Australia's 1st inns of 136 (36.4ov, Rogers 52/89b//9x4, Anderson 14.4-2-47-6, Broad 2/44, Finn 2/38) T3/5 D1/5 at Edgbaston. Toss: Australia.

Australia never really recovered from 3/34. Jimmy Anderson. the old hand who many wondered whether should have been retained after poor figures at Lord's, struck first by removing David Warner then Steven Finn, restored to the Test XI after a 2 year absence, used helpful conditions to remove D
Steve Smith and Michael Clarke cheaply. Chris Rogers batted through this with his wait-for-the-ball -to-hit- and-hit-it hard-into-a-gap strokeplay and Adam Voges looked solid until lunch. But after that interval,  which was prolonged by rain, Anderson returned and, in collaboration with Stuart Broad, whose wicket of Rogers at 110 removed England's last remaining significant obstacle, took the last 7 wickets for 59.

England batted and, but for more rain and some loose strokes, would probably already have passed Australia's first innings 136. Ian Bell proved me wrong  ( I admit to thinking he should have been omitted) but has preserved, if not perhaps secured, his place for the rest of the series. Which team will benefit most from this remains to be seen.

Australia's middle order batting was patethic. Voges, whose 16 was the second highest score of the innings, the rest (no names, no pack drill) were appalling - read the Cricinfo reports for for how they fell. Yes, the conditions - weather and a friendlier pitch for bowlers than in the preceding Tests- helped, but the application, shot selection etc was below Test standard, even for the Edgbaston pitch and the conditions.

When England batted, the quick bowlers made little impact either in the wicket taking department or in observing the fundamentals of line and length , as they had by and large done at Lord's. They seemed to have slept through the onfield masterclass which Anderson had given earlier in the day.

The likeliest winners now are either England or the rain.


Monday, July 20, 2015

England meltdown as Australia continue resurgence to level series 1-1: T2D4

Australia 8/566 d & 2/254d (49ov Warner 83/116b/12x4, Smith 58/48b/9x4, Rogers 49 ret hurt/77b6x4 beat England 312 & 103 (37ov, Broad 25, Johnson 10-3-27-3, Hazlewood 8-2-20-2, Lyon 9-3-27-2, M Marsh 1/8, Starc 1/16) by 405 runs: T2/5 D4/5 at Lord's. Series level 1-1; Player of match: Steven Smith.

Australia batted on with little trouble apart from Chris Rogers's retirement from the innings (not, I hope, the series given the medical blackout which seems to have descended upon his circumstances). 

Michael Clarke declared and set England 509 to win. I didn't expect that they'd mount a serious challenge, but I did think that, after watching Alistair Cook's gritty first innings, they might have been able to bat long...if not the full five sessions required to draw the Test, let alone win it.

But it didn't happen. England melted down- Ian Bell, Cook, Joe Root, Ben Stokes (run out for a duck without grounding his bat or his feet) & Moeen Ali included: 40 runs between the lot of them. Clarke changed his bowlers shrewdly and they all - not only Mitchell Johnson (well as he bowled)- delivered a shock & massive defeat to England. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Australia keep upper hand despite Cook & Stokes resistance: T2D3

Australia 0/108 (26ov, Warner 60*/84b//10x4, Rogers 44*/72b/5x4) & 8/566dec lead England 312 (90.1ov, Cook 96/233b/13x4. Stokes 87/128b/1x6 13x4, Moeen Ali 39/57b 91x6. 5x4, John son 3/53, Hazlewood 3/68, Marsh 2/23) by 362 runs with 10 2nd inns wkts in hand: T2/5 D2/5 at Lord's.

When play began Alistair Cook and Ben Stokes continued to breathe life ibefore Marsh nto England's first innings,each combatting the Australian bowling in his distinctive way. Just as it seemed they might make it through to lunch Mitchell Marsh induced an edge from Stokes which hit his stumps. From then on it was Captain Cook vs the rest (of the opposition, not his team). Jos Buttler walked when hotspot (not always the most accurate source of evidence?) was - to put it tactfully - inmconclusive. Cook reached 96 before Marsh (Mitchell to to distinguish him from his sub fielding brother Shaun) induced another inside edge to remove Cook for a masterly 96. When he sunk to his knees as he realised what had happened it reminded me of a Roman emperor/ defeated general falling on his ssword.

After that Moeen Ali hit out, showing once more why he's wasted at number 8, but the others didn,t add many (though more than the top 5 apart from Cook. 312 wasn,t a bad total about the shsaky foundastion of 4/30, but it was a feeble reply to 566' well as the Australians - special mention to Mitchell Johnson- bowled.

Then Chris Rogers sand David Warner continued the defanging of the England attack even Stuart Brosad.- by batting through to stumps without being parted.

Yes the pitch is still playing quite well, and the weather may yet influence proceedings ( I've not checked the forecast) but Australia should win from here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Smith 215 propels Australia forward. then bowlers make inroads into England batting: T2D2

England 4/85 (29 Ov, Stokes 38*, Cook 21*'Johnson 2/16) trail Australia 8/566 dec (149Ov, Smith 215/346b/1x6 25x4, Rogers 173/300b/28x4, Nevill 45/59b/5x4, Warner 38, Broad 27-5-83-4,Root 2/55) by 481 with 6 2nd inns wkts in hand: T2/5 D2/5 at Lord's.

The first ball of the day's play, bowled by Jimmy Anderson, struck Chris Rogers on the helmet. After receiving attention on the field he continued, but only added 15 before Stuart Broad bowled him: 2/362 Thereafter Steven Smith continued to stamp his mark on the Test, rarely looking in much trouble as he moved to a double century. He was given reasonable support by his teammates, except for Michael Clarke who made a scratchy 7/32b, but who would have been delighted by his team's performance' which enabled him to declare just after tea. Then his quick bowlers tore into the top of the England order taking 4/30 before Ben Stokes counterattacked with 38*/50b/1x6 5x4, while Alistair Cook 21*/85b/3x4 held his end up until stumps.

11 wickets for 314 in the day suggested that the piytch was not the flat track demonised by many after day 1. Broad, once again England,s best bowler,bent his back and showed what was possible; then Mitchells Starc and Johnson and Josh Hazlewood indivually surpassed him, scything through Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and the prize scalp (although somewhat casually offered up on this occasion) of Joe Root.

The Australians bowled better than at Cardiff. They bowled more accurately and were rewarded for doing so. They would of course have been grateful to Smith for giving them such a huge total to bowl at, not to mention the extra time off the field.

Smith's innings was masterly. It was amusing to hear some English commentators on TV and radio trying to explain his huge score. They acknowledged his big innings at home but some of them have erred by assumimg that his double failure at Lord's in 2013 - 2 &1 - and modest returns at Cardiff a week ago were evidence that England's bowlers have his measaure. Those misjudgments can now be consigned to the dustbin of cricket history.

Wary of making misjudgments of my own as I am, I won't go too far out on a limb and predict a swift or large (or both) Australian victory. But at the moment a victory of some sort for them looks likely.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Rogers and Smith centuries put Australia in front on flat Lord's pitch: T2 D1

Australia 1/337 (90ov, Rogers 158*/282b/25x4, Smith 129*/217b/1x6 13x4) vEngland; T2/5 D1/5 at Lord,s. Toss: Australia. 

Winning the toss gave Australia, who brought in Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill for Shane Watson (as expected dropped) and Brad Haddin (personal reasons) the considerable advantage of first use of a flat Lord's pitch. Chris Rogers and Steve Smith, coming together after David Warner was dismssed for what now looks a trifling though quickfire 38, have added 259 for the 2nd wicket . They gave few chances (fewer, I thought,  than were in the eyes of some beholders/commentators) and with their judiciously aggressive strokeplay capitalised on the blandness of pitch to reduce the England attack to near impotence.

Much of the quick scoring came at the beginning of the innings and during the last session. In between England, whose bowlers lacked the edge and some of the accuracy they'd showed at Cardiff, opted for a wide of off stump line in the hope of induced some errors. The scorecard shows that this strategy didn't work.

The pitch has been rightly criticised for its flatness. Whether it is sufficiently flat to condemn the Test to a draw is too early to say. Australia have a good numbers of runs on the board at the moment, but they will need to add many more to give them the scoreboard pressure which might assist their bowlers to dismiss England twice. Just over a month ago New Zealand lost to England at Lord's after a first innings of 523.

For all the assistance offered by the pitch both Rogers, on his English home ground, and Smith batted extremely well.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Observations on the eve (or morning if you're in England) of the second 2015 Ashes Test

On the eve of Ashes T2 the usual situation- England wobbly, Australia confident - has been reversed by the Cardiff result  which was a fair reflection of the gulf between the teams.

Since then Australia have gone into something close  to panic mode and flagged  two changes in advance: Brad Haddin omitted for"personal reasons" and Shane Watson (probably) dropped. Whether Mitchell Starc will take the field is uncertain, though if you listen to the positive noises coming from the Australian team and its media support group (as well as observing Peter Siddle's making positive sounding comments but with a glum, disappointed face on a media interview recently), you'd be inclined to think that Starc will play.

In all of this I seem to be the only person suggesting that Adam Voges's  position should be in doubt. Yes, he did well in the West Indies, but it was against weak opposition: weaker, due to injury, than the team which performed well against England just before Australia'sTests.

If Voges was omitted for Mitchell Marsh this would give Shane Watson, whose modest performances at Cardiff were less modest in batting aggregate than some of his teammates, another chance. The downside to all this is that the umpires are well aware of Watson's susceptibility to lbw, so they will be all too ready to adjudge him out ( as happened in T 1), expect  a review which will possibly confirm an "umpire's call", which will probably only confirm the official's decision even if replays show the ball scraping leg stump. In effect Watson is being required to bat with 4 (or more) stumps. Yes, he's not come to terms with this weakness (nor it seems have any of the coaching been able to offer constructive guidance), but for all his exasperatingly failures, he has made some runs.

Brad Haddin has found it hard to bear the cross of dropping Joe Root on 0, and hasn't for some time rediscovered the batting touch which helped Australia so much in the 2013-14 Ashes. So it's probably right for him to sit out T2, but he shouldn't have to end his career by being dropped (only a fool would believe the "personal reasons" justifications which have been trotted out).

England? Unchanged  XI perhaps?

Here's an interesting piece on the series from a US perspective.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

England surge to comprehensive win over Australia with day to spare : T1D4

England 430 & 289 beat Australia 308 & 242 (70.3ov, Johnson 77/94b/2x6 9x4, Warner 52/86b/1x6 6x4, Smith 33, Broad 14-3-39-3, Moeen Ali 16.3-4-59-3, Root2/28, Wood 2/53) by 169 runs T1/5 D4/5 at Cardiff> England lead series 1-0. Player of match: J Root

Australia made a pretty good fist of chasing the improbable until on the cusp of lunch David Warner, who had looked to have negotiated the best Stuart Broad could deliver to him - and there were some beauties in his opening spell - was lbw to Moeen Ali, who Alistair Cook had restored to the attack after his first two overs had gone for 22. 2/97 became 3/101, then in short order 4/106, 5/106 and 6/122. Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson kept a candle of hope flickering before Watson, as many  expected, was lbw (to Mark Wood for 19): 7/151. With all due respect to Johnson, who reminded us that he possesses considerable batting talent, it was all over bar some slogging. England cruised to a comfortable victory, and thus a 1-0 series lead, with a day to spare. Broad bowled magnificently.

England showed many of the qualities that are often associated with Australia (and which the latter's supporters would have hoped to see demonstrated more often in this match). The scorecard reveals a lot about the weakness of Australia's middle order batting, the pitch maps about the prodigality of the quick bowling, and TV replays the susceptibility of Watson to lbws (and his propensity to review such decisions) not to mention Brad Haddin's major blunder behind the stumps (and some other less costly fumbles).

It looks as if Mitchell Starc, Australia's best bowler (of a moderate lot) in this match, will miss the Lord's Test starting in 4 days because of injury. It is widely assumed that Peter Siddle will replace him. In my opinion Siddle is Hobson's choice, as Pat Cummins hasn't had much red ball bowling for some time. I also fear that Siddle has passed his peak: he last appeared in a Test here v India and only took two tailender wickets. Isn't there another young Australian quick bowler without a history of injury and with experience of English conditions  who can be drafted into the squad? If not, why not?

As for the batting and wicketkeeping, I need to think about them for a day or so. Watch this space....

Well done, England!


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Australia need 412 in second innings to beat England: T1D3

Australia 308 (84.5ov, Rogers 95, Clarke 38, Smith 33, Voges 31, Watson 30, Anderson 3/43, Broad 2,60, Wood 2/66, Ali 2/71) need 412 runs in their yet to begin  second innings to beat England 430 & 289 (70.1 ov, Bell 60/129b/11x4, Root 60/133b/9x4, Lyon 4/75, Hazlewood 2/49, Starc 2/60, John son 2/69): T1/5 D3/5 at Cardiff.

Australia lost 5/44  as its middle and lower order failed to enhance its collective and some individual reputations against a tight England pace attack.  With a comfortable 122 first innings lead the home team lost early wickets as an injured Mitchell Starc drew inspiration from Ryan Harris and inspired his fellow bowlers to follow his example. Adam Lyth,  Ian Bell and Joe Root took the initiative back with bold strokeplay though once they were separated -and this took some doing- the rest hit out breezily obviating the need for a declaration and setting D 4 up nicely ( at least if you are an England supporter).

Credit where credit is due: England should win, and deservedly so, from here. Whether they,d have preferred to keep a couple of wickets up their sleeve (and thus Australia in the field for some time on D4) is probably of little consequence.

As it is Austrsalia have been out played, and in some respects embarassingly so;  numbers 3,4,5 and 6 all reached 30 yet Michael Clarke,s 38 was (certainly to my and perhaps to his surprise) the highest scorer of a moderate lot.

England should win from this point. I hope that Australia make them fight hard by batting resolutely and posiively. The bowlers, for all their lapses of line and length, did persevere in England''s second  innings (special mention of Mitchell Johnson): perhaps the batters can draw some fortitude if not inspiration from them.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Australia 5/264 struggle to match England's 430 as Moeen Ali finds form with bat and ball: T1D2

Australia 5/264 (70ov, Rogers 95/133b/1x6 11x4, Clarke 38, Smith 33, Voges 31) trail England 430 (102.1ov, Root 134, Ali 77/88b/1x6 11x4, Ballance 61, Stokes 52, Starc 24.1-4-114-5, Hazlewood 3/83) by 166 runs with 5 1st inns wkts in hand: T1/5 D2/5 at Cardiff.

England's last three wickets, with Moeen Ali in the lead, added a breezy 87 runs from 85 balls in the morning session before Australia began promisingly yet lost wickets in the quest to regain the initiative.

I'd never doubted Ali's ability with the bat, but questioned why he is now at no 8. His 77 was the knock of a top six Test player. He has already confirmed in ODIs that he has talent and in this innings showed how his skills now span both formats.

 It has been his bowling which worried me. After watching him against the West Indies and New Zealand earlier this year I felt he was at best a batting allrounder, with his bowling not good enough for him to be considered one of  the top 4 (or perhaps even 5) in England's Test eleven..

Australia seem to have shared my view of him...until now. Their plan to hit him out of the attack didn't work as he snared both Steve Smith, caught at short mid on, and Michael Clarke, a nifty c&b. That both players had looked well set but only contributed 31 and 38 respectively dented Australia's prospects of posting a good reply. Chris Rogers' 95 at least kept the scoreboard moving (and more rapidly than in the early phase of his career): he looks capable of scoring a ton...until he nears that mark.

Ali may have been the biggest surprise packet of the England attack, yet he was generally well supported by his quicker colleagues each of whom,  Stuart Broad excepted, took a wicket. Broad still has a chance to remedy this, unlike Mitchell Johnson who went for 111 from 25 wicketless overs.

With Adam Voges falling late in the day for 31 England have the initiative. It is nevertheless too early to claim that they have the ascendancy, as Shane Watson, the last of Australia's top six is still there with 29*. In recent times the lower order (including the latterly out of form  Brad Haddin) have often added handy runs, so without another solid contribution from them it will be next to impossible to gain a first innings lead, or even a small deficit.

 Another late night- early morning watching TV and listening to the radio commentary beckons.


PS I have refrained from commenting upon the embarrassing injury to Alistair Cook which (together with the varied reactions of his teammates) were shown on TV and have been posted to YouTube.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Ashes 2015 begin with Root, Ballance and Stokes leading England fightback

England 7/343 (88ov, Root 134/166b/17x4, Ballance 61/149b/8x4, Stokes 52/78b/2x6 6x4, Starc 3/84, Hazlewood 3/70) v Australia T1/5 D1/5 at Cardiff. Toss: England.

Once play got under way, after a brief drizzle and a lengthy opening ceremony strongly padded with Welsh windbaggery, England initially faltered to 3/46, then Joe Root, dropped before he'd scored, led a counterattack which, despite Australia's bowling regrouping later in the day, left his team with the better of the day's play.

Not much better perhaps, but enough to keep the spotlight on the successes of Root, Gary Ballance and Ben Stokes as well as on Brad Haddin's failure to catch Root - a little more than a regulation catch yet considerably less than a difficult one. This allowed Alistair Cook's modest and Ian Bell's poor efforts with the bat to avoid much scrutiny.

Root deserves abundant praise for his innings, not just its total but also its quality. His driving along the ground was as crisp and well timed as I've seen for a long time: worth stating awake to watch (pity Channel 9 aren't showing Foxtel - or any- type highlights at a more congenial hour).

Australia's attack was a mixed bag. Mitchell Starc was at times brilliant, at other times all over the place; Mitchell Johnson was out of sorts; Josh Hazlewood was steady with occasional nip (as when he had Adam Lyth sharply caught in the gully); while Nathan Lyon, after being brought on early and dismissing Cook ( a good catch by Haddin) didn't do much thereafter.

From my armchair the two Mitchells looked inaccurate, too often bowling wide of the off stump mark. Glenn McGrath on the radio cut Johnson some slack, on the grounds that the Cardiff pitch didn't suit him. I'll defer to the great man's opinion though would be less confident about the accuracy of his prediction that (unspecified) pitches later in the series will be more to MJ's liking. If they haven't already done so after hearing this England officials will be issuing instructions to the pitch preparation people at each of the other four Test venues.

 The pitch looks OK by UK Test standards for the moment, but could be trickier later in the Test. Australia will, unless they collapse abysmally in their first innings, have last use of it,which should motivate everyone in the eleven to think about how they can improve on their D1 performance and at least keep in touch with England (read as first innings lead) when they bat.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Random thoughts on the eve of the 2015 Ashes

My heart hopes and my head believes that Australia will retain the Ashes. (I was about to predict that Austrslia will win the series, but won't go that far... just yet.)

Australia are on a roll, having just beaten the West Indies 2-0 whereas England could only manage 1-1 (+ a draw) against the same team earlier this year..

Ryan Harris's retirement will affect Australia considerably: despite recurring imjuries and threat thereof he has been the bone marrow of the attack for the last few years. Mitchell Johnson is mercurially brilliant, while Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood have done a good job in recent Tests.Nathan Lyon has plugged away, yet has often been attacked even though, despite conceding a lot of runs on those occasions, he's not often wilted. At least he looks likelier to take wickets than England.s "bowling allrounder (pull the other one) Moeen Ali.

Michael Clarke is a much more assertive leader than Alistair Cook.

Australia appear to be a much better fielding side than England: this was a major difference between the teams in the last series here.

I could go on, but the start of play on T1D1 is at hand. so I'll adjourn to my fireside and settle in for what I hope will be a good night's cricket.