Ashes Tour 2013: England v Australia 2nd ODI Preview

The second One Day International fixture between England and Australia kicks off tonight at Old Trafford. This portion of the tour seems entirely inconsequential and, frankly, a bit of a waste of time and thus it is difficult to get excited about it. That said, it is an important game for some players on the fringe of selection for the main focus of English and Australian cricket fans coming up in 74 days’ time so it is worth looking at least to see how those players perform.

Neither team has named its final line-up. That said it is a big game for:

· Fawad Ahmed: I have not been a fan of Ahmed’s selection and his fast tracked citizenship. Equally I am intrigued to see how he reacts to the public pressure that has come from his request (granted by Cricket Australia) to not be forced to wear the sponsors logo on his shirt. John Inverarity clearly has him the heart of his plans for the Ashes so another solid performance for him here will be another building bloke in building his case for promotion ahead of Nathan Lyon.

· Michael Clarke: Darren Lehmann has been overt about his view that so long as Clarke is fit he will play. I have to say that every time I see Clarke in the line-up for games that mean nothing I fear he is one game closer to hurting his back and being out of the Ashes series. It is a big game for Clarke to ensure that he does not get hurt: he is that important to the return Ashes series.

· George Bailey: Is only 112 runs away from reaching 1000 runs in one day cricket. There is a gap in Australia’s test match batting line-up at number 6 (or number 5 if Steve Smith moves down the order) so a hundred in this fixture would not only push him over an important milestone but could push him to the forefront of the selectors minds for that vacant slot.

· Steven Finn: Had a test series to forget and was promptly dropped after the first test at Nottingham. He gets his chance to push for a tour to Australia for the return series where one would expect his bowling to more suited to the conditions than they were in England. It has to be said though that Finn often leaks runs and it was obvious that when he bowled at Nottingham any pressure on Australia’s batters was released. He will need to do better in this ODI series to convince those who doubt him in the English set up that he is up to the task in Australia.

· Eoin Morgan: Captaining England in the absence of Alistair Cook, among others, Morgan secured an easy victory an easy victory against Ireland with a quality hundred. Morgan has had a truncated career for England in test matches having not played for England since its series against Pakistan in Dubai. The added pressure of captaincy could play a role in his form in this form of the game, however if he does perform under that pressure he may find himself back in the frame for a test birth.

The last time England and Australia faced each other:

· In this form of the game, England thrashed Australia in the Champions Trophy by 48 runs (exactly 3 months ago) off the back of an inspired bowling performance from Messrs Anderson and Broad (neither of whom are playing in this series).

· At this ground, the rain conspired against Australia as it pressed for what would have been a victory that kept the Ashes series alive for it but only lead to a draw that saw the English retain the Ashes.

Given the changes that have been made to the England line up for this series, the bookmakers have installed Australia as favourites to take the series and this game. I, for one, am less confident. Only time will tell.

The Ashes: 3rd Test Day 5 … Rain, Ryno and the Urn

Well the inevitable happened over night: it rained all but for 90 minutes of play on Day 5 of the 3rd test and a draw ended up being the result of a match that Australia, by any measure, dominated.

The 90 minute burst from Australia that saw 3 wickets fall and a dropped catch from the captain, served a significant purpose in the sense that Ryan Harris, if he needed to, solidified his standing as Australia’s premier bowler. His spell was 7 overs of pure joy for members of the fast bowlers cartel and fans alike and all eyes will now be on how his knee pulls up given that the 4th test commences in 3 days time.

So, that is that, the English retain the Urn as the best available result for Australia is that the series is drawn. Attention now turns to the Chester-le-Street ground in Durham for the 4th test starting on Friday.

The Ashes: 3rd Test, Day 5 … Keys to Victory

It all comes down to today for Australia: win the test and they are still in with a chance of winning back the Ashes. Draw or Lose this test then England have retained the Ashes.

Here are my keys to victory for Australia from tonight’s play:

1. Rain, rain go away … come back to visit another day!

Obviously Australia needs as much time as possible to bowl out England and that means that it needs blue skies throughout the day. Looking at the forecast, it certainly does not look like that will eventuate but we can only live in hope.

2. When will Australia declare?

The obvious move for Australia is to declare overnight and take all over possible to win the game. That said, if the weather radar is clear and I was the captain I would be tempted to bat for another 7 to 10 overs. That way the English opening batsmen have not had all morning to prepare and only get the advantage of the 10 minute hand over. If that was Australia’s strategy they would only lose the overs and two over for a change over.

3. The Captain’s Tactics

Michael Clarke will need to present his best tactical performance as a captain in this innings to win the game. He must be happy to use Nathan Lyon even during periods where he is being yet and must avoid the temptation to overuse Ryan Harris.

4. Come in Spinner

If Australia’s spinners (Lyon and Smith), take 6 wickets between them then Australia wins the game. This is Nathan Lyon’s chance to kill off all of the doubters who say he is not a test calibre bowler because he has not bowled Australia to victory as yet. There is no better opportunity than the present.

5. Get the unholy trinity and the rest will follow

The big wickets for Australia today are Cooke, Pietersen and Bell. If all three of those batters are removed for less than 20 apiece then it will be game on in Manchester.

Obviously, the weather presents a massive obstacle to Australia’s chances and a draw is the most likely result. If Australia is to win all of the foregoing keys to victory MUST come together for Australia.

Go the baggy greens!

The Ashes: 3rd Test Day 4 … Bad Light, Dissent and Walking

It was another gripping day of Test Match cricket overnight at Old Trafford (has there been a day this series that has not been entrhalling?). Unfortunately the intervention of weather that had looked inevitable since day 1 finally occured late in the afternoon on Day 4 just when Australia might have been thinking about a declaration. Still Australia leads by 331 runs with a day to play on a wearing 5th day pitch so the game is there for the winning for the baggy greens: if Manchester’s rain does not get in the way.

Here are my top 5 talking points from Day 4:

1. Maybe the bad light call was wrong … suck it up it is the law: I have read much condemnation of the decision of Umpires Hill and Erasmus to declare that the light was too poor to continue play about 30 minutes before the heavy rain started. Whether you like the decision or not (and I for one did not) the fact is that since the law of the game was changed some 3 years it is solely in the umpires discretion to make a call that they light is bad and the players have to go off. The old law, which was that the bad light was offered to the batsmen and they decided to continue, would have seen a different decision made BUT that is not the law at the moment so bleating about the decision gets no one anywhere.

2. Dissent … why bother really? There are a couple of incidents of what I would term dissent over night that makes one just sit back and wonder “why are you bothering?”. First, the English players’ reaction to their failed DRS review of a David Warner hook shot was unseemly to say the least and the “why bother” moment for me arises because they had had two appeals at the shot (the original appeal and the DRS) both of which were declined and the DRS was one of the more obviously easy decision for the 3rd umpire to make. Why have a go at the umpire after going through the review process? That makes no sense to me. Secondly, I do not understand what Michael Clarke has to gain by giving the umpires a bake after they decided to adjourn play for bad light. They have made their decision: arguing with them about it on the field is not going to make them immediately reverse said decision is it?

3. Walking … is it the new black all of a sudden? Much was made in the commentary I heard and on social media about Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann walking after they knicked balls through to the ‘keeper. There are two types of walking: walking when you know you are going to be given out and walking when the decision has already been made that you are not out. Can anyone argue that both of the acts of walking here were in the former category? One only needs to look at the replay to see Umpire Hill nodding his head so vociferiously in response to the Swann appeal that his neck was close to snapping to know that he was going to be given out. Credit where it is due: they both walked but lets not be too hasty with out kudos: it wasn’t like they had both been given not out and then walked.

4. Sticks in the throat to say … but S Broad is a quality player: Say what you like about his perceived personality, his perceived petulance at times and the fact that he knicked one to first slip and did not walk, there is no mistaking the fact that Stuart Broad is a quality allround cricketer. Test cricket is no charm school and to have nearly 2000 runs at an average of 25 and over 200 wickets at an average of 30 is indicative of that quality and, more to the point, his importance to the English team. He did not look troubled in compiling 32 runs in just over an hour to thwart Australian hopes of enforcing the follow on. I will pose this talking point another way and then leave it (I feel like I need a shower): J Kallis aside … is there a better medium fast bowling all rounder in the game at the moment than this bloke? Enough said really.

5. N Lyon: this is your time Nathan Lyon again seemed as penetrative as a plastic spoon in the early exchanges overnight. Readers of this blog will know that I firmly believe he has been harshly done by pundits and selectors alike in recent times but it must be said that he has been presented with the moment that many of his critics have been gasping for: a big lead and a 4th innings pitch to bowl on. If Australia is to win, and assuming they have enough overs to do so, Nathan Lyon will need to take 4 of the 10 wickets to fall as a minimum. It is his time to shine.

So here we are again: day 5, both teams capable of winning (England could score 331 in 90 overs if Australia do not bowl well) and the Urn well and truly at stake. Will this be a day akin to the last day at Trent Bridge or will the weather gods have the last laugh? Play starts in just under 12 hours time.

The Ashes: 3rd Test, Day 4 Preview

It is day 4 at Old Trafford and my English sources tell me that rain is forecast in Manchester from about 1pm today and then all day tomorrow. With that weather around a draw is looking likely it would seem.

That said, weather permitting, these are the keys to victory for Australia on Day 4:

1. The Captain MUST bowl Nathan Lyon for a long spells today and if he cops some tap stick with him. He is a quality spin bowler for mine but needs to be given enough rope to get plans working for each batsman.
2. Ryan Harris is the ace in the pack of Australia’s bowling. Giving him some rest today will be vital. Early wickets this morning should see Australia batting again by the first hour. Australia must then bat for till just after tea to allow their main man some time to recover.
3. A target of 350 is a must for Australia. Obviously the sooner that Australia gets England out the better.

The other thing that we can expect today is that the booing of the Myth will continue. Many have an objection to sports crowds booing players and officials but I don’t have a particular problem with given the vitriol often directed at opponents by Australian crowds.

This will be another intriguing day of cricket.

The Ashes: 3rd Test Day 3 … KP, Ryno and DRS again

England were always going to fight back in this test match: it was a question of when and not if and for a little over a session on Day 3 at Old Trafford they did just that. By close of play however the Australians had rested back the ascendancy and we now move into day 4 with 33 runs standing between England and the following on.

Here are my 5 keys to day 3 at Old Trafford:

1. Love him or hate KP is one of the best in the world: I know there are many who dislike Kevin Pietersen for what they perceive to be his personality foibles or his, perceived again, lack of commitment to the game. Say what you like about him, I will defy anyone who suggests he is not in the best 5 batters in the world at present. His innings was simply breathtaking with shot making all around Old Trafford and his attack on Nathan Lyon threatened to derail Australia’s day.

2. The “Shermanator” continues his rise: There remain a significant pocket of fans in Australia who continue to not rate Ian Bell. I am not one of them. He has been the best batter in the series to date and showed that again over night with a comfortable knock in which he looked largely untroubled right up to the point where he got out.

3. Where would we be without “Ryno”?: I know Starc has taken more wickets and Siddle has similar figures but yet again in this game Ryan Harris has shown just what Australia has been missing with the limitations injury have placed on this fine fast bowlers career. Two big wickets again over night in Trott and Bell admist spells of quality superior to any bowler in this test match so far show why, when fit, he is one of the best in the world. You will go a long way to see a better ball than the won that extracted Bell, particularly given the position of the game and form of the batsman. When Ryan Harris is bowling, Australia always look like they are on top: there can be no higher compliment for a fast bowler.

4. Starc … erratic, frustrating, wicket taker: I had caused to lament midway through the second session last night that I wondered if the NSP was regretting selecting Starc over Bird given the innocuous manner with which he had bowled up to that point. Yes he had eked out Cook but there was hardly any brilliance in that. I have to concede though that for all of the erraticism that sometimes gets into his bowling he has the X factor about him that means at times he is just unplayable. His efforts to dispatch Pietersen and Bairstow were two such deliveries.

5. More DRS follies: I am getting sick of writing about DRS and, indeed, had placed a self imposed on myself after the Myth’s terrible referral. That ban has only lasted a day however after Australia again showed they simply are not good at using the technology. Pietersen, on 62, fell across his wicket and was, in the eyes of many including Watson (who I am sure has watched a ton of videos last week of himself getting out in the same way), out LBW. Tony Hill declined and the now customer mid wicket conference between bowler, captain and ‘keeper decided not to refer it. Of course the ball was going to hit the stumps and a referral would have seen Hill reversed and Pietersen out 50 runs sooner. Has there been a more poignant moment surrounding DRS this series than Boof Lehmann on the balcony at Old Trafford raising his finger to indicate to Clarke that it would have been out? Australia MUST get better at this!

So there it is: day 3 is in the book and day 4 is only 10 and half hours away. Given the state of the game I do not expect Australia to do anything other than bat again regardless of the follow on and if that happens expect the Myth to elevated in the order. England’s second innings will be one of those moments that N Lyon fans and detractors alike have been waiting for: wearing pitch, large total and opportunity to win the game. It will be fascinating to see what happens next!