The Ashes: is today the day we get back the urn?

I tweeted this morning that I was a little trepidatious about today’s play at the WACA ground. My worries are linked principally to the fact that 250 runs in 90 overs is not a massive ask. Many have lambasted my view and seem convinced that an Australian win today will arise simply if Australia shows up.

I remain worried about today’s play for a number of reasons:

1. I hate complacency and am bothered by the perception that this is going to be an easy day of cricket.

2. Matt Prior is a quality batsman and only 7 months ago batted 4 and a half hours to save a test against New Zealand in trying conditions. Form is temporary but class is permanent so sooner or later he is going to come good.

3. The bouncer / verbal approach of the Australians that has worked so far is becoming less and less of a shock for the Englishmen as evidence by Johnson’s reducing returns in this game. Reliance on it again today will mean less balls for the Poms to play which is to their advantage rather than ours.

Don’t get me wrong: I am desperate for an Australian win and think it is a short price favourite. Declaring it as a certainty as the broadcaster and most of the press have done is a dangerous exercise though.

Play begins in 15 mins: as I said this morning … I will not be comfortable until the Prior / Stokes partnership is broken.

Bring on day 5!

The Ashes: Oh Jimmy Jimmy …

I have been saying for some time that Jimmy Anderson has not been the same bowler as he was in the first test of the winter Ashes series when he had match figures of 10/158 and, more particularly, bowled an epic 13 over spell that won the game for England. In only 155 days how times have changed for Anderson and England. No starker example of this can be found than Anderson’s last over in this 3rd test in Perth with George Bailey taking some 28 runs off that over. The runs are one thing but the disdain for which Bailey treated his bowling, and Watson before him doing the same, were even more compelling.

The statistics support my view here: since 14 July these are Anderson’s numbers:

Overs: 273
Wickets: 19
Average: 47.47
Strike Rate: 86.08

Those last two numbers compare, frankly, woefully to his overall record which has his average at just over 30 and his strike rate at 58.9.

It is also worth noting that of his 19 wickets in this period, 9 of those dismissals were of batters batting in slots 8 through 11. These are cheap wickets.

Anderson bowled his heart out at Trent Bridge. Either he has been injured since or something else went wrong with him during that epic 13 over spell on 14 July 2013. From being England’s main man and mentioned in the same breath as Dale Steyn in the “best bowler in the world” debate, he has become one of the main punchlines in what could only be considered as being the joke that has become England’s summer tour of Australia.

I called for Anderson to miss out on selection in Perth based on my view that he is not physically right. A match return of 2/165 off 42 overs in Perth has done nothing to assuage me from that view.

Taking up Geoffrey Boycott’s call in the Telegraph newspaper today that it is time for some of the older heads in the English team to be chopped off, and repeating my previous call, win, lose or draw in this test match at Perth (and everything is pointing to an English loss) Anderson can not play in Melbourne. He needs to be rehabilitated and given time to get over the physical scars that came from his epic performance at Trent Bridge and the mental scars that have come from this tour and surely must have been solidified today at Perth. To play him in Melbourne would, frankly, be negligent of the English hierachy.

The Ashes: First Test Player Ratings

Australia dominated England in the First Test match completed at the Gabba on Sunday. Here are my ratings of the performances of the players from the Australian side:

David Warner: 9 out of 10

This was the performance Australia cricket fans, particularly those who have doubted Warner’s position in the team, have been waiting for.  His first innings 49 had the feel of “same old same old” about when a bad shot induced his down fall after he had scored quickly.  His second innings hundred was akin to watching him mature in front of our eyes.  His hundred was nothing short of excellent: he did not attack as a means of defence as has previously been his method.  Frankly though his performance has been sullied by his comment in the media but this rating is not a rating of that.

Chris Rogers: 4.5 out of 10

It was far from Rogers best game.  He never looked comfortable on the bouncing Gabba surface and succumbed, frankly, to two ordinary shots.  Will return to conditions more to his liking for the second test.

Shane Watson: 4.5 out of 10

It was also far from Watson’s best game.  After doing the hard yards in the first innings, and looking very good, he sparred at the widest ball he received and was caught in the slips.  Pumped up in the second innings after an excellent pull shot he had a brain melt and skied one to mid on.  Must stop being so impetuous if he is to be a long term option at number 3.

Michael Clarke: 9 out of 10

After his first innings score was probably the most under pressure bloke in Brisbane.  He did not put a step wrong thereafter: his captaincy was brilliant and his batting in the second innings took the game away from the English when Australia was in trouble.  The plans he has developed with the coach and his willingness to go for the metaphorical throat of the English played a significant part in Australia’s dominant win.

Steve Smith: 5 out of 10

Another player who was looking solid in the first innings before playing a bad shot.  A duck in the second innings came after a long partnership when a lengthy spell in the middle from him was required.  Was a livewire in the field and his catching was of the highest standard.

George Bailey: 5 out of 10

On debut looked very nervous in the first innings before getting a good ball from Jimmy Anderson.  In the second innings, when the pressure was off really, he looked more assured and kept Australia’s run rate up as they chased a lead in advance of a declaration.  Missed a run out of Cook late on day 3 which could have played a big part in England pushing for a draw (if they were able to do so).

Brad Haddin: 9.5 out of 10

Australia’s best player for mine.  Was called on to rebuild Australia’s first innings and was easily Australia’s most comfortable batsman on the first day Gabba wicket.  Through away a hundred in the first innings chasing quick runs and got fast runs again in the second innings as the declaration approached.  Haddin was excellent with the gloves this game to boot.  His best game for Australia for some time.

Mitchell Johnson: 9 out of 10

In his first game back in the baggy green in 14 months Johnson’s work with the willow accompanied by his bowling saw him tapped on the shoulder by the Channel 9 commentators for man of the match honours.  He bowled with pace and hostility and set the Englishmen on the back foot right from his first over.  In the middle session of day 2 he lifted his fellow players and the crowd with one of the swiftest spells witnessed at the Gabba in recent times.  A “Michelle” in the second innings was a just reward.  Now he needs to replicate it.

Peter Siddle: 6.5 out of 10

Relegated to Australia’s 3rd choice seamer, Siddle did a workmanlike job without setting the world on fire.  His ball to dismiss Bell in the second innings was an absolute “jaffa” but that aside all that could be said about Siddle’s work was that he did the job his captain asked of him.

Ryan Harris: 7.5 out of 10

Much has been made of Johnson’s bowling but Australia’s best bowler, Harris, bowled an unbelievably good first spell against the English to remove Cook and Pietersen.  He looked like taking wickets every time he took the ball and had his status as Australia’s best bowler confirmed by the obvious relief in the body language of the English when he was spelled.

Nathan Lyon: 8 out of 10

Was this performance enough for the selectors to take the foot of Lyon’s throat and give him time in the team? If it was not then he will never convince them of his bona fides.  His first spell contributed as much to the downfall of Carberry as Johnson’s bowling and he took big wickets in both innings.

 

The Ashes: First Test Day Four Preview

If you had have told me at the start of this test that by Day 4 of this first test Australia would be in an impregnable position and the knifes would already be out for the English in their press and on social media I would have told you to go and have a long hard think about it. The fact is that no one expected either the Australians to play so well or England to allow them to play do well with their lack of form.

The equation is simple now: England has to bat for 2 days (noting that there is some inclement weather on the horizon) whilst Australia needs to take 8 wickets.

For England much rests on the shoulders of the men at the crease, Cook and Pietersen, and Bell who present as the only batters left for England who can bat for two days. The question will be whether, mentally, the batters who will be at the other end of Cook have the patience to stay with him.

For Australia today is all about executing on the plans they have for each batter just like they did on day 2. Complacency and cockiness are not traits that one associates with Darren Lehmann teams but this is a young team in some respects so there is a danger of some in the team (Warner I am looking at you) getting too far ahead of themselves. The pundits and selectors continue to have a question mark over N Lyon, bizarrely in my view, and today presents another opportunity for him to bowl Australia to victory.

Having had a bone rattling storm last night in Brisbane, players fans and pundits alike will have one eye on the radar today to track incoming inclemency which one expects is the only thing that can save the English.

It will be another fascinating day of cricket at the Gabba!

The Ashes: First Test, Day Three Talking Points

It was another brilliant day of cricket at the Gabba today, particularly if you are a fan of the men in the baggy green. Australia have, since the final session of day 1, won every session of this test match and today was another clean sweep. With two days to go, there can only be one result in this game save that the rain bucketing down on my roof may still play a role on the ultimate outcome.

Having watched, again, every minute of day 3 live (but for 15 minutes after lunch) here are my talking points arising from the day:

The English are rattled: and it is showing!

A funny thing happened midway through this day of cricket: the Poms started barking at each other. First it was Prior at the Captain. Then it was Swann at Prior (after an errant throw). Then it was Broad at Prior (after he did not move quickly to intercept a 4). From a unit united only 36 hours before hand all of a sudden the wheels were falling off. Things did not improve after Australia declared: J Trott’s display with the willow was indicative of a muddled outlook and a rattled psyche.

D Warner: I salute you!

I have been a staunch critic of the selection of David Warner and that was before he tried to deck Joe Root and all of the other off field palaver that he went through this year. I was concerned about his temperament and about his technique standing up to the rigours of test match cricket. Today he proved me wrong. His innings today was one of both sound temperament and technique: it was almost like we were watching Warner mature on the spot. No longer was he wafting at balls outside off stump, no longer was he, from I was sitting, picking fights with the opposition. His driving was sublime, his defence solid and he set a solid, if not spectacular tempo. It might have been his 4th hundred but this one will be remembered as the one that won the diehards.

Cook v Clarke: stop the fight now!

I commented earlier in this test match that Michael Clarke has had an excellent tactical match. I will go further now, having seen Captain Cook seek to marshall his troops today, and say that Michael Clarke has metaphorically played Alastair Cook off the break in this game. Cook, again, today seemed bereft of ideas and was simply reactionary. I lost count of the number of times a ball was struck in the air to a particular part of the field that was unmanned only to see a fielder move there the very next ball. There seemed today to be no plans in the English arsenal to get the Australian batters out, other than the idiotic plan to milk the strike to Michael Clarke upon his arrival.

Absent a day of batting of Laxman / Dravid proportions from Cook and Pietersen tomorrow, I would not be blocking out my diary on Monday to watch to Day 5: Australia should finish of the English on Day 4 and post its most important victory of the Michael Clarke era.

The Ashes: First Test Day Three Preview

After yesterday’s unbelievable scenes at the Gabba, Australian fans have woken to realize that yesterday did actually happen and it was not a dream. The sky’s are overcast in Brisbane and the forecast is for shower which present as an opportunity for the English to push for a draw.

Today is a big day for:

Alastair Cook

Michael Clarke has captained his side brilliantly so far, almost in spite of his bad back, whereas Cook seemed to let the game meander away from the English both on day 1 when Australia was 6/135 and even yesterday when he turned to Swann and Root in the shadows of stumps. The captain must find a way to extract 10 Australian wickets today for no more than 150 runs today to have a chance and can only do so with all out attack backed by quality plans.

Graeme Swann

While Nathan Lyon played a strangling role whilst Mitchell Johnson ran amok, Graeme Swann has thus far looked bereft of answers to the Australian’s attacking him. Wicketless to date and leaking runs like a sieve but now bowling on a wearing wicket today is the day that Swann must either return to his wicket taking ways or at least hold up an end whilst the Anderson and Broad attack.

David Warner

I have been one of the most negative about Warner’s place in the team and his need to score runs in first class cricket. I have also stated that Australia needs a long innings from him spread out over a day but not at a run a ball so that he can show his mettle under tough conditions. Today is the day for Warner: the conditions will be difficult today with much humidity in the air. If he is still in at tea he will be 150 and Australia will be in the box seat. Most importantly for Warner he will have gone a long way to gain the respect of those who historically have not rated him.

Brisbane fans

Thursday and Friday saw crowds at headquarters of 34,000 and 33,000. Today’s crowd needs to replicate those numbers to keep the naysayers, who posit that Brisbane did not deserve to keep the first test next year because of waning crowd numbers, quiet.

Day 3 is moving day in golf parlance but today at the Gabba it could either be the day England rest back the advantage from Australia or Australia makes its knockout blow. Either way it will be another fascinating day of cricket. Play commences at 10am.