Thursday, December 30, 2010
From those who were in the squad for the 4th Test, obvious exclusions would be Harris and if Katich is fit, Hughes. Following the line that the selectors have taken, clearly Watson, Ponting, Clarke and Hussey will play but despite his encouraging second innings batting Smith will likely be 12th man and replaced by Usman Khawaja. Haddin picks himself leaving the bowlers as Johnson, Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Beer.
It's not the side I would pick. With the Ashes lost and Australia desperately needing to make a start on picking teams for the next five years, its time to move forward, which includes telling Ponting that his time with the (c) apendage is over. Big announcement, lots of sentiment, last day cavalcade, golden handshake but if you can't make up your mind we'll give you the Bill Lawry sendoff.
What of the future captain? The man I'd give it to would be Shane Watson but not just yet. In the interim for twelve to eighteen months, to allow a break between Ponting's legacy and Watson start, Simon Katich would the best choice. That would allow Watson to spend the intervening time learning the ropes as vice-captain. At the same time, I would place Watson in the middle order and give him more involvement in the game.
What of Clarke, the heir apparent? No thanks. He has always seemed too easily distracted from his cricket, too easily shaken by troughs in form and maybe he's just too nice a guy. Leading Australia is a big, bruising job and he hasn't cut the mustard other than his handling of Andrew Symonds misbehaviour. Besides, free of responsibility, he'll bat well for Australia.
My team for Sydney would include a couple of bolters who are in great form and will have a NSW bias because their form dictates it. Phil Hughes would be shelved at Test level for good but held for duty in the shorter stuff. If Katich is fit , he would open with Shaun Marsh, allowing Watson to drop down the order. I know, I know, if it ain't broke don't fix it and Watson opening has certainly been one of the few really good things about an Australian batting line up which has been otherwise brittle for some time but its a move into a new future. If Katich's ankle is still off with the Greek Gods, I'd replace him with Nick Maddinson. Khawaja would bat at 3, Ponting at 4, Hussey 5 and Watson 6 - dropping Clarke in the interim. Haddin at 7 and then my bowlers would start with Nathan Hauritz, who did nothing wrong before being dropped and has done everything right since. Peter Siddle has been the only bowler worth his place this summer so he would be retained and then two new caps would fight for the new ball with Hey Diddle Siddle. Mark Cameron who has done everything right opening the NSW attack and Chris Swan, who despite debuting into his thirties, is the most underrated swing bowler in the country. My 12th man would also be Steve Smith.
It's time for Hilditch and Co to open up the doors of the club, sweep out some of the old and let some fresh air into the building. While they are at it, Andrew, David and Jamie may as well walk out the door for the last time too. Let me extend an invitation to fellow Tragics to nominate their selection panel on the basis that we will retain The Man In The Hat, Greg Chappell. Click on "Comments" below and nominate your choice of three selectors to join Chappell in building Australian cricket's future.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
''I was simply trying to seek clarification from the umpires regarding how the decision had been made after being referred to the third umpire. However, I would be unhappy if anyone thought I was being disrespectful towards the umpires as this wasn't my intention.''
Ponting's Full Defence on Sky News
The captaincy of Australia, it is said, is the second most important job in Australia. Perhaps it could also be said to be the second most privileged place in Australian society. It comes with expectations and responsibilities too but unfortunately, the incumbent has mostly just talked the talk in their regard.
Leadership is an odd thing. Their are many ways to lead ... by example, for instance. By standing out in harms way and beating one's breast and willing your comrades to stand with you. The examples by which one leads, however, are not chosen .. . yes I'll have that one, no I prefer not to do that ... leadership by example is a focus which never goes fuzzy at the edges and allows the leader to have time off. Perhaps this explains why Ricky Ponting so often fails as a leader and resorts to the ideas of others because he finds the glare in the spotlight too constant, too demanding?
The words and terms which Ponting uses to defend his actions on the second day of the annually most watched cricket match in Australia, are those of a man who refuses to accept failure, despite the obvious evidence that he has failed. Much of it is spin provided by the massagers of truth who know the Australian public wants to forgive their man - has to forgive their man - hence the references to the every man, club captains. It's enough to make those without an emotional sporting reference point dependant on the national team's success puke till bile rises and burns the honesty they hold to. My throat is still stinging.
There's deferral of blame too. So carefully inserted ... if he hadn't seen the replay on the big screen, he wouldn't have been so convinced ... therefore, its not Ponting's fault he went from short fuse to walking bomb. The cleverness here is that it's a claim that rings true.
In the end, Ponting says he's sorry, but he's still right about the Pietersen inside edge, because he saw it on the big screen. Cue The Beach Boys and "Won't Back Down" as fresh coats of Teflon are applied to his image by pleasant ladies and gents with wide smiles and so much to tell him about how wonderful he really is. The ultimate lie is to have the liar believe the new truth.
There is so much wrong with what he did but then so much more wrong with how his reaction was stage managed. It's all about us wanting to let this pass because our boys are under enough attack already from the Poms and its also about plausible deniability. If the media savages the skipper under such circumstance, they are unpatriotic.
Lets deal with a few facts. One player reacted to the ball passing by Pietersen's bat and it wasn't Ponting. Vision showed him being convinced into a referral by Haddin. The players watched replays shown ill advisedly on the big screen as the umpires were deciding Pietersen's fate. The replays showed a clear outcome and Aleem Dar communicated that to the players. The fact that Ponting couldn't allow it to end there is, as he has said, totally his responsibility. What followed was a petulant display which goes against a basic tenant of cricket which media and administrators have been breaking a lot lately, "the umpire is always right".
Why did he react with so little restraint?
The answer is only partly to do with the current state of play in a series in which his exalted position has finally failed to have evidence to support it - he has failed to make significant contributions with the bat in all but one innings and that was after the match was safe in Brisbane; he has dropped crucial catches at second slip where he once caught them as if shelling peas; his captaincy has been questioned as being bland and unimaginative as England have piled on runs.
To be truly derivative in seeking an explanation to to this brain explosion, a wander back over the last five years of Ponting's controversies give a truer reason for the refusal to accept the three umpires' opinion in Melbourne.
Ponting dislikes, even hates the use of technology in cricket and has spoken with passion about the shortfalls of its use. Again before this current series, he called on players to deliver an honest appraisal of catches that are a close call and to leave replays out of the decision making loop. He caused a storm in New Zealand when DRS equipment was unable to be used because of winds over 130k/h. In Bangladesh in 2006, Ponting hurled abuse at umpires Ian Howell and Aleem Dar over a referral involving Aftab Ahmed and lost 25% of his match fee when referee Jeff Crowe found him guilty.In the DLF one day series in 2006, he launched an attack on umpire Mark Benson when he reversed a decision to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar and match referee decided not to proceed to disciplinary action. Even in this series, Ponting became annoyed by a third umpire decision in Brisbane when he felt he had held a fair catch from Alastair Cook and it was overturned.
Technology and its proper application may be a sore point for Ponting but the problem isn't just that. In 2005, Ponting blew up with Dar when he was run out by England substitute Gary Pratt, claiming England had no right to have a fielding specialist acting in the role of "acting" 12th man. His tally of five convictions for dissent against umpires in his six years as Captain can't all be blamed on technology but may have some basis in the personnel involved. It was interesting that he chose to comment on how expert the umpires for this match are, as at least three of the five conduct violations have involved Aleem Dar as the other party.
Ponting has always lacked self-control and despite spin to cover his tracks, his short fuse was apparent well before his ascent to the captaincy. A black eye when his reputation was reduced to annoying pest by a jealous boyfriend at a notorious Sydney nightclub haunt and his penis flopping display in an Indian equivalent are just two of the less delightful examples of warnings which should have seen him confined to the ranks. Unfortunately, we entered an era when performance was everything and Ponting performances were better than any. In return, he has traded on his role as a means of supplying rocket fuel to his batting and becoming easily the most dominant batsman of his generation and likely its most dangerous.
Perhaps the worst example of his aggressive, in your face petulance which owes as much to his immaturity as to the willingness of Cricket Australia to tolerate it, was the home series again the Indians three summers ago. India came to Australia on equal footing with the confident Australians who had squashed England the summer before and were taking a bruising, winner take all approach to Test cricket. Perhaps, in some way, Ponting needed to adopt an approach that might compensate for the hole left by match winners Warne, McGrath and the influential Langer, who despite being the toughest cricketer of his generation, also knew where the line was and kept Ponting from crossing it.
India were crushed in the Boxing Day Test, Hayden making one of three hundreds against them that summer and the bowlers, including a young and inexperienced Mitchell Johnson, easily ran through them. In the second game in Sydney, Ponting two enforcer's, Hayden and Symonds, were a physical presence over the Indians but their off spinner, Harbhajan Singh refused to take a backward step and suddenly the two bully boys were screaming like eight year olds who were about to be found out by the teacher and the match exploded into alleged racial taunts and the sort of bad blood one would expect to find along the Indian/Pakistani border. Then when Michael Clarke took three wickets in an over, deep into the last hour's allotment, Ponting exploded in one of the crassest displays that misfortune would allow. Many observers, were appalled and some, such as Peter Roebuck, called for his head, rightly stating that this was conduct unbecoming.
Cricket Australia sat on its hands and changed its name.
How much is enough? Apparently no amount of regular poor conduct from the Australian Captain will move either the ICC or Cricket Australia or the selectors to make a move against him. Perhaps they should note the spontaneous booing which began after five minutes of the most recent bat-and-ball-go-home stuff in Melbourne and again directed at Aleem Dar. It was no longer just the Balmy Army singing jeers at a man they once admired and feared. Australians in the outer voiced their disapproval at being so poorly represented by the man with the biggest share of little man syndrome in Australian sport. Even Members hissed their contempt.
The ICC, having taken part and whole match payment from him repeatedly, continues to slap his wrist and provide no disincentive. Given the severity of this incident in Melbourne and its repeating nature, a suspension would have been more in order. In soccer, if you stack those yellow cards, it doesn't matter who you are, you watch from the sidelines. Cricket, with all its genteel pretensions can stomach no such thing, having to be forced to take action against obvious cheats only when the media applies pressure. Toothless tigers rarely worry the hunters.
The show is almost over but whilst you and I can hear the Fat Lady warming up, Ricky Ponting still thinks he'll smack England for 100 in Sydney and life will go on. He doesn't like losing but hasn't seemed to notice how often it is happening. His high performance Alzheimer's makes him forgetful of dropped catches and the regularity with which an opener stands, watching him leave for the sheds. He doesn't notice younger players who adore him rushing to his defence. The arbiter of "the line", Justin Langer, needs to move beyond his batting coach role and have a word.
For Ponting's sake and more broadly for Australian cricket, I hope this man whose batting genius has made us all gape at our own inadequacy, will think on the consequences and call it a day in Sydney. As much as I have disliked and critiqued his captaincy and his inability to lead, I'd still like the chance to wave him off at the SCG and reminisce on his behalf on great innings that belong, properly to the past. I hold no malice and would rather hold no regret.
The time is right Skipper. For once, step away from other's plans and suggestions, sniff the breeze and strut your stuff one last time and let us afford you the praise your sumptuous batting and wonderful fielding has well and truly earned.
Johnson and Hilfenhaus made only temporary appearances. Johnson played one on from Tremlett fifth ball of the morning and Hilfenhaus snicked his fourth ball from Bresnan to Prior to start the jubilation. Harris stayed in the sheds on his crutches.
England retain the Ashes with this innings victory which even makes comprehensive seem an understatement. Whilst other talented English sides have toured these shores before, has their been a better team? History might well reveal that no English side has been this focused, this well prepared and indeed this ruthless about targeting opposition players ... none at least since Jardine's band of merry men.
Brave words are being said about Sydney and momentum shifts and England partying hard but the reality is somewhat different from these Australian fantasies - fantasies which refused to believe England could beat us on our own patch. England will be ready for Sydney, our selections and attitude will continue to be suspect and Australia will rally round the flag with no one to strike back and loose again in Sydney. Rallying in the past has had wonderful agents like Warne, McGrath, Waugh ... the list goes on ... Australia has none of those and none like them.
Australia, you have less than two weeks to adjust to England 3, Australia 1.
This Session: England
Sessions This Test: England 6, Australia 3, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 24, Australia 16, Shared 6
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Australia had their best session of the Test match as England were content to take whatever runs they could and gradually build their lead. The wickets fell at the start and end of the session and again it was Peter Siddle who did the damage.
Siddle started with Harris and whilst Harris was breaking down and having to leave the MCG with an ankle injury likely to rume him out of the 5th Test, Siddle fooled Prior into a lofted drive to Ponting at mid on and then found Brensnan's edge to Haddin. Then, with a Pfieffer in the bag and a spell of just 2-12 off five overs, Ponting inexplicably removed Siddle for the next hour whilst Johnson went for plenty and Hilfenhaus kept it tight.
All the while, Jonathan Trott didn't seem to be bothered whether he faced, scored runs or generally took part. Has their every been a more unflustered Englishman?
Hilfenhaus finally had some luck when Swann took a crazy swing at a short ball and Haddin held an excellent catch high above his outstretched frame. Reverse swing accounted for Tremlett and Hilfenhaus had doubled his wicket tally for the series. Siddle, finally invited back to the bowling crease, finished the English innings an hour later than was necessary when he bowled Anderson.
Australia will start their second innings 415 behind it what could only be looked at as an impossibility with the Ashes on the line.
This Session: Australia
Sessions This Test: England 4, Australia 2, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 22, Australia 15, Shared 6
Tea - Australia 1-95 (Watson 50, Ponting 19)
Another session to Australia and a good start in the quest to perform the impossible and save this Test. Hughes and Watson started brightly and within nine overs Anderson and Tremlett had been relieved and 50 was on the board. In charge, the openers their conceived a disaster as Watson pushed a ball to Trott, short in the covers, took off and starnded Hughes when Trott's throw was as accurate as you would expect from that range.
Ponting came in to a heroes welcome and with accusations and apologies still fresh. It took fifteen deliveries before he was underway and a second scoring shot didn't happen for another ten balls. Cautious and still prone to all the areas England has exposed he set himself for the long haul but was still regularly hit on the pads making Strauss think hard about reviews and that bat still angled down and across outside off stump.
Watson at the other end survived an edge which just failed to carry to Prior but otherwise stroked the ball well, especially his drives.
Bresnan bowled an excellent seven over spell which gave up only two scoring strokes and along with Anderson, was reversing the ball inside 20 overs.
A great start for Australia but a long, long way to go until the safety of the harbour welcomes them.
This Session: Australia
Sessions This Test: England 4, Australia 3, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 22, Australia 16, Shared 6
The work that had been done to create hope among Australian supporters was dashed quickly after tea in four overs by Tim Bresnan. Bowling in tandem with Swann, Bresnan had dried the runs up before tea and in the first over after the resumption, Watson had square driven him confidently before shouldering arms and handing over his wicket. This is not uncommon for Watson who is out lbw more often than any other mode of dismissal in Test cricket (34%) but to do so without playing a shot seems beyond comprehension.
Ponting, so full of concentration in an effort to reverse a summer which has finally disappointed him after the love affair he has enjoyed for so many years with the glaring sun and hard sun-scorched wickets and a public which forgave any human flaws. His disbelief, as he stood in front of a castle he helped Bresnan tear down with an inside edge, became an awful reality. Hussey lasted only 8 balls before pushing an uppish drive to Bell who held a sharp catch at short cover and Australia's constant saviour this summer was gone without scoring.At the other end, Swann was wheeling down maidens and was unlucky not to claim Clarke when he danced down the track and both he and Prior missed it but he didn't have to wait that long for a return from the same source. Andrew Strauss moved himself into a second slip, Swann went around the wicket and Clarke edged into Strauss' hands just two balls later.
Smith played a good hand, playing his shots when there were none on offer from a frugal England, with his unusual mixture of the unorthodox but his runs only came against the faster men. Eventually, this bright light of the afternoon was snuffed out when he hooked at a returning Anderson on the front foot and played on. Anderson looked exhausted.
In a long session, Swann finally gave way after bowling for more than two hours and taking 1-18 in a seventeen over spell, as Bresnan came back to try and finish it.
News that Harris has a broken ankle almost certainly means that Australia will bat one man short. The caterers may be lucky to be needed for lunch tomorrow.
Monday, December 27, 2010
With skies overcast again but their ball 47 overs old, the Australians approached the second day with attack being far from their mind. Without the luxury of runs to play with, Harris and Siddle opened the bowling to tight lines on off stump to the English openers in order to restrict runs and build pressure. It's a tactic rarely used this summer as Ponting's men have preferred to bowl short and attempt intimidation and in doing so, have wasted opportunities. Patience this morning saw Siddle take both Cook and Strauss with deliveries which were put in the right areas to illicit mistakes - Cook having a ball run across him and off an angled blade to Watson at slip and Strauss getting a ball which lifted enough to find the edge of a rapidly closing bat and Hussey took the mark high over his head in the gully.
Suddenly, England had lost 2-13 in nine overs. Hilfenhaus replaced Harris and bowled a tight ten over spell which cost him only 14 runs and during which he disregarded his stock out swinger and replaced it with off cutter. Trott was several times cramped by the ball moving back at him from a batting surface which is blossoming into a gold mine of run treasures. Pietersen and Trott were playing with common sense and straight bats and happily collected the few ones and twos on offer.
Johnson came and went and whilst not expensive, he never looked likely to penetrate with deliveries slanting across the bat or spearing onto leg stump but the swing of Perth an absent friend. Johnson looks much the way he did in Brisbane, a welcome treat for the English but complete waste of his place as the fourth seamer.
Ponting played the leg spin card, finally, in the last twenty minutes, unaware it seems of the compulsive way in which the England number four approaches spin. Whilst the left hand orthodox spinners may have dismissed him 16% of the time he has batted, more pertinent is his losing of his wicket to all types of spinners 37% of the time. He just can't stop himself from needing to dominate them. This should have been a device with which to expose him but instead, Smith bowled three overs in the shadow of lunch and once or twice Pietersen's blood was rushing him to another demise.
This was an excellent, professional session from both side and Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Harris and Smith did their best but the English are in no hurry to establish a winning lead with the only innings they intend to play in Melbourne. Their target of 70 runs a session was met at reasonable expense and should it be repeated for the rest of the day the lead will be 270 with six wickets down. Of course, the last session might prove to be more fruitful as the Australians struggle to remain enthusiastic in the face of their first day batting failure.
This Session: Shared
Sessions This Test: England 3, Australia 0, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 21, Australia 13, Shared 6
Tea - England 5-305 (Trott 65, Prior 12. Siddle 3-41, Johnson 2-72)
The truth that Test cricket is the absorbing form of the game was again on display in the second session at Melbourne. Both sides have achieved what they would have sought from session - Australia 3 wickets and England 78 runs.
For England, Jonathan Trott stood resolute during the two hour session, despite the Australian plan to limit his range of shots outside off stump and keep the ball angling back into his off peg. This is a dangerous ploy for a man so adept at working the ballt o the leg side but it has worked. After lunch, Pietersen flourished briefly in what looked to be another build up to critical mass when he would explode but Siddle removed him with a ball which slid on and trapped him in front of leg stump.
Siddle had a hand in the other two wickets that fell, catching Collingwood and then Bell of short balls from Johnson under the two men back policy that has been so widely questioned. Collingwood, so out of form that he looks to be searching for each shot, played a reckless hook that better form would have sent over midwicket and Bell was fooled by the imperative to attack Johnson and skied a ball that was too close to off stump and to high to control. In both cases, Siddle made good finishes.
Unfortunately for Australian cricket, the gradual demise of Ponting was again highlighted with an ungly display a few overs into the new ball. Harris beat Pietersen on the inside edge and Haddin made a lonely appeal which Clarke and even the bowler Harris were seen to be shaking their heads to concur with the not out decision by umpire Dar. Haddin insisted and bent Ponting's will to a referral and after all the technology was examined, the third umpire's decision was a clear and undisputable not out. At that point, for reasons known only to him and presumably Peter Siddle who had involved himself, Ponting engage in a finger-shaking argument which went on for minutes and created an ugly spectacle. He and Siddle may expect some time with the match referee as a result.
The session finished slightly in Australia's favour but would have been more so had Johnson not bowled a no ball when having Matt Prior caught behind. Having been given out, Prior was recalled by the umpire - Dar again - because he suspected it had been a no ball. Video agreed and Prior was reinstated.
This Session: Australia
Sessions This Test: England 3, Australia 1, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 21, Australia 14, Shared 6
Stumps - England 5-444 (Trott 141, Prior 75. Siddle 3-58, Johnson 2-103)
If the first two sessions were Australia fighting to maintain respect from their opponent and their supporters, then the last was total capitulation. Trott and Prior added 158, passing the record for this wicket in Melbourne set in March of 1929 as Patsy Hendren and Maurice Leyland put the finishing touches on an 5-1 English series win, despite the debut of certain lad from Bowral.
Troot played a highly professional hand, remaining in control despite be floored by a blow to his knee when he was on 87. Stoically, he refused a runner and scored another fifty on on one and a half legs, thrusting his chest out to the best Australia could offer. Prior, scratchy before tea, blossomed as the bowlers lost heart and canned short bowling outside off stump, repeatedly smashing square cuts to the boundary.
Ponting did his best but you can't run a farm with bad stock and only Siddle was a cash cow today. He stood tall, involved himself in everything taking wickets and catches but even that was beyond him as the Melbourne day drew on to its sunniest and warmest periods late in the afternoon. Hilfenhaus looks tired and the frustration of constantly beating the edge of English bats for no reward earlier in the series has taken its toll. His summer needs to end here. Harris tried in that big chested way he does but the wicket held no treats to assist him. Smith bowled with enthusiasm and little else, always looking concerned about getting another over and therefore bowled only leg breaks which didn't turn, even from the rough.
England have won the series and sometime in the next day and a half they will confirm it.
Meanwhile, the fate of Ricky Ponting is awaited follwoing another ugly on field incident after a referral for a not out decision when only Haddin thought a ball had hit the inside edge of Pietersen's bat. He argued for more than five minutes with Dar, aided by Siddle, on the basis of something he thought he saw on a scoreboard hotspot replay. It begs the question as to why DRS replays are being shown to patrons whilst umpires are ponding. Regardless, Ponting's actions were not along and don't represent an isolated incident as he has been an offender in this regard toward umpires at other times in his career. In the end, any punishment handed down by match referee Ranjan Madugalle may be less than the verdict haded Ponting by his home crowd. Toward the end of the tirade, they booed him. That doesn't happen to Aussie custodians on home soil too often.
The lack of runs, the dropped catches, the irrasible behaviour all point in sharper focus to an end which has been approaching faster than Ponting has wanted. Here's hoing he can follow the example of team mates like McGrath, Gilchrist, Warne, Waugh and Taylor and announce Sydney will be his last. Despite reservations about his captaincy, his career as a cricketer deserves no more fitting end than to end befor a home crowd as a legend.
This Session: England
Sessions This Test: England 4, Australia 1, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 22, Australia 14, Shared 6
Postcript - Ponting fined ... follow link
Sunday, December 26, 2010
How confident are this English team? Confident enough that Captain Andrew Strauss can win the toss and bowl for a second consecutive Test, despite losing last week when he sent the Australians in at Perth. Confident enough that despite having the best weapon for bowling last, he'd still rather bowl first. Perhaps the fact that Australia was choosing to play four quicks and would have to bowl last might have also had a bearing.
Regardless, just as in Perth, the English bowlers have done their job, sending back four of the Australians by the time a shower ended the session five minutes earlier than scheduled. The significant difference was that the last of them - a couple of deliveries before the break - was Mike Hussey.
It was a morning which ran at a hectic pace. After only thirteen deliveries, Watson had been dropped twice from Anderson - Collingwood a diving effort low at third slip and Pietersen a dreadful miss in the gully - but the English didn't drop their bundle. Only an over later, Tremlett made a ball get big on Watson and it flew at a gentle lob to Pietersen to recant for his sins in the gully. Ponting a lot of time over getting his innings underway and when the first single came, it was almost at the expense of Hughes, who may have been run out if short leg Cook could throw as well as he bats. Ponting and Hughes had flashes of attack, the former playing two outstanding pull shots to end Anderson's first spell but in the over before drinks, the latter slashed a ill-conceived drive at Bresnan and Pietersen again took the catch. It was a dreadful shot and the very reason why Hughes should not be selected at this level.
Tremlett returned and picked up Ponting with a corker of a deliver. Admittedly, Ponting was again squared up and playing with his blade angled toward the open but he can wear no real blame for being dismissed by such a good delivery.
Clarke entered and played with intent with the always focussed Hussey. England used up both reviews in order to remove the left hander but instead turned up the pressure with tight bowling from Bresnan, Tremlett and then Swann which gave little away except to Clarke whose driving earned him two fours. Ten overs cost only 21 runs and with clouds threatening and lunch only an over away, Anderson was reintroduced and removed Hussey with a fine ball which moved across him and edged into Prior's gloves. Smith walked to the middle of the MCG, faced a ball and then ran off with the rest for a slightly early lunch.
Hussey's will no doubt be prone to indigestion.
England have made the same start they made to the Perth Test, with four Australian's gone by lunch and another four chances gone begging. If they finish the Australians this time - for less than 200 - they could well be on the final leg of their journey to retain the Ashes. With Hussey gone, Strauss will be certain to insist on no second chances.
This Session: England
Sessions This Test: England 1, Australia 0
Sessions This Series: England 19, Australia 13, Shared 5
Tea - Australia 98 (Clarke 20. Tremlett 4-26, Anderson 4-44, Bresnan 2-25)
Inglorious would be an understatement if used to provide a summary of the Australian batting but it would also be unfair to give any indication as to their abject failure which could be attributed to the batting. The truth is, the same truth which has been barely below the surface all series, England were far too good.
In overcast conditions, it was swing and seam which exposed the flaws in Australian technique so used to rock hard pitches and Kookaburra balls that just come straight up and down. As they did in England - in fact, as English seamers have across the whole history of Ashes cricket whenever the games are played in the Old dart - the English moved the ball about and hard hands thrust bats ill-advisedly in the direction of the ball's flight, only to find it had moved half a bat's width away. The revelation has been the ability of Anderson, then Tremlett and now Bresnan to do so in Australia. That achievement owes much to David Saker and Mark Taylor. Saker as the English bowling coach who bought a box of Kookas to training last August and Taylor as the man from Cricket Australia who toured the major grounds during the winter and suggesting more grass be left on the top of our pitches.
Today, in Melbourne, England bowled very, very well and Australia had no answer. Tremlett was superb but then, so was Anderson, who's 31 deliveries either side of the rain/lunch break earned him Hussey, Smith, Clarke and Johnson for 11 runs and turned the Australian innings into a parade of legless men. Yes the wicket seamed a little and yes the ball swung a little but it was the relentless pressure which caused the Australians to spend 43 overs making 98 runs and bleeding wickets all the way.
How good was the bowling? All ten wickets fell to catches behind the stumps and two others were dropped there. That's how good.
Australia won the Centenary Test from a similar position on the first day in 1977 but then, they had Dennis Lillee. From where I sit, all I see are shot ducks.
This Session: England
Sessions This Test: England 2, Australia 0
Sessions This Series: England 20, Australia 13, Shared 5
Stumps - England 0-157 (Strauss 64, Cook 80)
The elongated last session didn't just belong to England, it underlined all the things which England has done so much better than Australia throughout this series, with the exception of the first day in Brisbane and the last three days in Perth. In the morning sessions, England had bowled tight lines and pressured the Australian batsmen. The Australians, in response put their bats in harms way, drawing them like moths to a red, swinging flame and flicking peas to the gleefull English for them to for them to shell. Bats met ball on all sorts of angles and with such hardness and with little regard for danger.
In the afternoon, three quarters of a shocked 80 000 watched as the Australians bowled straight deliveries passed the Strauss and Cook's bored edges as the the English Captain and his heir apparent either showed straight or no bats held with soft hands. Hilfenhaus aside, no Australian bowler swung the ball. Harris and in particular Siddle were earnest honest and gave the best of what they had to the task but even then, they weren't good enough. Johnson was again back to dreadful and not one ball deviated ... the swing is once again gone from his lightning arm.
After 35 overs, the policy of four quicks was in tatters and even Watson could make no difference. Smith was eventually summoned and did his best but on a perfect first day wicket, now baking under the afternoon Melbourne sun.
England have the Ashes and they will achieve their goal of winning in Australia. After today, nothing is more certain.
This Session: England
Sessions This Test: England 3, Australia 0
Sessions This Series: England 21, Australia 13, Shared 5
Regardless of the size of the Perth victory, there are still more questions to be asked of the Australians than the English and most are the same quizzes that had been proposed before the series started.
Only half the Australia top six is in form. Shane Watson has been consistently pulling and driving the English fast men with that broad blade of his and it is only in moments of self mounted pressure that he allows doubt to get him out - hence the second innings lbw to Tremlett, a familiar mode of execution for Watson but one that disappears when he is striding forward with the longest reach in cricket. Brad Haddin, the perennial scrapper, has fought these Englishmen ball after ball and deserves to be batting at six but perhaps, by his own choice, stays at the traditional, Rod Marsh established seven. Michael Hussey has had enough written of him in three Tests to ensure deserved legend status and in reality, he is the main reason Australia are still floating along beside the HMS Britannia on apparently even terms because until now, he has negated Graeme Swann.
Of the others, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and which ever left hander opens with Watson, have all structured a consistency based on failure. Ponting and Clarke are great players so they can be expected to score well in at least one innings of the four that may be left to them this series. Ponting likes to fight from behind the advantage line and there is no question mark over his toughness so if Australia bat first in front of Melbourne crowd baying for Christians to slay the Lions, don't be surprised if the pugnacious little nut tries to take the game away from England. Clarke, despite his ability, has other question to answer and Hughes is not a Test standard batsman.
England's batting line up will be relieved to have left Perth but rather than blame the pitch, they will have needed to redress the real issues with a batting line up that had been more dominant that even the 1970-71 side in the first two Tests. Some poor shots were played and the capitulation under psychological fire in the second innings was atypical of their tour. England don't need to improve their batting technique, their need to change their cause and response to the verbal games with which the Australians pantsed them in Perth. Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior and James Anderson are just three who were too easily distracted from looking at the big picture after having previously looked more mature than to be trapped by Australian verbal aggression. How they change their response will decide the Ashes.
Collingwood is the only weakness in this batting line up and Bell, frankly, its star, but calls to promote Bell to three are among the most unrealistic made so far in this summer of claim and counter claim. Bell to five is do-able but will further undermine Collingwood's confidence and expose him very little less than he currently is. Bell to four would rattle the castle of the often fragile Pietersen and England need him to be robust. Bell to three would unseat England's next best technical batsman and Bell has never had prolonged success in that high placement. The only real option was Bell to five and a new batsman at six and that's not likely.
Thanks to poor selection, Australia's bowling choices are limited and more likely to loose them the Melbourne Test than win it. Four quicks on the slow MCG will deliver the game to England from lunch on Day 3 onwards which means Michael Beer must make the most pressured debut in Ashes cricket in the last thirty years. In doing so, the selectors have placed Little Red Riding Hood in the hands of the Big Bad Wolf, hoping for another fairy tale ending whose basis is that Englishmen can't play the style of spin bowling they most face in county cricket. The young man best be more hops than froth but oh my, Grandma, what wide bats they have.
Siddle is muted to be the man who will mix drinks until the New Year but given the way Hilfenhaus has been mistreated by the firm of Hilditch and Co, don't be surprised if the Victorian plays, especially given the role of Major Mongrel that the skipper entrusted him with in Perth. Harris and Johnson earned their spot last week and Smith will certainly bowl given the nature of the wicket.
England's only real selection quandary lies in whether Steve Finn plays. The young man takes wickets but in Perth as well as Adelaide, he gave away runs bowling the right line but the wrong length. His height and lively enough pace make him a threat to the Aussies but he was either way too short or way to full in Perth and was hammered for it. Some say he is tired but can a 21 year old be so tired so quickly? He takes wickets at a good clip and has done all his Test career but unless he can keep the pressure applied at one end when it is his turn to do so, Swann loses effectiveness. Placing this Australian batting line up under pressure is the key strategy that Andrew Strauss and the playmakers of England formulated to win the series this summer and Finn is allowing it to unravel. Despite doubts, Anderson will be fit and Tremlett has certainly bowled himself into this side and was far more effective that than the baby-faced assassin Broad, whom he replaced. Tim Bresnan should therefore replace Finn - at least for Melbourne - giving Strauss a fresh start on the pressure approach and providing a handy extra batsman at eight, allowing Swann to be a very useful nine.
I have previously stated England will win in Melbourne and Perth hasn't changed that opinion. It will boil down to a few key issues:
- Swann will have his best pitch of the series. He must come to terms with and master Hussey. If he can't master him, he must keep him quiet
- England's three pacemen must keep the Australians under pressure, making runs difficult. There can be no half volleys or half trackers. Make them work for runs and the Australians can become brittle
- Johnson must be able to deliver the inswinger. His spell in the first innings at Perth won the Test match but there wasn't one inswinger in the second innings
- England must treat the sledging with a "stiff upper lip". If they engage, they open themselves up psychologically. Their mental strength had been their trump until Perth
- Ponting's captaincy was never under pressure in Perth, as first plans worked. It's when he has to think on his feet and adapt or adopt second or third plans he resorts to "barn door" field placing and poor bowling selections
- Beer must succeed. He must worry the Englishmen. He must dominate them. He must make a remarkable debut
Weighing the evidence, Australia has a lot of "ifs" that need to go right and England just two "buts" but who can tell what might happen in that cauldron of national fervour that is the MCG on Boxing Day. In the seventies, 90 000 mad florists calling for "Lillee, Lillee" was enough for otherwise strong Englishmen to shatter to dust but I'm not sure what the effect of the same number of slobbering yobbos wanting to show off their Johnson will have.
England to win I think.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The interview can be found to the left of this page.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
This is a fine win by Australia, made more so by the heaviness of their defeat in Adelaide and their failure to make inroads into a compromised English batting line up in the second innings at Brisbane. As this game started, pundits were talking of Ashes retained before Christmas and how long it was since that had been done and yet, only just four days later, England have been thrashed and the series is alive.
Objectivity is a useful thing in most circumstances but dangerous when its outcomes lean away from the home side. Then, patriotism is questioned. Loyalty is called upon in sentences which suggest blindness. The fact is, despite my Australianess, I have a larger loyalty and that is to the game. Blessed with whatever skills I may have to observe and form judgments, I owe it to the larger ferment that is cricket to form thoughts clear of passion for vegemite sandwiches, sand between my toes or a gentle bush breeze late on a summer afternoon.
Therefore, looking at this result, what's to be made of the rest of the series? Those who follow will know that my original assessment of the teams was that England would be too well prepared, too mentally tough and too skilled for the Australians. My 3-1 prediction included Australia winning in Perth, so the result is not one I would argue with, by virtue of the performances of the players or what I anticipated.
Breaking it down, as I suggested would be the case, England struggled on a revitalised Perth wicket which had a thick cover of grass and bounce that lasted through the Test. Australia - one imagines at the captains request - let loose the dogs of war in the form of a barrage of sledging and aggressive bowling, which included the session by Siddle against Prior in the first innings, with the intention of intimidating and it worked. Australia under Ponting has done this before and always when the chips are down - think of India in Australia a few years ago in Sydney when Symonds was the expendable spear thrower of barbs designed by Hayden, Johnson and Ponting. There were actions in that game I never want to see from an Australian captain again.
All of this was very much to the advantage of a re-installed Johnson in Perth. Yes his action was higher and in the first innings he bowled beautiful inswingers and trapped Englishmen in front time and again with the deadliest ball in cricket. His was the best bowling performance of the summer. All that came after he scored runs on the first day and engaged in several "dust off" moments with Anderson and others. A man of two moods - unbeatable one day trashed the next - he rode this particular bullet proof hobby horse home to give a superb performance.
Harris was equally pumped and the last over of Day 3 which he bowled to Collingwood was amongst the best by an Aussie fast bowler I have seen for 20 years. The last ball dismissal and the ducking and weaving and apparent fear in Colly's face is certainly enough to cause England misgivings about their best fielder and perhaps even enough to unseat him from the starting line up in Melbourne.
Hilfenhaus continues to bowl without luck and day in and out is Australia's best bowler. Nothing in Perth changes that opinion and Siddle gave a tradesman like performance, injecting the mongrel back into the Aussie attack.
England were rolled in the first innings but batted poorly in the second, shots by Pietersen and Trott well below their standard. Collingwood is in real danger of losing his spot, as the Australians seemed to have his measure. That over from Harris was enough to finally break him.
That's all the relatively positive news for Australia but, on balance, Melbourne and Sydney won't be so easy as Perth. Both tracks play lower and slower than the WACA and that favours England rather than Australia.
The Australian team hierarchy now have to cool Johnson down lest he kill Santa and then bring him up again to play on Boxing Day, because for Australia to win, Johnson must be the spearhead. Both tracks will take spin as the game goes on and the Australians still don't have a spinner they can count on with the deciding games requiring one. Meanwhile, England have Swann, who will need to be better managed than he was in Perth.
England won't bat, as a team, as badly again. Tremlett is a big addition for them and he should be suited by conditions at the remaining venues. Despite Broad's big rep, Tremlett looks the far more impressive bowler. The English bowling attack didn't do badly in Perth, taking twenty wickets for 577 so there's not a lot of change required.
The really big danger for Australia is the dominance that Hussey and Watson have in their batting line up and the poor form of Ponting and Clarke, the absence of a second reliable opener and the newness of Smith. This is placing a heavy burden on Haddin and Johnson and on the day when Hussey finally fails, supporters will have fingers, legs and everything crossed that others might fill the gap. Despite England playing collapso stupedo in Perth, its the Australian batting which looks soft.
Nothing much changes in my appraisal as a result Australia's outstanding work at the WACA. Pitch conditions won't give them an edge again in the series. Both sides have shown what they can do, its a matter now of who is mentally stronger for most of the time. With too many ifs, buts and maybes about Australia's batting and their performance standard being as brittle as a bad mood, its still England I see winning the series 3-1.
No matter how it turns out, at least now we have a contest and one where the fickle Australian supporters who were throwing talkback stones last Thursday, are now throwing their support behind their team again. We don't half set impossible standards for the men who do what we never could.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
This Session: Australia
Sessions this Test: Australia 5, England 3, Shared 1
Sessions This Series: England 18, Australia 12, Shared 5