The Ashes: First Test Recap

Australia has just wrapped up a massive first test victory at the Gabba in a final (fourth) day that had it all: wickets, rain and angst between the players. This was a result that no one expected: as Australian fans we hoped for it, indeed the religious among us prayed for it, but we never expected it would happend. This was not just a win: this was a destruction of an opponent who had rejoiced in holding the upper hand. England did not win a session of the game from the final session of day one until the close of play today.

For Australia, much credit must go to the captain and coach: every plan they put in place worked and players who had been under pressure, real or imagined in the press, like Warner, Johnson and Lyon all played a massive part in what was the most quintessential of team victories.

For England, there is a real sense from having watched this game closely that under pressure they unravelled. I mentioned the infighting seen yesterday and again and again we have seen in this test match wickets of English batters fall to injudicious shot selection to balls they did not need to play or did not need to play in the air. This is a team that bested Australia 3-0 only months ago and yet today, and the last 3 days, they have looked out matched and out of sorts.

Absent injuries (or some Howard / Invers inspired stupidity) the Australian team will be the same for the Adelaide test match as it was for this one and rightly so. The English have some obvious question marks in their team at the moment: Jonathan Trott is out of form and out of sorts, Graeme Swann has lost his edge and was out bowled by Nathan Lyon in this game and the third fast bowler position is a massive worry for them. That last issue is one likely to see a change but the others will stay the same.

It has been mentioned to me by many this week that Australia looked united and came into this game with an intent to make a statement. The outmuscled and out manned a much more fancied line up and with that they won over a subdued crowd that became a roaring mass on Friday afternoon. I have been a monumental critic of Cricket Australia in advance of this series and that criticism remains but boy did the team get the job done on the field.

Aside from today’s crowd which was disappointing to say the least the crowd numbers for the first three days were outstanding and those numbers were without the phalanx of Barmy Army members who will arrive for the Adelaide test match. The Gabba Test as the first test of the summer is a tradition worth keeping, not only because Australia is unbeatable there, but because traditions continue to matter whether Cricket Australia believes so or not.

Next up for the English is a trial game in Alice Springs: personally I hope that the weather is around 40 degrees for the whole time the game is underway. The Australian’s will enjoy a day off tomorrow and then start planning for Adelaide. One thing is certain: we have only seen four days out of a, now, potential 24 days of cricket in this series so there is a long way to go before the Urn is returned to Australian hands. So for now, lets bask in this win, but from tomorrow lets, players, fans and pundits, all get back to the task of winning back the biggest prize in cricket: now is not a time for complacency and ego but a time to keep the eyes of the main prize.

Bring on Adelaide!

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.

The Ashes: First Test, Day Two Talking Points

What an amazing day of cricket at the Gabba! I have seen a lot of cricket in my time but today’s will be hard to top. Of course I say this as an Australian fan: if you are a fan of the English team it was a day to forget.

Australia are well and truly on top in this game now with a lead of over 200 runs and 10 wickets still in hand. For that position of health, the Australians must thank their bowlers profusely who have dominated the game so far.

Here are my talking points arising from day two:

The Maligned Rises Part 2: Johnson the dominant

Mitchell Johnson broke the game open with a scintillating spell of express bowling from the city end of the ground that left the English bereft and the crowd roaring. The dismissal of Carberry was the starting point to England’s collapse and was brilliantly thought out and executed. Johnson has gone a long way to prove a lot of doubters this game and for that he is to be lauded.

The Maligned Rises Part 3: Lyon Hearted

Many Australian fans have a soft spot for Nathan Lyon and his performances to date in the baggy green have been solid if not spectacular. His first spell today was a marvel of off spin bowling. 3 strangling maidens that contributed to Carberry’s wicket was the start of the spell and then he conjured two classic off spinning wickets to extract Bell and Prior.

The Brain’s Trust: I love it when a plan comes together

It was blindingly obvious that the Australians came into this innings with plans for all of the English batters and those plans came off. The brain’s trust from Australia of Lehmann, Clarke, Haddin and Watson (I include Watson because it was clear that Watson was part of the discussions on the field) have done their homework and done it very well.

It was a brilliant day: Australia now have England on the ropes and must tomorrow keep them there by batting for the whole day. If they do a lead of 220 will be transformed into a lead of 500 and the game will be theirs for the taking.

The Ashes: First Test, Day 1 Talking Points

I have just gotten home from the first day of the of 2013/14 Ashes series and what a first day it was! It was a day that had something for every cricket fan no matter whether you are an Australian or English fan or just a one of the game’s purists. It would be fair to say that it was England’s day but Australia’s fightback in the final session of the day has made it a closer day that looked likely at the tea break.

Here are my talking points from the first day’s play:

Courier Mail v Broad: Broad wins in a first round knock out!

The Courier Mail lost the plot with its campaign to sledge Stuart Broad and to “silence him” by ostensibly not mentioning his name. 5 wickets, including the first 4 of the Australian innings, on day one from England’s key allrounder are enough for me, and basically every cricket fan, to declare this battle a win for Broad by knockout. Widely panned by all serious cricket journalists and all fair minded fan this stunt has done nothing but fire up the English team and successfully so it would seem. The people responsible at the Courier Mail, the journalist who wrote the article, the person who operates the social media and the editor who approved the stunt should be banished from this series for the remainder.

White ball form DOES NOT equate to form in the long form of the game

Australia’s top order again struggled. I have been vehement on this blog and in general discussion that some of Australia’s test players had been given insufficient time to prepare due to playing in a one day series before the test match and, I hate to say I told you so, so it proved for the most part today. George Bailey, on debut after a stunning series of scores in ODI cricket, looked out of sorts and out of touch and played at a ball he should have left. Shane Watson parried at a ball outside off stump that he should have left alone. It is easy to say that with more time in first class cricket at home instead of being in India they may not have played at those balls. I know Brad Haddin was on the same tour but he is not a top 6 batsman.

The Maligned Rise: Mitchell Johnson

It was a great day for Johnson. Under the pump from most fans (including me I concede) and under pressure given the situation Johnson played a gem of an innings. He was assured in his foot work, left the right balls alone and hit some very long balls when the opportunity arose. This was an excellent rearguard performance but the real test for Johnson will come tomorrow when he is called on to take the new ball. I, for one, he can take the confidence he must have gained from today’s performance and put it into play with the ball.

The Pitch: slower than expected … just the way James Sutherland ordered

I went into the ground expecting to see an old school Gabba wicket in late November particularly given the weather we had in Brisbane earlier in the week. I expected a bouncy green tinged wicket. What we got today at the Gabba, in the main, was a slow wicket with limited lateral movement. Fans should hark their minds back to the openly reported directive from Cricket Australia that James Sutherland and his sidekick wanted to see more batter friendly pitches for first class cricket this year. Seems that directive has impacted on the pitch prepared by Kevin Mitchell Jnr for this test.

Tomorrow beckons with Australia on 8/273 with Brad Haddin unconquered on 78 and Ryan Harris on 4. It presents as another great day of cricket.

The Ashes: 1st Test Preview

Well it is finally here: in less than 24 hours the first ball in a 5 test, 25 (hopefully) day odyssey of cricket between the oldest of cricketing enemies, Australia and England, will start. The weather has cleared up, Kevin Mitchell Jnr is putting the final touches on the best wicket in the country, the Barmy Army is warming up their vocal cords at the Pig & Whistle and Shane Watson’s hamstring is at 90%. All of this means: it is go time!

I commented earlier in the week that I have been somewhat nonplussed by the series coming up. I have to say though that with less than 24 hours to go my excitement levels have gone from about 2 / 10 to 14 / 10 and I can not wait now for 10am to arrive.

Australia Cricket is in a state of flux at the moment. Domestic T20 cricket is the focus of Cricket Australia as is appeasing their BCCI masters so Australia’s preparation has been less than ideal. Injuries have also again gone through the Australian bowling ranks like a dose of the black death circa the 14th century. The Australian captain has a bad back that is, apparently, being held together with the assistance of a machine developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal trainer. Australia’s premier allrounder, Shane Watson, has a dodgy hamstring again. Davey Warner has a new girlfriend.

England come into this game also with injury concerns, most particularly involving their wicketkeeper and vice-captain Matt Prior. The English preparation has been chequered with an ordinary performance first up against a Western Australia XI, 5 days looking at rain in Hobart and then a solid performance against an “invitational XI”. Their precocious batter Kevin Pietersen plays his 100th test match. They come into this series having won the last two series between the two combatants.

The last time Australia and England played in Australia the result was a 3-1 win for England in a series they, frankly, dominated with the bat. England is ranked 3rd in the ICC Test Championship rankings whilst Australia is presently ranked 5th.

The Gabba is a special place for the Australian team and Australian fans. Australia has not lost a test match at the Gabba in over 20 years. This is where Australia starts its test match summers for a reason: the team plays it best cricket here. It is telling to note though that when Australia has lost at the Gabba it has run into the best bowlers of the time: Malcolm Marshall (1984), Richard Hadlee (1985), Graham Dilley (1986) and Ambrose (1988).

Key Players:

Shane Watson: Watson is either loved or hated by cricket fans, both from Australia and abroad. His importance to the Australian line up is clear given that he has been selected for this test match, ostensibly, at only 90 per cent fitness. I am strongly of the view that Australia rely on him most with the ball and will do so again in this test match. On what presents as both an early seaming deck and then a flat batting deck depending on the day of the game, Watson’s overs could well prove the difference between a win and a loss. Of course his work with the willow will also be important as will his catching at slip. Watson is, really, Australia’s only triple threat and if he plays well it will go a long way to an Australian victory.

Jimmy Anderson: I mentioned the names Marshall, Hadlee, Dilley and Ambrose above and Anderson is certainly a similar style of bowler to Messrs Hadlee and Dilley in that he will exploit any seam / swing bowling conditions more than any other bowler in the game. Anderson’s bowling in the first test of the series in England was heroic (or heroically irritating if you were an Australian fan) and set up the English victory. He is the cornerstone of the English attack and will have conditions made for him to exploit.

The Toss:

Win the toss and bat: it is as simple as that is the usual mantra for the Gabba and for England I think that is the way to go again. There will be some green grass on the pitch but they have quality openers who can get through the nasty first hour but then cash in once the pitch flattens out. For Australia, on a green top, I would be taking a risk and bowling first. Johnson is in the team to break bones it would seem and there is no better time for him to do that than with the new ball on a green wicket.

The Weather:

Earlier in the week it was suggested that it was going to rain / storm for the first 3 days. The forecast has improved markedly and whilst there will some cloud cover it looks like it will be fine for at least the first three days.

The Winner and Why:

I actually think that this game will be a draw. The Gabba possesses the best wicket in the country but with questionable weather coming for the last couple of days I have real concerns that this fixture could end up a copy cat to last year’s test match which petered out to a draw off the back of an epic double hundred from A Cook.

Bring on Day 1!