The Ashes Washup: I got it wrong and I love it!

On 19 November last year, in advance of the start of the Ashes series, I posted “5 Fearless Predictions” on this blog apropos key performances that I believed would play a large factor in who won the Ashes.

Those predictions were:

  1. There would be only one winning in the Broad v Australian crowd battle and the winner’s team would likely win the Ashes.
  2. Michael Clarke would average less than 35.00 with the willow.
  3. The Australian XI for the Sydney test match would be different to that of the Brisbane test match.
  4. Kevin Pietersen will score a hundred and will offend everyone.
  5. No matter what happens the “Three Stooges” will survive.

I also had been fairly overt in my dismay, at the time, about the selection of Mitchell Johnson. Obviously I got that one woefully wrong along with my predictions about Michael Clarke’s performance, possible changes to the Australian XI and Pietersen scoring a hundred.

I had also posited that the result would be, according to my heart, Australia to win 2-1 and, according to my head, England to win 2-1.  Again: I was wrong.

One of the most mimicked lines of Richie Benaud is “It’s a funny old game cricket” and this completed Ashes tour has certainly taught us that.

Ordinarily I would have a case of the “dirts” because I got my predications wrong but how could I be negative about a 5-0 whipping of the English? Simply put: I can not be!  That said, I am now working hard to manage my own expectations of the Australian team for the coming series in South Africa.  That series will not be anywhere near as easy as this one just completed was and any hint of complacency will be exploited by the best team in the world, for the moment.

A final point: I never in my wildest dreams thought England would be so bad on this tour.  Mitchell Johnson, in his acceptance speech for the Man of the Series award, commented that England never stopped fighting during the series: Ben Stokes aside I respectfully disagree.  England’s capitulations in both innings in the final test of the series were indicative of a side that had given up: nothing more and nothing less.  I genuinely hope that Andy Flower and Alistair Cook can get the Poms back on track because whilst I love nothing more than beating them, seeing competitive cricket against them in previous series has been a joy.

The Ashes: 3rd Test Teams and the Toss

We are now 30 minutes away from the start of play at the WACA with the toss have been won by Australia and them having decided to bat.

The following teams were announced by the captains:

Australia: Clarke (c), Haddin (vc), Warner, Rogers, Watson, Smith, Bailey, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England: Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Stokes, Prior, Broad, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson

No changes for Australia with Ryan Harris confirmed fit. One change for the English with Bresnan coming in for Panesar.

Captains Clarke and Cook play their 100th test match in would should be an epic encounter! Bring it on!

The Ashes: Where to now for England? My suggest XI for Perth

There is no getting around this fact: England have been out played, out thought and out sledged by the Australians in the first two test of this summer. Don’t get me wrong: I have loved every minute of the pummelling dished out over the last two test matches. That said, there is a part of me that yearns for a competitive test match between these two oldest of cricketing foes. In order to be competitive in Perth it is clear, and Andy Flower (England’s Director of Cricket) agrees, that some changes need to be made.

I mentioned during the series in England over the winter that Jimmy Anderson did not look one tenth of the bowler he did in the first test at Nottingham where his bowling, basically, singlehandedly rested victory for England from the jaws of possible defeat. Since that 10 wicket effort, where he bowled a massive amount of overs, Anderson has taken 17 wickets in 12 innings at an average of 44 all against Australia. He has already been rested from the ODI squad for the games following the test matches and it seems to me that he is not quite right physically. I would suggest he be rested for the Perth test match given the short back up and the fact that he is just not bowling well.

I would bring in Bresnan, now fit, for Anderson. He hits the wicket hard and is one of the toughest players in the English squad. His inclusion would also add some starch to a lower order that has been beaten up by short bowling in the first two tests of the summer.

I am a fan of Michael Carberry but his dismissals in both innings in Adelaide were just bad batting and showed that he may be out of his depth at the top level. Joe Root showed, not for the first time, great application and courage in the face of a barrage from the Australian fast bowlers. He should open in Carberry’s place with England’s best batsman of 2013, Ian Bell, moving up the order to number 3. This “engine room” will give more stability around the captain, Cook, whose efforts so far have been less than stellar and show a muddled mental state.

Replacing Bell at number 5 is a choice between Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow. For mine, statistics don’t lie and Ballance has the first class record advantage over Bairstow. Nearly 5000 runs at over 50 per innings in 67 first class games is a record worthy of a trial in the top team. I know that throwing a debutant in at Perth is akin to throwing him to the wolves but from all I have read about the Zimbabwean import he has the temperament to handle it.

In the bowling line up, the resting of Anderson aside, there is no way England can play two spinners in Perth. It seems like a case of the lesser of two evils when it comes to spinners with Swann in ordinary form and Panesar simply not good enough in the field to set off what he brings to the table with the ball. I would lean to Swann given that he seems to have more steel about him than Panesar. There is a sameness about all of the bowlers in the English squad with the available options all tall right arm fast medium bowlers. Finn and Tremlett are both scarred from having played and failed against Australia of recent times so I would add Irishman Boyd Rankin to the line up for a debut on Australia’s fastest pitch.

So, all of that considered, this the team I reckon the Poms should put on the field come Friday in Perth:

Cook, Root, Bell, Pietersen, Ballance, Stokes, Prior, Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Rankin

I think this is a team that could make a game of it against Australia and whilst I, again, will say am enjoying Australia destroy England I am also keen to see a contest.

Postscript: I will avoid the obvious quip that this team really ought be renamed the English Dominion XI given that 45% of the line up were not born in England (Ireland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and New Zealand being the places of birth of players selected in addition to England).

The Ashes: Charges against Johnson and Stokes dismissed

It has been announced that the charges laid against Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes for contravening Section 2.2.4 of the ICC Code of Conduct have been dismissed by match referee Jeff Crowe. No details of the basis of the dismissal have been released albeit one suspects that he determined that the contact between the players was unintentional (section 2.2.4 contains an intent element). Both players are now available for the third test match at Perth.

The Ashes: Johnson and Stokes charged after second test “fracas” … what does the Code say?

Mitchell Johnson and Ben Stokes have been charged with a breach of section 2.2.4 of the ICC’s code of player conduct following a clash of shoulders during the fourth day of the second test.

Section 2.2.4 of the Code provides that inappropriate and deliberate physical contact between players in the course of play during an international cricket match shall constitute a Level 2 offence under the Code. The explanatory notes that go with code provided that players will breach section 2.2.4 if they deliberately walk or run into or shoulder another player.

Section 7.3 deals with possible punishments that may be issued by the match referee, if he finds the player guilty, of an offence under the Code. Assuming it is a first offence for both players (I can not recall Johnson as having been charged before and it is Stokes’ first game), then the possible punishment could be the imposition of a fine of between 50-100% of the applicable match fee and / or update two suspension points.

Section 7.4 explains that a test match shall carry a weighting of 2 suspension points should that penalty be imposed as a result of an infraction.

Section 7.5 deals with the imposition of suspension points and, most helpfully provides in section 7.5.3, that the match referees shall apply the suspension points to the subsequent intentional matches in which the player is most likely to participate in on a chronological basis immediately following the announcement of the decision.

All in all, given the conduct complained of in the charge, it seems to me that there is a real risk that both players could be found guilty and could have a match suspension imposed. There is an appeal process but whether that process could be enlivened in time to allow the players to play in the third test starting on Thursday is questionable. In this regard it should be noted that an appeal from a guilty verdict does not, by virtue of section 8.2 of the Code, stay the decision and the punishment unless the person hearing the appeal grants such a stay.

It will be interesting to see how Jeff Crowe, the match referee, resolves this matter given the spot light that is on player behaviour at the moment. It seems to me that, if guilty, a match suspension would send the right message to the teams that conduct of this type is not on given that they seemed to have missed that message after Michael Clarke was fined in the aftermath of the first test.

The Ashes: Second Test musings

The second test between Australia and England has ended with Australia securing its second dominant victory in as many games. With the third test only three days away, players, pundits and fans have little time to draw breath and rest in advance of hostilities resuming. That said, here are some of my musing arising from this test match just completed worth considering in advance of play commencing in Perth.

Catches win matches: the maxim holds true

Australia won the toss and batted and closed the first day on 5/273 which many considered to be a victory for the English. It could have been so much better though for them had they caught all of the catching opportunities presented to them. Both of Australia’s centurions, Clarke and Haddin, presented catching opportunities on Day 1 that should have been taken. Haddin’s chance being dropped in last over of the first day was particularly damning given that he added a further 111 runs after it. The Australians, on the other hand, looked more lively in the field and more engaged in the game and it showed in their catching particularly in the outfield.

Leg side wickets: plans working or bad batting?

Of the top seven batters for England, all but one was out once (Carberry twice with Stokes the exception) hitting the ball in the air to the leg side. There is a school of thought that the Australians should be lauded for their plans coming together so well that the English batters fell into the traps set. I respectfully can not agree: none of the wickets taken with leg side catches were the result of anything other than bad batting. Bell hitting a full toss from a part time leg spinner to mid on is a perfect example of this as was Cook’s failed hook shot at the start of Day 4. I concede that Australia’s plans have aided the mental disintegration of the Englishmen but bad batting has played a bigger role.

Harden up England, he is only one bowler!

Much has been made of the bowling of Mitchell Johnson and, I concede, he has bowled very swiftly and has executed the plans set for him for various batsman. The way the English batters are playing him though you would think that they were playing a combination of Larwood and Ambrose. The dismissals of Broad and Anderson in the first innings of this test match are perfect cases in point. Both batters failed to get in line with the ball bowled and, there is no other word for it, capitulated. You would almost think these guys had not seen a bowler bowl at around 145kph before.

The niggle continues: this is starting to get unseemly now

I wrote after the first test that sledging is a part of the game and must be accepted as such by the fans and those who bemoan its presence. I continue to posit that view however I have to say the confrontations in this test match just completed went past what I consider to be appropriate. The players having stand up “discussions” in the middle of the wicket, at the end of overs and as they walk off the field is taking it too far and is going past what I believe to be appropriate sledging. The players need to have a long think about what they are doing because surely they must realise that the host broadcaster is watching their every move and broadcasting same without a filter. It is not a good look and is getting out of hand.

The Ashes are returning to Australia already … or are they?

With the short turn around now to the Perth test match, it defies belief that by this time next week Australia could have won back the Ashes however that is the very real scenario that now presents itself. Absent a significant change of fortune and form for the English, is anyone prepared to suggest an alternate result? Certainly the pundits from the UK are now doing what they do best and sinking the boot into their team and the fans have gone from cockahoop smugness to resignation about the result seemingly in the blink of the eye. I, for one, can not believe for a second that the Englishmen will not fight hard in the coming test match to seek to defy Australia. That, combined with the fact that we should not be too quick to write off a team that has dominated us as shortly ago as August, means the level of optimism for Australia fans should be no higher than cautious optimism because things can change quickly in cricket.

All in all this was another excellent effort by Australia to best their arch rivals. Here’s hoping they can do it all again come Thursday in Perth!