After a bad loss, England are fond of saying you can't turn into a bad team overnight. Well, it didn't happen overnight but it did happen. England capitulated within 3 days, losing the 4th Test by an innings and 99 runs. At least they reduced the margin to double figures.
Somehow, one of England's strengths in Pietersen's batting has been turned into a source of division and controversy. Apparently, the management have been trying to persuade Pietersen to move to #4 but he's resisted the move. Says Duncan Fletcher:
"We've been trying to get him to four but he just feels very, very comfortable at five. Then Kevin discussed with us that he was batting with the tail a lot and he wanted to bat four. We said 'Are you sure you want to? He said he'd rather do that than be caught with the tail that we've got at the moment."Gracious words from Pietersen and I was gratified to see him bowled by an absolute peach from Clark that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Glenn McGrath career highlights reel. Looks like damned if you do, damned if you don't, huh, Kevin?
Warne started the Test with 699 Test wickets and he starts the 5th Test on 999 international wickets. Okay, this mysterious script writer of his is starting to get ridiculous - can't Warne get through a Test without breaking some milestone? Glenn McGrath deserves some attention in Sydney!
So the Test is over in 3 days - my only consolation is that being on holidays, I haven't missed out on 2 days of cricket. Still, maybe I should stop predicting draws. I've resisted predicting a clean sweep for fear of jinxing it (the irrational tradition of a cricket tragic who thinks his own actions will affect the outcome of a game he has no actual involvement with). Now with Australia completely dominating England in every department, it's hard to see momentum switching the other way.
|Posted by JC on Sat 30 Dec||25 comments|
I'm currently on holidays so my coverage of the 4th Test will be limited. It's probably a good thing as my favourite whipping boy Andrew Symonds just scored 150 to bat Australia into a dominant position. The first session belonged to England as Australia lost early wickets, looking vulnerable at 5 for 84. However, Symonds and Hayden combined for a 279 run partnership that took Australia from a potential first innings deficit to complete dominance.
Symond's innings was particularly impressive as he came in under extreme pressure - for his spot in the side and Australia's precarious position in the match. His six to bring up the century was a spectacular stroke (although I could've done without the interminable replays of him straddling Hayden afterwards). But you'll have to excuse me if I don't convert to Symonds fan just yet. It remains to be seen if this innings is his turning a corner or a momentary blip. Nevertheless, it was a great innings and handed the 4th Test to Australia which will not be forgotten :-)
|Posted by JC on Thu 28 Dec||36 comments|
In spite of the dead rubber, there are many questions yet to be answered as we head into the 4th Test. When will Warne take his 700th wicket? Will Warne take a big wicket haul at his last home ground Test? Will Shane get back with Simone? I think there's 21 other guys involved in this Test although I forget their names.
What with Warne and Pigeon retiring and Warnie gunning for wicket #700, the crowd record of 90,800 should be cracked on Day 1 unless there's a deluge in Melbourne. If the Test goes to Day 5 which is likely considering Melbourne weather, the crowd aggregate will get up over 400,000 (the previous record is 350,354) which boggles the mind (cue the image of James Sutherland writhing on a bed of money).
I expect Gilly to go for a century of Test sixes. In fact, considering I'll be on holiday over the last 4 days and miss much of the action, I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks Viv Richard's fastest century record while I'm out on a beach blissfully unaware (not that I'm bitter).
I've picked draws in Adelaide and Perth to no avail. However, yet again I'm picking a draw for various reasons. Firstly, I picked 3-1 at the start of the season (which I'm now having grave doubts) so I need that draw to get in the ballpark. I'm expecting an improved England performance as they always play their best when it doesn't matter. There'll also be a drop off in the Australian performance. Ponting may talk big about a series whitewash but no matter what they say, you can't maintain the same level of intensity in a dead rubber. But in the end, the winner on the day will be the Melbourne weather. There are forecasts for rain all week which will mean several sessions lost. Considering we won in Brisbane with 2 and a bit sessions to spare, in Adelaide with 3 overs left and in Perth with less than 2 sessions to go, a couple of sessions of bad weather should be all it takes to deliver a draw. I'll be monitoring the Melbourne radar map closely this week.
|Posted by JC on Tue 26 Dec||19 comments|
The guy that writes Warne's script was churning out page after page today as he took 5 for 39 in dismissing England for 159. It was his first 5-for in the series and came on a Day 1 pitch where the conditions heavily favoured the seamers. Flintoff won the toss and made the risky move of batting in murky conditions. The situation was tailor-made for Glenn McGrath who was moving the ball off the seam so sharply, Cook and Strauss weren't even able to nick the ball. Eventually, Cook was unlucky to edge a ball from Lee while trying to withdraw the bat. Lee was so excited to take a wicket, he brought back the chainsaw celebration.
Ponting delayed bringing Warne back into the attack. Perhaps Warne was waiting till the ground was completely full - the wet conditions meant the crowd didn't quite meet the expected record attendance. When Warne finally came into the attack, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Also standing were an army of security guards who marched into position around the boundary. It took Warne 3 overs to take the historic 700th wicket as he cleanbowled Andrew Strauss. Fittingly, they cut to Ray Martin applauding in the crowd - one of the few Australian celebrities whose hair is more artificial than Warne's.
The wickets fell with regularity and Kevin Pietersen was again stranded with the lengthy English tail. The selectors finally managed to make the obvious call to select Chris Read over Geraint Jones and Monty Panesar over Ashley Giles. But I'm wondering why they still hide their best batsman at #5. All it succeeds in doing is providing Australia with their only way of dismissing him - out slogging in desperation with a #11 at the other end. In the end, Flintoff made a bad call and Australia bowled well in good bowling conditions. Even Symonds moved it around dangerously. In contrast, the Australian fielding was not as sharp as earlier in the series. Gilchrist dropped two chances and missed a regulation stumping when Kevin Pietersen ran halfway down the pitch to Warne. Hayden also dropped a sitter off Strauss at gully. Fortunately England failed to take advantage of the numerous chances and were bundled for 159.
Hayden and Langer came out and immediately went the tonk, looking to open up a few scars in the England psyche that might be exploited in 2009. However, Flintoff showed he was still a force to be reckoned with, having Langer caught behind in the 2nd last over of the day. Next ball, he induced a nick from nightwatchman Brett Lee to be on a hattrick. Ponting came out and defused the hattrick ball which flew harmlessly down the legside. Australia made it to stumps on 2 for 48.
So England are in a vulnerable position but with plenty of juice left in the pitch, there's always a chance they can get back in the match if Flintoff's bowlers can back him up. It's time for Harmison to earn his pay for the tour.
|Posted by JC on Tue 26 Dec||36 comments|
Okay, now it's getting ridiculous. The ink has barely dried on yesterday's news that Glenn McGrath wasn't retiring when he came out today and admitted that yes, he actually will retire after the World Cup:
"The plan I had come up with Shane was he would go before Melbourne and me before Sydney, but with the hearsay and the scrutiny we wanted to get it out of the way. Trying to deny about retiring is a bit tough, I've always been honest."Keeping such an intricate conspiracy under wraps was always going to be tough for a guy who features Pig Shooters Monthly as his bedside reading. I'd post a long, wordy tribute about Pigeon who is a deadset champion but to be honest, I'm over all the retirement talk. This is what happens when a Test series is decided by the third match - if England had somehow been able to keep the series alive, we'd have been spared all this talk till after Sydney!
|Posted by JC on Sat 23 Dec||25 comments|
Retirement sure seems to be the dominant theme this summer. There was Damien Martyn's bombshell last week. You can't turn around these last few days without seeing a TV bulletin, hearing a radio news break or reading a newspaper headline about Shane Warne's retirement. Glenn McGrath is also poised to announce his retirement next week, prudently delaying his announcement for fear of stealing Warnie's thunder. And now Steve Harmison has just retired from one day cricket.
Harmison's decision coincides with the announcement of the England ODI squad which he is not a part of. There are other subtle messages in the make-up of the squad. Chris Read is the wicketkeeper which doesn't bode well for Geraint Jones and the Boxing Day Test (which is as it should be). Monty Panesar is in the side (again, as it should be). And Michael Vaughan is in the side although the selectors are being coy about who will be captain. Presumably it will be Vaughan if he's fit. Again a good idea to reduce the pressure on Flintoff. So it took 3 Test losses but the English selectors have finally figured out the best squad (which everybody else already knew).
All these retirements in the middle of a series is distracting and peculiar (let's not forget the circus that was Steve Waugh's summer long retirement). But now I'm seeing a method to their madness. Obviously all our veterans can't retire at the end of this series - we'd lose half our team in one fell stroke. So you have to get in early, make that press release and you're in the clear. As for Haydo, Langer and Gilchrist - they can't just abandon the team after losing 3 key players already. So they're stuck in the Test squad till the end of next summer. Sucked in, fellahs!
|Posted by JC on Fri 22 Dec||16 comments|
Glenn McGrath has clarified that rumours of his retirement were greatly exagerated:
"To be honest, I haven't said anything (about retiring). It's funny where it all comes from. To me, I'm just preparing for another game. Nothing's changed since the end of the Perth Test match, apart from the fact that Shane Warne's retiring at the end of the Sydney Test. So it's funny how Warnie decides that and . . . whether it's in his wake and I'm being pulled along as well or whether the media think it's time for me to go, I don't know."Of all the Australians in the Test team, McGrath is showing his age the most. Nevertheless, he's still good for the first innings of a Test series as he's demonstrated in the last 2 Ashes series. All we need to do is wheel him out for the 1st Test, let him knock up a 6 for 50 then take a kip for the rest of the series. And while noone is actually asking, Stuart MacGill is going to great lengths to let everyone know he's not retiring either:
"There's definitely a role for me at state and international level for the next two to three years. I think it's really important to have experienced bowlers to form part of your attack because we've encountered difficult situations before and had to deal with them. Shane retiring hasn't changed my outlook at all. I'm going to be playing every game with the intention of preparing myself so if the opportunity arises to play for Australia, I'm the guy."MacGill has lived in Warne's long shadow his entire career and with his wicket-taking ability would probably walk into any other Test side (except England where wicket taking is apparently not a strong prerequisite for their bowlers). All of Australia mourned when Warnie announced his retirement. Well, almost all. I can imagine Stuart MacGill was the only person air punching with an exultant "yessssss!"
|Posted by JC on Fri 22 Dec||20 comments|
I must admit I felt a bit sorry for Andrew Flintoff after Perth. Freddie's a likeable character and tried his heart out but England was simply outplayed over the last 3 Tests. However, Glenn McGrath has pulled no punches, saying he feels no pity for England. In 2005, Pigeon was left with egg on his face after predicting a 5-nil whitewash, or in one moment of condescension, predicted a 3-1 win. When criticised over this remark, he said he was paying England a compliment! Now he's back in his element and the hubris is very much on display:
"You don't feel too much for them. I remember standing on The Oval last year watching England celebrate when they won the Ashes. I'm sure everyone else in Australia who met up with any England supporter since then has really copped it, so no, we don't feel sorry for them. Order has been restored. The boys were really happy we captured the Ashes - it's exactly what we wanted to do, but Ricky Ponting did make the point that there's still two Test matches to go and the opportunity to really play well and win these last two and go five-nil up."Meanwhile, England cricket CEO David Collier is looking ahead to the next Ashes series in 2009 (someone should tell him there are still two Tests left in the current series):
"We have eight to nine players who will still be around in 2009, and the Australians have only five or six. We had lost only one in 10 series before this and we're still No.2 in the world."Collier is correct that 2009 will be a completely different kettle of fish as Australia will be a substantially different team, missing a few irreplaceable champions. However, I disagree about England being #2 in the world. The way things stand at the moment, you have Australia first, daylight second.
|Posted by JC on Wed 20 Dec||19 comments|
Australians are in mourning and the rest of the world is celebrating as Shane Warne is set to retire from Test cricket after the Sydney Test. He hasn't made any official announcement yet - he's holding a press conference tomorrow. I'm holding out a slim hope that he's actually going to announce a reconciliation with Simone Warne or a new breakthrough in laser hair technology but the odds are against it. We have just two more Test matches to appreciate his genius.
A side effect may be some of Australia's other veterans will prolong their careers. They'll all be acutely aware of the Chappell-Lillee-Marsh effect - when three greats simultaneously left the game to devastating effect on Australian cricket. The last thing we need is a procession of Australian champions leaving the team at the same time. The irony is of all our ageing champions, Warne is the last one we want to leave. Glenn McGrath while still effective is looking positively creaky in the field. Hayden and Langer's reflexes will surely start to dull against the new ball. Gilchrist is still strugging for form barring the odd record breaking innings. But the art of legspin is an area of cricket least affected by age. Warne is still at the peak of his powers.
Warne is also the most difficult player to replace in the side. For openers, we have Phil Jaques, Mike Hussey and a handful of other young promising batsman waiting for a hit. Glenn McGrath has his own mini-me in Stuart Clark ready to take up the baton. Brad Haddin will do a fine job as wicketkeeper. But how do you replace as Collingwood puts it "the greatest bowler to have ever walked on the planet"? Easy, says Stuart MacGill, who will quickly remind anyone that he has a better strikerate whenever they play together.
It's a huge loss that suddenly takes the sheen of our still sparkling Ashes victory. The key to winning Test matches is taking 20 wickets, something Duncan Fletcher only realised after he lost the series. Australia has been blessed to have two of Test cricket's greatest wicket takers in the same team. Both McGrath and Warne possess the ability to not only take wickets but also choke up the runs. More than that, Warnie is an entertainer. It's compelling cricket watching Warne impose his will upon the game as he chirps away at a batsman, surrounds him with fieldsmen, tempts him with flight or just bamboozles him with vicious turn and bounce. Cricket will be the duller without him.
|Posted by JC on Wed 20 Dec||47 comments|
The UK press reaction to the Ashes result is predictable: England surrender Ashes. There are many factors in England's loss - injuries, lack of warm-up matches, shoddyline, inexplicable selections, lack of match fitness, negative tactics... the list goes on. However, England have decided one scapegoat for England's loss: Duncan Fletcher.
The UK Independent has ripped Fletcher to shreds, decrying his lack of preparation, support for his players, even his lack of emotion. And yes, Fletcher has done a poor job of masterminding England's defence of the Ashes. But it takes two teams to compete an Ashes and I think more credit should go to Australia than blame to England.
In 2005, England out-thought and out-prepared Australia. To ensure it didn't happen again, the Australian players and staff began planning how to win back the Ashes 10 days after they lost them. They'd barely got off the plane when a 15 month strategy was mapped out and then executed masterfully. I've never seen Australia play with such steely intent over such an extended period of time. Even when England dominated, Australia hung in there, bowling with discipline and the self-belief that the match would turn their way. And it always did.
The team is incredibly united. There's been more cuddling than at a chick flick marathon. Noone personifies Australia's new edge more than Ricky Ponting. Since the 2005 loss, he's motored along at the Husseyesque average of 85. And there were two moments in the field that have demonstrated his fierce concentration throughout the series - Geraint Jones' runout yesterday and Kevin Pietersen's runout in Adelaide. The KP runout was spectacular as he swooped on the ball and dived, throwing down the stumps from side-on. What is particularly impressive is he'd already spent a day and a half in the field being punished by the English batsmen - yet he pounced with the freshness and enthusiasm of the first hour of Day 1.
They're calling this series "Ricky's Redemption" or "Ricky's Revenge". I get the feeling Ricky's taste for revenge won't be satisfied until the series ends at 5-nil.
|Posted by JC on Tue 19 Dec||163 comments|
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