Monday, January 31, 2011
- the roof was yet to be put on the new stand
- there was no seating installed
- exterior security fencing was incomplete
- workers accommodation inside the stadium has not been removed
- the corporate area has not be commenced
- playing lighting has not be tested or confirmed
- there are no entry gates
- insufficient area for the mounting of TV cameras, including the mid wicket camera position which is no BEHIND the new stand
- health, safety and disaster management planning has not be certified or even presented
- there are no electronic replay screens only a manual scoreboard
- the radio broadcast position requires police supervision to prevent crowd invasion
Following the release of the report and the removal of the game from the venue, Indian cricket authorities refused to accept any liability as they claimed the renovations were being made to cater for an ICC run event so therefore, under that famous Indian logic, its the ICC who are to blame.
Goodness gracious me! (head wobbles)
Footnote: The ICC have announced (1st Feb) that Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore will now be the venue for the India v England game on 27th Feb. A further inspection will be made of Eden Gardens on Feb 7 in connection with other games it was meant to host.
Meanwhile, Australia's preparation couldn't have been much better against England. As the visitors bowlers have just as gradually fallen away in length and fitness, Australia have gradually flexed their muscles and are looking a mentally stronger unit for the opening games of the World Cup. Michael Clarke led the way in the latest game in Brisbane with a steady half century as the Australians scored at a steady five an over. England were shattered early thanks to Lee and Bollinger and never recovered on a wicket which wasn't kind to strokemakers. With this series wrapped up, Australia looks a different side ... which in reality, it is. Marsh, White and Hussey have looked unimpressed by the English bowlers, perhaps because they haven't been part of the failures. Brett Lee has superb and has one last dramatic roll of the dice left for that big sub continent casino. John Hastings has been a big acquisition and even the much maligned Mitchell Johnson bowled with economy yesterday after being flayed to all parts of the boundary fences around Australia earlier in the summer by the roaring lions.
A few remaining quickies ...
... the English Lions are blowing their own Gayle through the West Indies with Andre Gayle scoring a brisk half century against St Kitts a few days ago ...
... with many people making calls on Cricket Australia to have their contracted stars playing more games at the grassroots level and the Big Mob claiming they have their players heavily involved in such things as supporting community events - such as high profile visits to flood affected areas in Qld - the reality of the situation was shown last Friday. Michael Clarke, looking to regain form and get back to basics, asked CA for permission to play for his club side Western Suburbs last Saturday as they were batting. CA refused and Clarke attended to more CA appearances in Qld on Saturday afternoon. It seems one of the parties involved has his head in the right space ...
... finally, the news that Nathan Bracken has announced his retirement from cricket comes at the end of nearly three years of battling a knee that would not bend to the wishes of its owner. The big coathanger with the string headband was an ornament to the short game, taking 174 ODI wickets and wasn't used anywhere near enough in Tests, where his potential and action were vastly superior to another left hander much favoured and rumoured to bowl inswingers. His work on ABC Grandstand has been impressive without venturing into the blokey inside knowledge style favoured by Warnie. At 33, he's too young to be finished.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Ponting Says 5-0 Ashes Win is Absolutely Possible
The article has been sitting among my Ashes series readings (in the left side bar) since then but before I trash it, follow the link and experience blind, arrogant audacity one more time and ask yourself if you really think Ponting has any role in Australian cricket beyond the World Cup.
How many times can the key members of Cricket Australia fail and expect further invitations?
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
It's just that there are so many of them! Often whilst players are having their ODIs checked and coming up with a Twenty20 vision of the game, they might otherwise be participating in Sheffield Shield matches in Australia or a host of other first class cricket competitions battling for survival elsewhere in the sparsely populated cricket world. So good players are getting better whilst the next generation plays games lonely for the cream and the quality they might percolate to the top in others. It is a form of neglect that has the air of eschatology but the judgment will fall not on those who designed it but rather those who condone its continuance.
Among the problems the three tiers of cricket governance have created is the selection of players. Too often players are graduating to Test cricket, not from the longer form of first class cricket but from the Australian Twenty20 team and in particular, from the ODI side. Hence the elevation of Eggzavier Doherty who the press recorded as taking "four Sri Lankan wickets including Sangakkara" before the Ashes got underway and QED won a prized Baggy Green. Hence the elevation of Steven Smith, a nice kid with great hands but without the batting technique to be taken as a serious No 6 in Tests and little more than a net bowler as yet. We have this continual equivalent of nice legs shame about the face haunting our Test team.
England entered this ODI series still hungover, drunk on an achievement Strauss could only dream of four years ago as Ponting's super side tore their hides and threw the chunks to Warne, McGrath and Langer as Hayden and Gilchrist stood buy with one eye on their own career clock. Anderson has been on paternity leave, Pietersen, Prior and Swann still doing the sprinkler dance and Collingwood has sadly disintegrated before our eyes. Their one day specialists have added little and its hard to think they really care. Home and some hero worship is all they'll need to be British Bulldogish for the World Cup.
Australia, on the other hand specifically designed for spanking, got off to a morale boasting flier thanks to the future Test Skipper Shane Watson who played one of the truly great one day innings in Melbourne to roll an England total that should have been more than enough. His hammering of the two Sydney Test heroes, Tremlett and Bresnan, was heady stuff and more than enough to put the Poms away for the following two games where first Shaun Marsh in Hobart and then Brad Haddin and David Hussey in Sydney did the business on the English bowlers. Brett Lee has been a revelation for those of us who can not only spell "pension" but are are happy with the soft warmth it provides.
This series has allowed Clark to redeem himself with the Australian public but despite his good showing as the mover of coloured chess pieces and reasonable batting form, John Q is not quite convinced about his commitment - an unfair assessment really. Perhaps he needs to chew and spit on hands before rubbing them together at the start of the action or maybe dust off with an umpire. There are bouncers in Sydney nightclubs just waiting to knock him out.
Of course it might take more than that. Perhaps we should give the lad some space and let him mould this side a little before Punter returns for his last dose of hero worship.
One thing's for certain. Don't rely on these games as a form guide for the World Cup. England will be strong but its not them who we'll have to beat to send Ponting into a happy retirement. Sri Lanka will be hardest, then India and Pakistan. Long odds the rest, including South Africa.
This is just more froth and bubble to keep journalists employed.
A win in this one off Test allows them to secure "the Ashes" from an England side which took them away on home soil in 2005 and then retained them in another one off Test, also at home, in 2009. The fact that Australia debuted four new players in this Test and England three speaks more for the lack of cricket women play at this level than anything else. T20 and ODI matches are the prevalent form of the game in women's cricket: so much so that one of the Australian debutantes, Alyssa Healy, has played fifteen T20 games and eight ODI's for her country before the experience of a Test match and all before officially receiving the key to the door. The lack of support for women's cricket, despite the quality of players produced over time in this country such as Belinda Clark, Karen Rolton, Betty Wilson and Cathryn Fitzpatrick is staggering. Yet, after our men failed dismally in an Ashes series that was all disappointment, the women are funded for one Test at an alternate venue and receive next to no coverage.
Women's cricket in the extended form has been treated with such disrespect by administrators who are almost all men, for a long time. In fact, the last three-Test series played by women of any country was the run heavy drawn series when Australia visited England in 1998. Australia made 6-569 (Joanne Broadbent 200, Mel Jones 131), 3-306 (Karen Rolton 82), 5-303 (Lisa Keightley 90) and 4-427 (Karen Rolton 176x, Belinda Clark 136) and all but one the series. Wouldn't it be nice to have that fire power in the male equivalent today. Since those heady days, women mostly get play one-Test series and the occasional double but three games is out of the question. All remaining touring time is swept into the shortened forms of the game.
The Bankstown victory was achieved from behind and included a brave declaration by the Australian skipper Alex Blackwell. After England had batted all of the first day at a pedestrian pace against a sustained Australian attack, they were all out for 207 before lunch on the second day thanks to long spells from Australia's opening bowler Ellyse Perry, whose 4-56 came from 28 overs and Lisa Sthalekar who took 2-38 from a remarkable 30 overs. For the visitors, veteran Captain Charlotte Edwards (a relict from that 1998 series) scored an unbeaten century, aided only by Jenny Gunn and tailender Holly Colvin.
Australia collapsed in less than three sessions on the second day and after being 5-45, it was only contributions from Leah Poulton and the debutantes Jess Cameron and Alyssa Healy who lifted Australia beyond three figures. Healy, the Australia wicketkeeper and neice of Ian, struck the ball sweetly in her 74 ball stay. Stunningly, the Australian Captain, Alex Blackwell, declared 49 runs behind in order to attack the English openers before stumps but the English denied her.
On day three, Rene Farrell broke through in only the second over of the day and Atkins, Knight and Greenway were all gone for 35. Edwards and Gunn looked to deny the Australians in a partnership of 57 which lasted until after lunch but once it was broken, Rene Farrell led a remarkable session for Australia, taking four wickets in five deliveries, including the hattrick of Edwards, Katherine Brunt and Danielle Hazell. England could only manage 5-29 in the 31 overs of the session. Their batting had stalled to a complete standstill and the Australians rushed through the gate to crush the innings. The innings was closed down fifteen overs after tea, with Farrell taking a career best 5-23 and Australia including three run outs in their dismissal of an English team which collapsed under sustained pressure.
The match was far from secure when Australia resumed on the last day at 1-29 but when when Shelley Nitschke fell at 54, Blackwell and Sarah Elliott built their push to victory on stern defence but never missed an opportunity to punish the loose ball. Blackwell in particular opened up after the halfway mark had been reached in the chase for 198. If the match had been set up for victory in the session after lunch on Day 3, then the win was achieved by outstanding batting after lunch on Day 4, when Elliott and Blackwell added 111 without loss, scoring, that in the context of this match, was superb. Blackwell fell to Brunt after tea for an excellent skipper's knock of 74 and the experienced Sthalekar helped Elliott put the seal on a remarkable comeback victory.
Rene Farrell with seven wickets and that second innings hattrick, was named player of the match but Alex Blackwell can't have been far away with a brilliant second innings and leadership which included thinking outside the square.
It's time to ask why we can't have more women's Tests?
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
So says the man who has guided Australian Cricket as Chairman of the Selection Panel since 2006. When he ascended to the cricket's equivalent of silk, Australia was the number one Test playing nation after dominating world cricket for 14 years. Now, less than five years later, we are number five with something like a bullet - a lead weight - dragging us further south on the list. With our next three series against sides above us on the ICC rankings, the country should be embracing the opportunity presented to climb again but opinion polls, talk back, comments running hot and strong in newspapers and senior, well respected former cricketers don't see it that way.
The recent summer and a humiliating loss to the Poms has bought pressure to bear on Hilditch in particular and this may be considered unfair - after all, there are four men on the panel - but the man just keeps opening his mouth and arrogance dribbles out in coherent but unbelievable statements. Take the opening paragraph of this article for instance, uttered the day after Australia had been thrashed by an innings for a third time in the five Test series against England. He had the hide to say a few days later "I am disappointed those comments were taken that way." Andrew, how else could we take them?
Clearly, our players were not up to the stiff task England set them. Just as clearly, they were always going to struggle following a twelve month preparation which started with easy wins against West Indies and Pakistan last summer where the results flattered the Australians despite clear signs that the batting, in particular, was faltering. The only dominant performance came in New Zealand in late summer but by the time Australia got to England to play two Tests against Pakistan, there were serious deficiencies in the batting lineup, with star players such as Ponting, Clarke and Hussey looking out of form and batting collapses continued. Australia went to India and despite being robbed of a victory in the first Test by poor umpiring in a place where DRS was not agreed to, the Australians were outplayed for most of the sessions of the two Tests
Enter England whose preparation had been perfect and clever as opposed to Australia's haphazard and hard to understand. Three weeks before the First Test, Hauritz was described by Hilditch as Australia's best spinner. So good was the NSW first choice for Australia that two weeks later he couldn't even make an expanded 17 man squad that was named ten days before Brisbane. Everyone with half an idea about the game smelled a rat, whilst England just smelled fear, a nasty offering to rampant lions.
For the remainder of the series Nero fiddled left handed with unknowns - so unknown in fact that Emperor Hilditch didn't even know where they came from ... Perth or was that Melbourne? The forgotten one, Hauritz, did what he should, taking wickets and scoring his first couple of centuries at first class level but there would be no falls by Hilditch's pride. That may have to wait until after the World Cup.
Despite public outcry typified by a poll being run on the Sydney Morning Herald website where 96% of more than seven thousand respondents have called for the Adelaide solicitor to return to his practice and leave Australian cricket alone, he remains solid in his rejection of such ideas as failure or departure. "It'll be for someone else to tell me when I'm not required." For God's sake Andrew, we're telling you but you're not listening!
Former Chair of the selection panel, Trevor Hohns has offered to come back and do the job and unlike Hilditch, his credentials on the job are splendid. It was Hohns who fast-tracked a certain blond, fat kid with a penchant for mobile phones and flippers and he also bought a gangly kid from Narromine into the side and they both did reasonably well in their Test careers. Now those selections could be luck and perhaps cricketers of Warne or McGrath's ilk don't come along very often and maybe, Hilditch just doesn't have the cattle. If that's the case, then why invest money and your mouth into players and drop them in the way Hauritz and now Haddin have been?
Another former selector, John Benaud has expressed concern at the turn over of players and the make up of the panel, which currently has three opening batsmen and then Greg Chappell. Chappell's pedigree as a cricketer would be more than enough credibility to do the job but his subsequent coaching and talent identification roles mean he is a certainty to continue. Besides he's done the selection job before with great distinction.
"It's ridiculous to have three opening batsmen as the core of your selection panel with the same personalities. Selection panels should be like a cricket team, you need some variety in there. 38 players is an incredibly high turnover in such a short time. There are obviously reasons, sometimes there's form and injury reasons, so not every selection can be seen as a gamble. But that pretty much tells you the selectors have been grasping at straws. You get the feeling there hasn't been a solid plan in place." John Benaud
The following 38 players have been used in the Australian Test team since the retirement of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer in January 2007, about twelve months after De Fuhrer Hilditch took command: Doug Bollinger 12, Beau Casson 1, Stuart Clark 15, Michael Clarke 42, Xavier Doherty 2, Peter George 1, Adam Gilchrist 6, Brad Haddin 32, Ryan Harris 5, Nathan Hauritz 16, Matthew Hayden 14, Ben Hilfenhaus 17, Brad Hodge 1, Brad Hogg 3, Phil Hughes 10, Michael Hussey 43, Phil Jaques 9, Mitchell Johnson 41, Simon Katich 33, Jason Krejza 2, Brett Lee 17, Andrew McDonald 4, Bryce McGain 1, Stuart MacGill 4, Clint McKay 1, Graham Manou 1, Marcus North 21, Tim Paine 4, Ricky Ponting 42, Chris Rogers 1, Peter Siddle 22, Steve Smith 4, Andrew Symonds 13, Shaun Tait 1, Shane Watson 24, Cameron White 4, Micheal Beer 1 & Usman Khawaja 1.
The recent summer and our poor showing are concern enough but question marks over selections go back at least as far England 2009, when the nation's cricket lovers couldn't understand how our best swing bowler, Stuart Clark, was left out of the team for much of the series lost to England in conditions where England's swing bowlers ran rampant against a batting line up which continues to be nibble and depart men against the swinging ball. Apparently fire wasn't required to fight fire. Looking through the list of players above, its not hard to remember the crazy decision making which disregarded Brad Hodge from Test cricket soon after a double century and then excluded him from the short forms of the game in which he is among the best two or three batsmen in the world. McGain, Casson, Tait, McDonald, Krejza, Beer and Doherty all have hard luck stories about their treatment by the selectors and much of what Stuart MacGill has said in retirement indicates that shoddy treatment was behind a retirement that was at least four years premature.
Let me add to the portrait of an arrogant man without in anyway attempting to drop his name but as a junior cricketer in the Sutherland Shire, I played against Andrew Hilditch. Even as junior he was above the rest of us and often proved it with copious runs on a Saturday morning before playing grade cricket for Sutherland in the afternoons, always mixed with an air of superiority. He was fixated on his batting and lengthy stays at the crease and would train with his junior club twice a week, Sutherland twice a week and then go to Caringbah Oval on the other afternoons often paying anybody to bowl to him for an hour or so. Dedication I guess you might call it but he was aloof too. One Saturday morning in U/16's he ground out a century and when a congratulatory handshake was offered by our skipper, he just remarked his guard.
Perhaps his personality was further shaped when a rare act of approach and friendliness cost him a Test innings when his only crime was to pick up a ball left unattended by a fieldsman and throw it to the bowler, Safraz Narwaz. Thereafter, he only gifted his innings when hooking.
His request to be told it's time to go may only be as far away as the end of the World Cup, because it is then that his tenure in the role expires. Justin Langer and Troy Cooley are on a similar time frame but if you are taking odds and becoming a Bet Fair Australian, place your hard earned on Hilditch going back to wigs and black gowns. Perhaps James Sutherland has already marked his card ... "Everyone in Australian cricket is accountable. If that means tough decisions need to be made, then tough decisions will be made. But they need to be made in the cold hard light of day and not in the heat of the moment straight after a disappointing result." Asked directly about Hilditch and Nielsen, Sutherland replied: "We're all under the microscope. We're all bitterly disappointed in the performances of players, coaches and selectors. We share Australian cricket fans' disappointment with that and we need to be subject to an extensive review and, like I said, if difficult decisions need to be made, they will be."
Too many mistakes for too long and whilst it would be unfair to say this summer is all his fault, when faced with opportunities to save situations, Hilditch and his panel made them worse. In order to be thorough, Jamie Cox and David Boon can take their leave as well. Even Ken Schofield, the Chairman of the Review of English cricket four years ago which raped and pillaged us from November on, has formed the opinion that Australia's first act of recovery must be the taking of a sword to the selection panel and since none are honourable enough to fall on their own puny daggers, by all means let's all of Australia get behind them and push.
We owe it to the next generation of Test players.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Click on the link Dire Predictions to see a copy of the story.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Saturday, January 8, 2011
A bloke walks into a Sydney brothel.
"I'm into kinky sex so how much to be dominated to the point of total humiliation?"
"$60," says the madam.
"That's incredibly cheap! What do I get for my $60?"
Fixing her gaze on the client she says, "a green cap and membership of the Australian cricket team."
Friday, January 7, 2011
Matt Prior held five second innings catches and seven for the match, the same number as Melbourne and 23 catches for the series. He averaged fifty and scored his first hundred against Australia in this match. His role in encouraging his team mates need not be underestimated.
Swann, Anderson and Tremlett cleaned up the tail but not before Peter Siddle and Steve Smith stood up where others had lay down, adding the biggest partnership of the innings (86) for the 8th wicket. These are two men we need to keep to build a new Australia. Smith remained 54 not out with that combination of the unorthodox and solid defence which makes his batting look so unusual. After today, doubt his heart and his connection with that Baggy Green no longer.
When Beer was bowled by Tremlett and Australia had almost exactly emulated its first innings, the ground erupted in a fitting tribute to an English team which has outplayed the home boys in every aspect of a game they invented by Australia has traditionally been better at. No more, I'm afraid.
With Collingwood savouring his last moments as a Test cricketer in such glorious triumph, things hardly seem likely to have ever have been better to be an Englishman. Long after others had celebrated in public and left the arena, Collingwood was still thanking the Barmy Army and making a slow circuit of the SCG's extremities to say thank you. After such great service, no one would have begrudged him still being their at nightfall.
Michael Clarke spoke all media who were interested and made it clear he wanted to a change. He stood down from Twenty20 in order to focus on scoring runs. Even the captaincy was of little interest to a man who had it all laid out before him. It was clear, he wanted someone else to do the leadership job ... he just wants runs. Between engagements in the post result mania on the field, he removed his cap, grabbing his head in frustration and mental exhaustion. The depth of the problem Australia is facing seemed to dawn on him for the first time but despite what was blindingly obvious, he claimed there was no crisis in Australian cricket and the solution lies in the current men in the change room. Brave words perhaps but foolish words certainly and not the words for an Australian captain to use as a rallying point. Words which sound unerringly like those of Ricky Ponting.
Alastair Cook took all the plaudits coming to him with a man of the match award and the ultimate but obvious award of man of the series and yet the still young man couldn't pin down the reason for his success when interviewed by Mark Taylor. The Barmy Army found an immediate answer for him, singing again of the quality of Mitchell Johnson bowling. Who could argue?
Andrew Strauss contributions from across the full range of his team, the support crew and even the Barmy Army. For him, England won because everyone had a job and everyone performed it to and beyond their best. Perhaps he might have added that England have redefined the concept of team this summer in an age of the individual. The game will be better off as a result.
The Australians were a disconsolate lot as they stood in close array, watching England take the credit so richly deserved in between long glimpses down at the SCG turf, hopefully in embarrassment and even shame. Even more important for Australia's future, it's to be hoped that after the team left the playing surface to the victors and their celebrations, that an old hand like Ian Chappell visited the dressing room and took the likes of Hughes, Smith, Beer and Khawaja to the window and made them watch until their stomach churned and made them face just how bad this felt. Australia's resurgence may well depend on them understanding, hating and wanting to remove any chance of it happening again.
As for the result, perhaps the following warning should have been heeded on 17/11/10 when it was released in the media ...
"England have their best chances to win in Brisbane, Melbourne & Sydney. Australia have their best chance to win in Perth. Adelaide could jump either way but is most likely to be a draw. Therefore, I'm suggesting an English series victory of 3-1."
Yes and you read it here on the Cricket Tragics first and now last. More analysis in the next few days but for now, English deserve to savour the results of much meticulous planning and consistently excellent execution.
The only photos Lango could capture before Cricket Australia told him to stop snapping. The 200-400 telephoto lens is banned unless you are an acredited professional photographer. Despite working out a compomise with helpful SCG staff, I lost interest after the reprimand ...
... and we wonder why our team's fortunes are flagging. Just another example of CA overbearing interference and James Sutherland's need to control everything.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
In the morning, Matt Prior batted so briskly that Andrew Strauss had no option but to accept the runs on offer and make sure England would only bat once in this Test. Aided by Tim Bresnan and then Graeme Swann, Prior made 118 in only 130 balls, successfully attacking all of the Australians. England batted at three and a half an over for the innings but took 33 from Mitchell Johnson's last two overs, making true the sung claims by the Barmy Army every time he came on to bowl. By the end, three consecutive hundred partnerships gave England its highest total on Australian soil with Johnson taking 4 wickets at an exorbitant cost and only Shane Watson able to hold his head up and Beer making a respectable debut. The rest were toothless pussycats who didn't even provide England with a decent net session.
Beginning 264 in arrears, Watson sparkled for nearly an hour with the overly cautious Phil Hughes and had reached 38 off only 40 deliveries including seven wonderful fours, mostly driven through the off side. So well did he bat that both opening bowlers were banished inside nine overs, leaving Bresnan and Swann to arrest the development. It was Hughes who cracked first, making a late, bad call which left his opening partner stranded with him at the striker's end and a promising innings was struck down. It was the second time Hughes had removed his batting partner in just three Test. Khawaja came and Hughes left in a familiar fashion seven overs later after scoring slowed to a run an over. He edged Bresnan to Prior in a replay of many of his Test dismissals.
Micahel Clarke, like Watson before him, played some fine shots in making 41, with Usman Khawaja as a slower but solid deputy. After adding 65, Khawaja and Clarke both went to catches behind off Anderson, reintroduced after his earlier mauling from Watson. Brad Haddin and Mike Huseey started another rear guard action to try and save Australia but when Bresnan had Hussey slashing a wider delivery to Pietersen in the gully, three wickets fell for 10 as Tremlett goaded Haddin into an ugly hook shot that an U/12 would hang his head over, making it twice Haddin has played ill judged shots in the Test. Tremlett was on the hattrick when he clean bowled Johnson first ball, much to the merriment of the Barmy Army.
An extra half hour was added to allow England to mop up the tail but Steve Smith and Peter Siddle resisted, playing strokes all the while. Australia, still 151 behind, will have last rites administered in the morning by England who will go to a deserved clear series victory of 3-1.
Of almost greater concern than our inept display in Sydney, has been the pathetic support from Australian crowds. Each day the Barmy Army and the thousands of other English fans have out sung, shouted or barracked their Australian counterparts. Yesterday and today, they even outnumbered them. It is a pathetic reflection on Australian sporting fans that they won't turn out to watch their side beaten and encourage their performances, even if they have been poor by comparison to the English. As much as I enjoyed the singing and revelry that the BA provided and even found their jibes at our players good humoured, I was ashamed that my country men have deserted their cricket team in such droves that being the home team was no advantage.
It was a rum turnout all round
The former English cricket hero Ian Botham is one of those serial bluff and blow response men whose access to the media was assured by the duel achievement of being a fabulous cricketer and a human headline. He has strong views - passion driven - and is happy to express them often. His allegations overnight that Phil Hughes was a cheat are worse than poppycock and it was extremely pleasing to see that the little bloke's quickest and strongest defender was none other than Alastair Cook - a further mark of the man and another reason why he'll be a fine captain of England when his time comes. The tall, elegant left hander has been in the heated part of the Ashes battle all summer, the latest St George to slay the Australian dragon - and the battle has been verbally and physically intense. Despite that, he immediately dismissed Botham's claims and supported Hughes.
Claims in today's SMH by Andrew Wu regarding the Ian Bell issue are equally ridiculous and smack strongly of bad sportsmanship. To call a player a cheat over an incident involving a possible feather can only be explained through ignorance. Mr Wu can have no personal experience of batting if he doesn't know that it is entirely possible to get such a slight edge to a ball, particularly on the inside of the blade, and be completely unaware you have hit it. That being the case, as Bell's reaction seemed obvious, the rules gave Bell a recourse which he rightly took. If the available technology was unable to clearly define the edge, then my point is clearly made. For the record, the reason why the sound technology "Snicko" is not used by the ICC in determining such decisions is because it has proved to be unreliable.
Wu's claim that "a large contingent of the 40,000-strong crowd appeared to disagree with Cook, giving Ian Bell more jeers than cheers as he walked off the field after completing his maiden Ashes Test century" is journalistic invention. Standing like the rest of the huge crowd, I joined in the extremely generous applause which carried Bell to and into the pavilion. If there were jeers, they must have been confined to the cynical, propagandist press box where Australian pressmen sifted through the dust of another Australian performance looking for splinters with which to make any post a winner.
Neither Bell or Hughes are cheats and Australia has been soundly beaten to the point of a thrashing by a highly skilled, professional and thoroughly sportsman like opponent. Instead of talking behind hands about Australian inadequacy, it is time for those hands to be applauding England. Sport is as much about how the game is played as the result. Rising from recent times in international cricket where bitterness, aggression,argument and institutionalised cheating have become the tainted currency, England have refreshed the game with an injection of spirit direct from the DNA of old soldiers long gone but revered again. It is the stuff of Flintoff crouching with Lee at Birmingham in 2005 and despite the manner in which England have taught us these lessons again this summer, our media still insists on peddling their untrustworthy wares to a disappointed fan base.
It was a grand day of Test cricket. That's all Mr Botham and Mr Wu needed to say.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
It was also a day of good cheer and the melding of northern and southern hemisphere cultures bought together by the cleverness of a group once despised in Australia but now accepted and loved. News that the Barmy Army had raised in excess of $15 000 for the McGrath foundation through the sale of special edition pink supporters shirts with the message "We look like boobs so look after yours" was the icing on the cake of their performances throughout the series. Once a rabble which provided a haven for the worst yobbos and football hooligans that have haunted English football and destroyed their reputation abroad, one of their original number was tackled by Australian swing bowler Terry Alderman at the WACA years ago, causing his exclusion from the series with a shoulder injury. The current Army have no relationship with those losers and have been an adornment to Test grounds through out the summer and have been a key issue in Strauss' England and their success.
Today, their chants and witty songs added the sort of irreverent commentary on the Australian players that the effigy of Yabba, only 100m away in front of Bay 15, would have happily approved of.
The cricket was damn good also!
England began in a sound position and one that Australia could have undermined had they possessed luck and skill and opportunity. Anderson was accounted for quickly and Collingwood 41 balls later, after an innings which painfully underlined his lack of form. Knowing his contribution to England's rise through years when the team survived on guts and determination and he stood for all that was to be admired, it was sad to watch his scratchy dig which ended with a lame lofted drive which limped its way to Hilfenhaus at a slightly deeper mid on. The only uplifting thing was his wicket delivered a first Test dismissal for the patient and unlucky Michael Beer.
At 5-226, Australia had prised one foot in the front door of the England innings and Michael Clarke must have seen some chance of keeping his fledgling Captaincy career afloat when all about battleships trained their guns on him. Enter Ian Bell, whose pent up feelings about batting against the oldest foe had moved beyond anxiety and past frustration to the point where he just knew he was owed. For the next few hours he batted like a man possessed but not of all the jeers and taunts that Australian cricketers have levelled at him, no a man possessed with the most exquisite shots. First he added 154 with the run machine Alastair Cook, who in scoring 188, totalled the second highest tally of runs by an Englishman in an Ashes series and also set the record for the most time spent at the crease by and Englishman. His 36 hours and 11 minutes mean he has spent an average of more than seven hours batting in ever Test this summer, a rather staggering statistic but one the Australians would know only too well. Too much time has been spent directing all manner of length of delivery at his leg stump and nowhere near enough slanting across his off. His improvement might have been aided by our inept attack but that takes nothing from his achievement. Today he smacked two cover drives that will stay will anyone at the ground.
When Cook left, Prior joined the party. Soon after, the day's moment of contention was served in a manner similar to the infamous Ponting incident last week in Melbourne. The Australians went skyward after the ABC's Allan McGilvray Medalist, Shane Watson, beat Bell on the inside of his normally wide blade and Aleem Dar raised his finger. After a moment's hesitation, Bell called for a review and after more than four minutes, the third umpire Tony Hill, could find no evidence for a dismissal and Dar reversed his call and the game went on. No unseemly display from Australian captain Clarke, just a quiet acceptance, although Watson was quite distressed. An over of two later, ABC radio was reporting what the coverage TV was showing - a faint but apparently unmistakable edge on the soundtrack of the dismissal (Snicko). Such is life but it points to how good is the decision making process of Dar.
Bell went on with a dazzling array of drives, cuts and carefully placed pushes through a field which Clarke had constantly on the change and raised a most deserved hundred - one which he was robbed of in the first Test in Brisbane. Patrons adorned in their various shades and extremes of pink are unlikely to see a better century than this treat from Bell and the man himself is unlikely to ever deserve one more than this.
With Bresnan in, Prior set and England 208 to the good, whatever they can must by or before lunch on the fourth day will be bonus.
The Australian bowling was poor again, with the exception of Watson who bowled an excellent line and was the only bowler to restrict Cook or Bell - praise enough. Michael Beer did a good job on a wicket which is yet to tamper with good batting and turn and there was more than enough in his work to warrant further selection. It's yet to be seen whether he can present a danger on a wearing wicket.
Mitchell Johnson was jeered by the Barmy Army at the start of every spell and rightly so. He mostly picks up wickets with rubbish and he bleeds far too many runs although the ball which finally removed Bell was at least on a good line even if it did nothing. He has regained his pace in this Test but despite taking three wickets, he has hardly been a threat. Siddle again bowled too short and Hilfenhaus has never been less effective. Bollinger should have played in this match once selected, but the chance to blood Victorian's Pattison and the local boy Cameron has been missed.
England hold all the aces, kings and queens and Australia has had the jack all summer. It is enough to explain the Australian position by reporting that Hussey bowled today.
I like Michael Clarke's work. He moved his bowlers around and tried different things in the field, only once resorting to Barn Door captaincy. Give the lad some decent cattle and he might even make a go of the job.
Unless the mood of this match changes dramatically, twenty fours hours will bring Australia to its knees and those about to buy fifth day tickets wondering whether its worth it.
Sessions This Test: England 6, Australia 0, Shared 2
Sessions This Series: England 30, Australia 16, Shared 8
Included following representations from a Tragic supporter, Stoph Verismo. Thanks for the reminder.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Haddin, batting at six where many had thought he should have batted all summer, came and went quickly playing a loose shot outside his off stump and edging to Prior. Smith and Hussey appeared to be steadying the ship and had all but seen off the old ball in preparation for an onslaught from Anderson when Hussey played a half shot outside his off stump reminiscent of his previous trials and sent a Collingwood delivery off his inside edge onto the stumps. Smith lasted only five overs into the new ball before he slashed at Anderson a long way from his off stump and Collingwood held the catch at third slip. Siddle, of late a lower order hero, was out in the same Anderson over, hanging his bat out for Strauss to take the low edge.
Here, England should have been hunting for the kill but with Johnson beginning to middle the ball, Strauss too quickly went on the defensive and employed the modern concept of allowing singles to men roaming the boundary to Johnson, whilst attacking Hilfenhaus. This worked so well that the pair added 76 for the ninth wicket before Bresnan eventually bowled Johnson in mid flog and then Anderson removed the big hitting Hilfenhaus and Australia were out at least 80 runs after they should have been.
Strauss and Cook began confidently against the changed new ball attack of Hilfenhaus and Johnson - Clarke hoping to capitalise on Johnson's batting confidence as Ponting had done in Perth. It was a worthwhile gamble but it didn't come off as Strauss, in particular, attacking the poor bowling from both opening bowlers. Clarke changed his bowlers around and even Watson bowled a few overs but Siddle was the best off them and he was only steady. Meanwhile Strauss raced to his half century off only 49 deliveries.
After adding 98 for the first wicket, Strauss played down the wrong line at a ball from Hilfenhaus that held its line and was bowled. It was a mistake if judgment rather than an overly clever piece of bowling and given the form Strauss had shown, it was a surprise breakthrough. Johnson was bowling again at the other end but with the stage set for Jonathan Trott, he played at a nothing ball at least 80cm outside his off stump and sent if via his inside edge back onto the stumps for his first duck in thirty Test innings and Australia had again picked up a soft wicket.
With Strauss gone, Cook blossomed and the new man, Pietersen, quickly got into stride with some gloriously driven fours. Michael Beer was introduced and Pietersen immediately went after him but the young made didn't fold. There wasn't much turn but he wasn't frightened to vary his pace and flight and in only his third over he duped Cook with flight and the England opener skied the ball to long on where Hilfenhaus took a well judged catch. The crowd erupted and Beer was swamped by team mates to celebrate his first Test scalp ... until Bill Bowden informed them he wanted to review a possible no ball. Cook had left the wicket square and had to be gathered in following a chase by Aleem Dar. Alas for the debutant, his foot was well over in the replay and the moment turned from elation to desperation.
His following overs were full of guts and determination and his grit was admirable.
With five overs until stumps, Beer had some consolation when Johnson returned to the attack and bounced Pietersen. Unable to refuse a challenge, Pietersen picked out Beer, the only man in a 130 degree arc either side of fine leg and the catch was held. Anderson did his duties as night watchman and England finished the day in charge, despite Australia's willingness to take up the fight.
The wicket will be at its best for batting tomorrow and England remain in the box seat unless they aid the Australian cause and give away wickets.
Monday, January 3, 2011
We walked our relaxed stroll down to the ground from our digs on Moore Park Rd, past the football stadium and the first of several marvellous bronze statues of greats from football and cricket who have been strategically placed outside and inside the grounds in order to remind patrons of the past and in doing so, assure them of the sporting future of this place. We watched first the Australians and then the English go through their warm up routines, both with moments of inspiration.
For the Australians the high point of the pre-match activities were the presentation of Baggy Greens made by Shane Warne to Michael Beer and Mark Taylor to an obviously emotionally moved Usman Khawaja. From there it descended into the mundane stretches, throwing and catching exercises. For England, they started with a master stroke of PR and one upmanship but having the squad make a slow circuit of the ground, jogging in combinations of forward, backward and sideways light running past appreciative crowds who stood, cheered and clapped as the Englishmen moved past. Meanwhile, Australia worked away on the inside of the field to no applause. Even the sound and vision of Ashes highlights projected on the scoreboards had a heavy English success bias in its recent retelling.
New skipper Michael Clarke - moving from Pup to Big Dog today - was on the pitch 9 minutes early for the toss in blazer and cap and promptly won at his first attempt, opting to bat. Hughes and Watson were worked over by the Englishmen, having many balls shave the outside edge and many more left pass by deliberately. Despite not scoring freely, they built a useful start and looked to be going to lunch unbeaten when Hughes had one of those little brain explosions he does and compulsively slashed a ball outside off stump. Collingwood accepted the gift at third slip and a session which might have been won was only shared. Hughes had batted with restraint, control and common sense and mixed among there were some delicious shots - a back foot off drive the most sumptuous but he again let his supporters down with a failure to keep charge of his impetuosity.
Having waited the 40 minutes over lunch, Watson led the new boy Khawaja to the middle and he made a dynamic start with 15 from his first ten deliveries. His second ball was pulled in front of square for a four stamped with authority. He has lovely footwork, soft hands and plays late and with plenty of wrist like most players from the subcontinent and yet, he was in Australia as a 4 year old, leaving the nature v nurture debate with new material.
Watson batted well against a concerted English attack whose only fault was to bowl a tad short, despite their accuracy. Anderson delivered his best performance of the summer but bowled without the luck needed for a bag of wickets. Watson eventually played to hard at a ball from Bresnan and was snaffled in the slips and cost himself another big score. He has been so very consistent without putting big runs on the board around which the middle order can build a big team score.
After the first rain break, Clarke came and went with angled bat and thrusting forward defence, still cutting without transferring the weight fully to the back foot and therefore putting enough air under the ball for Anderson to snare the gully catch. The skipper has technical problems which stem from a lower stance cause by his back problems and it is to that he should focus his attention to recover form.
Finally, unluckily, Khawaja was suckered by an old English pro, when Swann returned after earlier bowling a few tight overs. A skied sweep which got out of control marked his end but it was a debut full of merit and promise. This lad has the mark of greatness about him.
Australia finished behind England for the day's work, despite good efforts from Hughes, Watson and Khawaja and that pretty much reflects the difference we have seen all summer. Despite this, it was a glorious day of Test cricket mainly because we were there. The crowd, the drama, the atmosphere ... thanks Bill!
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Its not just any Sydney Sunday night because five minutes down Oxford St into Moore Park Road my digs at the Paddington Barracks are waiting to try and console me into sleep because tomorrow isn't just any Sydney Monday morning. Tomorrow, Australia has its last chance to recover pride and respect lost completely to a rampant mob from England. Even their spectators have outperformed us.
Where I'll sleep tonight, British soldiers once marched and polished and paraded and "yes sirred" and earned only two rewards - a small quoter of rum each day and some time off to wander down to the cricket which was being played at their recreation ground only 300m away. They would sit around the Paddington end of the ground and would yell loud encouragement to the cricketers there and often offered disparaging comments to the "colonials" who were attempting to play their game. They became known as the barrackers and so a term was born which has found its way to sporting events world wide.
Its raining slowly and might do so through offs and ons for the next twelve hours but I'll not provide the weather with the satisfaction of altering my anticipation.
For the Australian captain, Michael Clarke, the pup becomes the Big Dog from the toss, with a head full of allegiance to old man Ponting and little desire expressed to make the job his own. Given the rise and rise of the powere of the coach, any chance of Clarke expressing his thoughts or personality in the decision making processes on or off the field seem less than the role of dice, an activity which his selectors have fared poorly at. Then, if you play with marked cards and loaded dice, outcomes are devoid of chance.
Australia enter their fifth encounter with England this summer, with their hands not just behind their backs by tired firmly there like convicts rounded up Red Caps. There is still no Hauritz and the chosen interloper, will be a Beer opened on the ground for the first time. Australia's leading spinner before the series and the second most successful spinner in terms of first class wickets in Australia this season (Swann has only 3 more) was not invited because the selectors are never wrong. Bollinger is back. Do you think they are picking players solely to amuse sub-editors ... "Australia starts with Bollinger before a Beer chaser" ...
Still, a new face is good thing when the old ones have lost their smile, lost the sparkle from their eyes and issue only tired old men's oaths in the heat of the battle. Another is Khawaja, the brightest star to graduate to the Baggy Green heavens in many an evening wondering if the Southern Cross would sparkle like nights of old. He is as Bill O'Reilly would have described, a good 'un and the confidence being invested in him is clear in his immediateelevation to the most important point in a batting order which has moved like it was fresh from a soaking in liquid nitrogen.
England need no introduction with no changes to the side which blew Australia away in Melbourne. Bresnan and Tremlett were superb and along will Anderson will swing the ball far too dangerously for the Australian and talk of a like fear to be felt from Mitchell Johnson has been without foundation, baring on spell in Perth. Such things are not likely to cause tremors to an English batting line up which has pounded everyone who has stared them down from 20 metres. Hilfenhaus has been unlucky and deserves more English wickets than 4 at plenty+ but the truth is, his swing starts from the hand is easily managed by men well used to such red ball tricks.
England's only weakness is Collingwood, who will swap with Bell in Sydney. It says a lot about their domination that his constant craving for runs has gone on unsated and yet it hasn't hurt England. His brilliant catching has played its part in match turning moments and his loyal service through darker years gains its reward this summer as loyalty returned from a grateful Captain Strauss, when Morgan, a better player, could have taken his place after Perth.
Despite new blood, a new captain and new expectations from a result starved Australian public, nothing but an English victory seems likely.
Now, if I can only get to sleep. After all, I have that long 300m trek to make in the morning among the ghosts of the barackers and then the Barmy Army to great me on the concourse.
No, not just another Sydney Monday.