Monday, 10 January 2011

When All's Said and Done

Records Tumbling

The 2010-11 Ashes series Down Under will not only live long in the memory, it will also go down in the history books. England's first series win in Australia for 24 years was only the start of it as records tumbled over the five tests...

England won the Ashes 3-1.

First time England has secured the Ashes in Australia for 24 years.

All three victories were secured by an innings margin, the first time this has ever happened in any series.

England's 644 at the SCG was its highest ever innings total in Australia.

England passed the 500 mark four times during the series, the first time it has done this in any series (517-1 dec Brisbane, 620-5 dec Adelaide, 513 Melbourne, 644 Sydney).

Australia only managed to pass 400 on one occasion (481 Brisbane).

England had never been 500-1 in any test match before that second innings at the Gabba.

The second innings in Brisbane and the first innings in Adelaide was the first time ever England had scored more than 500 in consecutive Ashes innings.

The second innings in Brisbane was the first time ever the top 3 batsman had all scored centuries in an away series for England.

England failed to reach 300 on 3 occasions, twice in Perth. Australia fell for fewer than this score 6 times.

England's lowest score was 123 in its second innings in Perth.

Australia's was 98 at the MCG on Boxing Day, its lowest ever Ashes score at the venue.

Such was its dominance, England only had to bat in 7 innings, declaring on two occasions.

England dismissed Australia on the first day three times in five matches. England was dismissed on the first day in Brisbane. The only opening day where the crowd didn't see both sides batting was in Sydney, which was rain-affected.

In England's first innings at the SCG, the 6th, 7th and 8th wicket partnerships all made 100, the first time this has ever happened in Test cricket.

The 9 individual centuries registered by England is a record for the team in an Ashes series.

England's win in Adelaide was its 100th test win against Australia. 101 and 102 weren't far behind.

Collingwood's 9 catches were the most taken by any player on either side, wicketkeepers aside (come on he's retiring, had to get him in there somewhere)

Masterful Cook

Man of the Series, Alastair Cook was comfortably the leading run scorer in the series with 766 in 7 innings. Only Wally Hammond has scored more runs for England in an Ashes series, 905 in Australia 1928-9. His aggregate was achieved in 9 innings.

Cook's average of 127 is the second highest by an Englishmen in the Ashes. Geoff Boycott averaged 147 in 1977, but played in only three Tests. Only Hammond, Len Hutton and Eddie Paynter have finished an Ashes series with three-figure averages (after three or more Tests).

In terms of the length of time he batted, he has set a new world record for a five-Test series with his 2,171 minutes at the crease, beating Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s 2,057 for West Indies v India in 2002.

His score of 235 not out at the Gabba was the highest ever at the ground, surpassing Bradman's 226 against South Africa in 1931. It was also Cook's highest test score.

His 329-run partnership with Jonathan Trott in the second innings in Brisbane was the highest partnership ever for England in Australia.

His 188 opening partnership with Strauss at the same venue was the highest ever opening partnership for England at the ground.

At the SCG he became the second youngest player, after Tendulkar, to reach 5,000 test runs.

Cook's series in full:

Brisbane: 67, 235 no
Adelaide: 148
Perth: 32,13
Melbourne: 82
Sydney: 189

Took a couple of catches too.

Leading run scorers

Cook 766 @ 127.66
Hussey 570 @ 63.33
Trott 445 @ 89
Watson 435 @ 48.33
KP 360 @ 60
Haddin 360 @ 45
Bell 329 @ 65.8
Strauss 307 @ 43.85
Prior 252 @ 50.4
Clarke 193 @ 21.44

Ton Up

Total Centuries In Series: 12

England: 9
Australia: 3

Brisbane: 5 (Hussey, Haddin, Strauss, Cook (double), Trott)
Adelaide: 2 (Cook, KP (double))
Perth: 1 (Hussey)
Melbourne: 1 (Trott)
Sydney: 3 (Cook, Bell, Prior)

100+ Stands

England: 11

329 Cook, Trott, Second Innings, Brisbane

188 Strauss, Cook, Second Innings, Brisbane

175 Cook, Pietersen, First Innings, Adelaide

173 Cook, Trott, First Innings, Adelaide

173 Trott, Prior, First Innings, Melbourne

159 Straus, Cook, First Innings, Melbourne

154 Cook, Bell First Innings, Sydney

116 Pietersen, Bell, First Innings, Adelaide

107 Bell, Prior, First Innings, Sydney

102 Prior, Bresnan, First Innings, Sydney

101 Pietersen, Collingwood, First Innings, Adelaide

Australia: 3

307 Hussey, Haddin, First Innings, Brisbane

113 Watson, Hussey, Second Innings, Perth

104 Clarke, Hussey, Second Innings, Adelaide

Leading wicket takers

Anderson 24 @ 26.04
Tremlett 17 @ 23.35
Johnson 15 @ 36.93
Swann 15 @ 39.8
Finn 14 @ 33.14
Siddle 14 @ 34.57
Bresnan 11 @ 19.54
Harris 11 @ 25.54

5-wicket hauls

Siddle: 6-54 Brisbane, first innings
Finn: 6-125 Brisbane, first innings
Swann: 5-91 Adelaide, second innings
Johnson: 6-38 Perth, first innings
Tremlett: 5-87 Perth, Second innings
Harris: 6-47 Perth, Second Innings
Siddle: 6-75 Melbourne, First Innings


3 (all Australia)

Doherty, Adelaide
Hughes, Melbourne
Watson, Sydney

Blink and You Miss It

You didn't want to be late getting to your seat or turning on the television during this series. The opening overs of the day rarely failed to produce some drama...

In Brisbane, Strauss was out for a duck to the third ball of the day and in England's second inning he almost made it a pair with a golden duck. Hilfenhaus thudded the ball into his pads, the appeals rang out, the umpire said not out, the Aussies referred and found that the ball was going just over the top. Strauss went on to make a hundred.

At the Adelaide Oval there was even more drama. Katich fell to the fourth delivery of the day, run out by Watson before he'd faced a ball. Captain Ponting strode to the middle...and was walking back moments later as Jimmy snared him first ball. Australia were an incredible 0-2 at the end of the first over. This became 2-3 as Anderson removed Clarke with the first ball of his second over.

Strauss again wanted a piece of this drama when England's turn came to bat, clean bowled by Bollinger off the third ball of the second day's play. Still at least he had 1 this time around, rather than the duck he registered at the Gabba.

And to the third test in Perth. In the days before referrals it would have been another wicket-taking opener. Watson was given out by the umpire, caught down the leg-side by Prior off Anderson. But the replys proved the ball hit his thigh pad not the willow. Tremlett did manage to pick up a wicket in the next over, his first since being recalled to the side. He saved the best till last, skittling Hughes with his 6th delivery.

Could it have been even worse for Australia at the MCG? All out for 98 but Watson was dropped twice in Anderson's opening two overs. Collingwood and KP the culprits.

Match-by-Match Summary


Match drawn
Toss - England who bat

England First Innings: 260 (Cook 67, Bell 76, Siddle 6-54, Johnson 0-66, Doherty 2-41, Hilfenhaus 1-60, Watson 1-30)
Australia First Innings: 481 (Katich 50, Hussey 195, Haddin 136, Finn 6-125, Jimmy 2-99, Swann 2-128)
England Second Innings: 517-1 declared (Strauss 110, Cook 235 no, Trott 135 no, Johnson 0-104, Doherty 0-107, North 1-47) 296 lead for England
Australia Second Innings: 107-1 (Watson 41 no, Ponting 51 no, Broad 1-18)

Man of the Match: Cook

End of first day score: Australia 25-0 (batting second)
End of day 4: Eng 309-1 - leading by 88 with 9 wickets in hand


England won by an innings and 71 runs
Johnson dropped
Toss - Australia who bat

Australia First Innings: 245 (Watson 51, Hussey 93, Haddin 56, Anderson 4-51, Broad 1-39, Finn 1-71, Swann 2-70, Katich and Doherty run out)
England First Innings: 620-5 declared (Cook 148, Trott 78, KP 227, Colly 42, Bell 68 no, Doherty 1-158, Harris 2-84)
Australia Second Innings: 304 (Watson 57, Clarke 80, Hussey 52, Swann 5-91, Anderson 2-92, Finn 2-60, KP 1-10)

Man of the Match: KP

End of day 1: England 1-0 (batting second)
End of day 4: Australia 238-4 (137 behind)


Australia won by 267 runs

Toss: England who field
Beer left out, Johnson back
Anderson first game after going home for birth of his child

Australia First Innings: 268 (Hussey 61, Haddin 53, Johnson 62, Siddle 35 no, Anderson 3-61, Tremlett 3-63, Swann 2-52, Finn 2086)
England First Innings: 187 (Strauss 52, Bell 53, Cook 32, Johnson 6-38, Harris 3-59, Siddle 1-25)
Australia Second Innings: 309 (Watson 95, Hussey 116, Tremlett 5-87, Finn 3-97, Anderson 1-65, Colly 1-3, Swann 0-51)
England Second Innings: (chasing 391) 123 (Trott 31, Harris 6-47, Johnson 3-44, Hilfenhaus 1-16)

Man of the Match: Mitchell Johnson
End of Day 1: England 29-0 (batting second)
End of Day 4: England all out


England won by an innings and 157 runs

Toss: England who field
Ashes debut for Bresnan

Australia First Innings: 98 (Clarke 20, Anderson 4-44, Tremlett 4-26, Bresnan 2-25, Swann 0-1)
England First Innings: 513 (Strauss 69, Cook 82, Trott 168 no, Pietersen 51, Prior 85, Swann 22, Hilfy 2-83, Johnson 2-134, Siddle 6-75)
Australia Second Innings 258 (Watson 54, Haddin 55, Siddle 40, Bresnan 4-50, Swann 2-59, Tremlett 1-71, Anderson 1-71, Hughes run out)

Man of the Match: Trott
End of Day 1: England 157-0 (59 runs ahead batting second)
End of Day 4: Australia all out


England won by an innings and 83 runs

Toss: Australia, who bat
Debuts for Khawaja and Beer

Australia First Innings: 280 (Johnson 53, Watson 45, Khawaja 37, Anderson 4-66, Bresnan 3-89, Tremlett 1-71, Swann 1-37, Colly 1-5)
England First Innings: 644 (Strauss 60, Cook 189, KP 36, Bell 115, Prior, 118, Bresnan 35, Swann 36 no, Johnson 4-168, Hilfy 3-121, Siddle 1-111, Watson 1-49, Beer 1-112, Smith 0-67)
Australia Second Innings: 281 (Smith 54 no, Siddle 43, Clarke 41, Khawaja 21, Watson 38, Anderson 3-61, Tremlett 3-79, Swann 1-75, Bresnan 2-51)

Man of the Match and Series: Cook
End of Day 1: Aus 134-4
End of Day 4: Aus 213-7

Friday, 7 January 2011

Final Countdown: Pics From The SCG

A wonderful end to the series at the SCG. A moment to savour for years to come. Free-entry for all. Not too many Aussies taking advantage.

So much expectation in the air that every wicketless ball was greeted with surprise and disappointment. Smith tried to swat everything to the boundary, suggesting that he knew the battle was already lost. He somehow managed to remain not-out. Tremlett finally ended the resistance and the bouncing group hug could begin.

The Barmy Army in full cry. Despite the incredible decision to position the presentation stand so it couldn't see a thing. Another sponsor's moment more important than the people who really count.

No wonder they greeted Clarke's arrival to the post-match interview with cries of, 'You're getting sacked in the morning, sacked in the morning...'

Another wonderful rendtion of, 'He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite,' ensued.

Cook was modesty and class personified when collecting his man of the match and series prizes. Long may he prosper.

Strauss beamed as he spoke to Mark Taylor and then it was time to pick up that tiny, but oh so significant trophy, that has eluded so many England captains in Australia. Michael Vaughan included, who had the job of presenting the urn to the victorious captain.

The Ashes had been won in Australia.

A triumphant lap of honour could begin..

Series Won!

Hammered, crushed, demolished, pummelled, demoralised, mentally-weak, humiliated, broken, ragged, meek, lacking in spirit/ fight, rock bottom.

Words that have been routinely used to describe the England cricket team Down Under now soley belong to the men in baggy green.

Organised, astute, ruthless, remorseless, dominant, rampant, confident, aggressive, mentally-strong, well-prepared, battling, enthusiastic, well-drilled, smart, focused, skilful, resourceful, sky-high.

These are the ones which are now the preserve of Andrew Strauss' victorious team as they wrapped up a first series win in Australia for 24 years. 3-1 just as Freddie predicted. He also said Cook would be top run-scorer. His pundity will soon be on a par with his match-winning and carousing.

There was to be no Flintoff-esque hangover after the Ashes were retained in Melbourne. This was a team on a mission and by the end of the final test the gaping chasm between the two sides was confirmed. Ever since the second test in Adelaide, the defeat in Perth included, England has been adept at making the early running. This time it was stand-in captain Clarke who handed over the initiative by deciding to bat on winning the toss. A good toss to lose maybe but the bold option was to bowl in helpful conditions.

The Australian openers were given the luxury of a start but it was torturously slow going, particularly for two guys who like to see the ball flying to the boundary, and once Hughes departed the top order crumbled once again. Watson, as is his wont, faltered around the 50 mark, finally pushing at a ball to Bresnan after judiciously leaving many similar deliveries. The man can't win at the moment. The television commentators were criticising him for not getting on with it while at the same time lauding the likes of Cook for his patience at the crease.

A captain's innings was not forthcoming for Clarke, another poor shot seeing him out for a paltry 4. After passing the hundred mark for the loss of only one wicket, this was a wobble at 113-3.

It says a lot abut the desperation around this current Australian side that Khawaja was seen as the new saviour, simply for looking fairly decent and stroking a few handsome boundaries. He departed for a not-disastrous-but-hardly-game-changing 37, especially as he was caught off a top edge when trying to sweep Swann as the close of play loomed. This did not prevent the Australian press and pundits heaping praise on him. 'Looks the part', 'composed', 'hint of Lara about him'. Straw clutching has never been so evident.

His wicket was to be the last ball of the day, proof that when the one team is dominating the breaks tend to go with them. Advantage England at the end of day one with Australia at 134-4.

Day Two. Hussey was not to play a big innings this time around but, just as in Perth, Australia managed to post a total that at one stage looked a long way out of its reach. 189-8 became a fairly respectable 280 all out as Johnson and Siddle swung the bat. Had England allowed Australia into the match? A low-scoring game could see Australia level the series. Nothing is ever certain in sport.

Of course the merits of any total cannot be judged until the next team bats and Strauss and Cook led the way as they have done so many times this series. Another 100-run opening partnership was just out of their reach but a free-flowing 60 from only 58 balls from Strauss set the tone. Cook at the other end remained resolute, offering nothing, looking every bit the conquering hero. No change there.

There were chances aplenty for Australia to wrestle back some control. Trott departed soon after Strauss for a duck. Danger man, KP left with the score on 163. The following day nightwatchman Anderson and the retiring, creaking-boned Collingwood were soon gone and England were 226-5.

But all the while Strauss' men had the mighty Cook propping up one end and once he had a willing partner in Bell a 150+ partnership ensued and the match was slipping away from Australia.

By the time Cook departed after another big hundred England was already 100 ahead but one of the hallmarks of this side is to press home the advantage at every opportunity. The end of play saw it holding a 200+ lead with Bell finally landing the hundred against the Aussies his talents deserve.

Yet this was still not enough. 'Why bat twice?' seems to be England's current mantra. On day 4 Prior completed his own maiden Ashes century, at almost a run a ball, and shortly after lunch the tourists had posted their highest ever innings score in Australia. 644 is some statement. As is a 364 first-innings lead.

But the pitch was playing well. No reason for Australia not to post a big total of its own.

The real gulf in class between the two bowling attacks was now to be demonstrated. While the Aussie pacemen were flogged to all parts of the SCG, Anderson, Bresnan and Tremlett showed the consistency, control and skill that is needed to bowl out a side in test cricket on a pretty flat wicket.

The swing, both reverse and otherwise, would duly follow but first there was the delight/ despair of yet another run-out to get England going. A comical mix-up saw both openers stranded at the same end as Prior gleefully whipped off the bails. Hughes was equally as culpable but Watson has now been involved in 7 run-outs in only 27 tests. One every three tests on average. The stats rarely lie. He admitted after the game that the recurring problem could be as much mental as technical. Could say the same for the entire team.

England couldn't quite force a victory inside 4 days but the end was nigh as the Aussies ended the day on 213-7, still 151 away from forcing England to bat again. The Australian top order were battling hard, all posting starts but the wickets were coming at regular intervals as the bowlers remained patient. Lynchpin Anderson was bowling like a dream. As were Tremlett and Bresnan, who, lest we forget, were not even first choice at the start of the tour.

It took an hour or two to finish things on the final day, rain delays and a wet ball not helping matters for the seamers. But an incredible third innings victory was never in doubt, especially with Smith playing shots that would probably look out of place in a Twenty20 game. Tremeltt applied the coup de grace as Beer's wickets tumbled.

The Ashes were won. The series was won. Will there ever be another campaign Down Under like it? Special times. The long wait for a performance like this made it all the sweeter.

The players and fans could finally, finally look back on an Australian summer with pride, satisfaction and a smile as wide as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Sunday, 2 January 2011

Who'd Be A Captain?

It's all about captaincy as we approach the final act of the 2010-11 Ashes series. On both sides.

Michael Clarke will become the 43rd captain of Australia at the SCG, thrust into the leading role after Ponting's injured pinky finally forced the issue.

Strauss could not be more settled as England captain but KP, for reasons known only to himself, chose this week to credit himself with the current winning set-up. Yes he really did say this, "You know what, I have never said this before but I got rid of the captaincy for the good of English cricket and we would not be here today if I had not done what I did then." Words fail me.

All of which leads us to the question, just what does it take to be a successful skipper in test cricket?

Is form a pre-requisite for any aspiring leader? If so neither Ponting nor Pup should be anyway near the top job. Clearly any captain must be worth his place in the team but cricket differs from every other sport when it comes to captaincy. In football picking your best player and letting their inspirational performaces carry the rest of the side is a sensible and effective ploy.

But in football, aside from choosing whether to kick off in the first or second half, there is very little to do during the game. Maybe a clenched fist and a grimace of encouragement. Tactics are dictated by the coach and if the captain scores a hat-trick the team will more than likely win and all will be well in the world.

Cricket is wholly different. The toss is merely the beginning of the captain's work. There are fielding positions to set, bowling options and changes to consider, declarations to ponder. In short, at almost every point in the game he oversees and shapes the key moments.

Then there is the crucial man-management of the players. As former England captain, Mike Brearley wrote about Botham in his famous book The Art of Captaincy, "He needed someone who would put his arm around him and tell him about the immense talent he possessed." As captain you can't just assume that your top players will win you the match. They need cajoling to ensure they reach their full potential.

Botham got the chance to lead to his country but he was never the right man for the top job and he enjoyed a grand total of 0 wins when leading the team. England then made exactly the same mistake with Botham's long-term successor, Andrew Flintoff, who presided over the disastrous 2006-07 5-0 drubbing. Few captains would have been able to win that series with Australia's star performers all on top of their game, but a more astute one might have been able to limit the damage.

Accepted wisdom has it that Warne is the best captain Australia never had but would he too have found that the captaincy a step too far? We'll never know but history tells us that a lack of ego tends to be a hallmark of the successful skipper. Pietersen's remarks this week prove that it is Strauss not him who is best suited to calling the shots. Star performers often come with a big dollop of controversey, whether for off-field indulgences, ill-considered public remarks or an inability to empathise with those not quite as talented as themselves. Not exactly perfect attributes for a captain.

So is Clarke the right man for the job, either as a stand-in or as Ponting's long-term replacement? Endless newspaper polls reveal that the Australian public is not exactly fully behind him. But aside from his current dip in form, the main criticisms of him seem to be that he dated a super-model and appeared in some magazines without his cricket sweater. Not really enough to condemn him before a heads or tails has been called.

He deserves a chance but he's on a hiding to nothing at the SCG. Only an Australian victory coupled with a return to form will see his approval rating start to rise.

Who'd be a captain?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Disarray And Frustration...And That’s Just Off The Pitch

Day 4 of the Boxing Day Test. So this is was to be the moment when the Ashes would be reclaimed. Only 3 wickets to go and the English supporters could finally reflect on a tour to Australia that hadn't descended into farce, humiliation and depression. There would be no miraculous escape for the Aussies. Houdini had been ignored by the Australian selectors for the entire series and he wasn't about to enter the fray now.

A formality surely and the travelling fans packed the early-morning trams. All were after that elusive, 'I was there' moment. To be in position when a splayed wicket, a diving catch or the umpire's raised finger signalled the end of 26 years of hurt.

Talk on the way to the G was of $10 or $15 tickets, maybe $20 at the most. Would they even be free? After all these were to be the last rites. Cricket Australia would grant the Barmy Army its hour or so in the sun.

The farcical scenes at the turnstiles would tell another story.

Surprise, surprise a number of England fans had shown up to buy tickets on the gate. And surprise, surprise the powers-that-be were woefully unprepared as the queues grew longer and longer. Frustration spilled over into anger for some as they saw that around a third of the ticket booths remained resolutely shut.

There would be no concessions either. $31 for all. No matter that the contest could be over in a flash.

No officials were on hand to direct the masses to shorter queues or provide advice and reassurance. The tannoy system was on an endless loop, informing members that they could stroll up to the ground at their leisure and take their seats. Zero queues at the ticket office outside the member's stand...but of course the plebs couldn't purchase tickets here.

The clock was ticking and as the umpires and players ventured into the middle the lines had barely moved. The mumblings of discontent continued. Then a roar from inside the ground indicated that the first scalp had been taken. Many now decided to hot-foot it to a bar or big screen to watch the conclusion. Those who remained did so in hope rather than expectation of seeing any cricket at all.

Beyond ridiculous. It can't have been often that the travelling contingent have been praying for the Aussie batsmen to stick around as victory loomed. But this was the case and thankfully Haddin and Siddle did just that and provided some last-gasp entertainment to boot.

This defiant partnership, rather than a welcoming and organised approach outside the ground, ensured that the majority of the fans had their, 'I was there' moment.

There was much to enjoy. KP acknowledging the Barmy Army following his boundary catch, the happy and bouncing embrace as the final wicket fell, the endless flags swirling in the breeze, the victorious lap of honour and the 'sprinkler' dance to round things off. Not to mention Ponting's post-match interview. He answered the tough questions openly and honestly, drawing warm applause from the England fans.

So another Boxing Day test ends. One of the greatest sporting events in the world in one of the greatest stadiums.

Long may it remain so. It will as long as the authorities start putting the fans first.

There was talk of a record crowd on Boxing Day. 85,000 is hardly a disaster but there was to be no new milestone, despite the delicately balanced state of the series beforehand.

With other forms of the game competing hard with test cricket for the fans' bucks, now is not the time for complacency from those running the game.

Ashes Retained!

So in the end if all proved to be fairly straightforward, but that shouldn't detract from a glorious England display as more records tumbled at the MCG.

Boxing Day morning was where the game was won. This must rank as one of the most perfect days in English cricket history. To bowl Australia out on day 1 at the MCG for 98, its lowest score EVER against England at the G, and then reach 157-0 at stumps is not something that will be repeated often, if ever.

Helpful conditions but what superb bowling from the England seamers. Tremlett getting the ball rolling, Jimmy to the fore once again and Bresnan offering great control on his Ashes debut.

No-frills Trott then made sure there was not even the merest chance of an Aussie comeback and come the end of the innings the lead was insurmountable.

More resistance second time around for Ponting's men. But not much more. A second innings victory of the series was duly completed. Kingpin Anderson now top of the wicket-taking charts, Cook and Trott averaging over 100 for the series. Amazing stuff.

Teams are routinely crushed at this iconic and historic ground. In 2006 it was Ponting's men who prevailed by an innings. That man Warne was to the fore that day but his chief role this time around was as a hologram in the superb National Sports Museum at the MCG. A waste of his talents you might say.

England must complete the job in Sydney now. The players have every right to celebrate hard after this thumping win...but briefly. The tour will only be a qualified success if the sides revert to the form shown at the WACA and Australia wins. There is no excuse for taking your eye off the ball in an Ashes series. Winning any Ashes test is a huge task and with the Aussies determined to show some heart to the disgruntled fans, England will have to continue these incredibly high standards to come out on top.

Difficult to know who to leave out for Sydney. Tremlett cannot be discarded now. Will Finn, leading wicket-taker in the series before this game, replace Bresnan? What about playing Monty and Swann if it's the traditional SCG spinning-top? Tricky choices but nice problems to have. Suddenly there seems to be great strength in depth in the bowling department.

The batsmen pick themselves...aside from one man. We'll leave further analysis of Colly's form and role in the team for another day and just enjoy the simple fact that...

...the Ashes have been retained!

Strauss & Cook work off the turkey on Boxing Day. Where have all the Aussies gone?

That incredible Boxing Day final scorecard

Takes all sorts

Boxing Day Crew

Back for the last rites

The winning moment

Friday, 24 December 2010

Momentum Is All...Or Is It?

The most iconic cricketing spectacle of them all. The Boxing Day test at the MCG.

Cricket is meant to be played in front of one man and a dog on some village green, where the local beer is warm and there is always a hint of drizzle in the air. Not at the 'G'. 90,000+ will be crammed in on Sunday and with the series on a knife edge there is talk of the world record attendance for a cricket ground, set at the same venue in 1961, being broken.

This year there's added spice. The locals haven't seen a 'live' Ashes game here since 1986. Ever since then the series has been wrapped up in time for Santa's annual, world chimney tour.

Last time round England went down by an innings, meekly surrending in its first and second innings, on the way to that embarrassing whitewash. Of the current top 6 only Trott was missing from the line-up that day. After banishing the demons of Adelaide there are plenty more to aim for in Melbourne.

England last won here in 1998 when Dean Headley took 6-60 in the second innings as Australia crumbled to 162 all out, a mere 13 runs shy of the victory target. But, again, the Ashes had already been retained by the Aussies in Perth.

This time everything is up for grabs. 1-1. England tantalisingly close to keeping the urn, Australia bouncing after Perth.

Much talk of momentum in the build-up. It's the word on everyone's lips.

Common consensus has it that having momentum on your side is like having another man on your team, and one who can swashbuckle with the best of them. England's glass was full to the brim with momentum after Adelaide. Then Strauss and co turned round after Perth to find that someone had swiped their pint glass. Suddenly the momentum had 'swung' and now Australia has all the forward motion. England cannot even lay claim to any of the remaining dregs left over from Adelaide.

Let's see what the experts are saying:

A common opener in many articles, this one from Yahoo, "The five-match series is currently tied at 1-1, but Australia has the momentum following their 267 run win in the third Test at Perth's WACA Ground."

Justin Langer, writing in his newspaper column: "We have great momentum."

Ponting: "Momentum and confidence is (sic) a great thing in sport. We've got the tide going back in our direction now."

Shane Warne, "Australia will win here because they have all the momentum after the win in Perth. In sport, momentum is crucial because it has an impact on everything."

Right. Thank Shane. That's pretty clear-cut. He could have said Australia will win because its players are better/ in-form/ used to the local conditions, or any number of other factors usually used by pundits to make sporting predictions.

But he didn't.

It's solely down to the M word according to the chicken-bite-loving blondie. It must be able to mask the continuing problems Australia is experiencing with its top order. (Hussey notably aside)

England are done for. Without momentum there's little point in turning up. Abandon hope all ye Englishmen who enter the MCG.

But hang on. There's another side to this maddening coin. Let's take a look at the English perspective:

Strauss: "Momentum from Adelaide didn't take us far in Perth."

Pietersen: "We took momentum into Perth and we got hammered."

Fan day in Melbourne - interviewer to Strauss:

"A lot's been talked about momentum but momentum only carries you so far. The momentum's changed with every test."

So momentum is, paradoxically, crucial to your chances of winning before the match but of little importance if you manage to turn everything on its head and win. Then it's all yours until the next game, where you can continue using its magical powers or discard it like an unwanted Christmas present.

To sum up. Australia wins at the MCG. Well obviously. Momentum carried them over the line. England wins and it's easily explained by some Anderson-like late swing of the stuff.

Who will have this elusive momentum going into the final test in Sydney? Funny old game.