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.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Spanner In The Works

And the spanner goes by the name of Mitchell Johnson. After all the big talk he finally re-found his mojo and produced a match-winning performance to boot. Delivering crucial first innings runs under the gun and then ripping apart England's once impregnable batting. The remedial work to his action in the nets clearly worked and the much-maligned selectors have to take a huge amount of credit for managing the situation so well. Shock horror, maybe they knew what they were doing all along. Not good news for Strauss' men after all the 'momentum' gained in Brisbane and Adelaide.

It was all looking so good after the first day. Admittedly the wagging Australian tail gave a far rosier complexion to the Australian total. But to bowl Ponting's men out for 268 on the first day of any test match has to be regarded as a success. Even the second innings bowling performance was highly commendable.

Tremlett was a more than adequate replacement for Broad on the bouncy WACA, Jimmy snared Ponting early on day one and looked pretty threatening throughout, Finn was expensive but chipped in with key wickets, Collingwood hastened the end of the second innings. Swann had a tough game but he produced the ball to remove Mr Cricket on day one. That man isn't giving many chances at the moment.

This time it was the batsmen who let the side down. Seems like it's all or nothing at the moment. 500-1 switfly becomes 123 all out. Where's the middle ground? Australia recovered from 69-5 to post 268 on day one whereas England plummeted to 187 after being 78-0 and 98-5. If England had got closer to Australia's first innnings total then that final run chase would have been far more 'gettable' in the players' minds. Even so to only make 123 was woeful. Losing is one thing, surrendering another.

After his heroics in the first two tests, Cook is of course immune from any blame. Strauss is looking a bit short of runs but the opening pair got England started before Cook became Johnson's first victim and the rapid slump beagn in earnest. KP did what only he can and followed up a career test best in Adelaide with a grand total of 3 runs in Perth. Bell continues to look the part but to he needs to prove his status as the best looking batsman in the side with big runs. A move up the order has been mooted to ensure he doesn't end up trying to force the issue when batting with the tail. A no-brainer at the moment.

The spotlight again falls on Collingwood before the 4th test. He had another poor match with the bat and can't hold down a place solely because of his excellent slip catching. The good news, apparently, is that when his position is under threat he tends to deliver. The bad news is that it seems to take a lot for his position to come under threat.

It was left to Alistair Cook to deliver the familiar Colly soundbite this week, "When his back is against the wall he plays his best cricket."

How many times have we heard this? Was the situation not perilous enough for him in Perth? Will the batsmen above him in the order have to deliberately lose their wickets to create the right environment for him to play himself back into form? He's not quite hanging on for dear life yet but he's close for the umpteenth time. England needs his fabled battling qualities, as well as his undisputed and continued prowess in the field, in Melbourne.

If he gets the expected nod, Collingwood can't fail to enjoy the atmosphere at the MCG on Boxing Day. The Aussies are scenting blood and after looking so dominant in Adleaide, England are in a right old scrap now.

This Ashes series is alive and kicking.

Now that's what we wanted.


Some snaps from the WACA before the start of the third Ashes test. Look out for the scouser...

Queen's Gardens

Split stumps to commemorate every test at the WACA. Last and only win for England was in 1978...the wait goes on

Last-minute fielding practice

Artist's impression of the future WACA post-rennovation..

View from the posh seats

Bradman Room

Strauss and co warm up in the nets

Here's Robbie

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


The Clamour and the Glamour

The Aussies really are in a right old pickle. Fair to say that consistency of selection has well and truly gone out of the window, particularly in the spinning department.

Let's have a quick recap.

Nathan Hauritz dropped for Brisbane, replaced by Xavier Doherty. Ricky Ponting liked the look of him during a rare outing for Tasmania. Hauritz responds by taking career-best figures for NSW and even throws in a century for good measure. Doherty shows some promise at the Gabba and is retained for Adelaide...where he has a bit of a meltdown. Ponting probably doesn't like the look of him now.

Ok so young Xavier has to be given a break for Perth. Back to Hauritz right? Er, no... time for a Beer. Well, he has played a grand total of five first-class matches. Did fairly well against England, but wasn't selected in the original 17-strong Australian Ashes squad. Or for Australia A come to think of it. But no matter, he’ll be right.

Just like many of the petty rules in Australia, the whole thing really does beggar belief. Beer could end up taking 10 wickets against England…he could also end up seeing his pies express delivered to all parts of the WACA.

Surely now is the time to put the call into Warney. Or maybe a text…a tweet even.

They say in sport you should always make the move that the opposition would like the least...and for an English cricket fan the sight of Shane Warne bounding into the middle, baggy green on head, cherry in hand is probably top of the list.

Picture the scene. The MCG. Boxing Day. Warney's home turf. Australia scraped home for an unconvincing draw in Perth. One down with two Tests to play.

England wins the toss in Melbourne, Cook and Strauss strap on the pads and head to the middle. For the first hour they make yet more hay as Johnson/ Bollinger/ Harris/ Siddle/ Hilfenhaus/ Cameron/ Lee/ McGrath/ Hughes/ Thomson/ Lillee/ A.N Other Aussie Quick steam in with bluster but little penetration.

Ponting has seen enough and tosses the ball to that man, to predictable raucous cheers from the stands. England's openers look at each other with something approaching minor panic. Is it going to be the flipper, the top spinner, the googly, the slider, or the tried and tested rippin' leg break...? Can he still bowl all these variations?

Captain Strauss walks down the track, dabs the hallowed turf with his trusted willow and glances up at the great man as he casually spins the ball from one hand to the other. Strauss takes guard and here comes the blonde bombshell with that familiar Sunday-stroll-to-the-beach gait. The action and accuracy haven’t changed a bit and the ball pitches outside Strauss' off stump. Two nations hold their breath.

It's the conventional leg spinner. It turns murderously and smashes into the middle stump of the England skipper.

Might have a game on here.

There are a few twists and turns to come but the headlines after the final day in Sydney reveal that Warne has defied age, common sense and skepticism to win back the Ashes for Australia. A nation salutes its conquering hero. Twitter goes into meltdown. Hugh Grant texts his congrats.

There's a simpler story which goes something like this: Warne watches Ashes from London hotel room (Liz has got filming commitments, it's just easier this way), clinical England retains Ashes in Perth, wins series at the MCG with another thumping victory and by the time the bandwagon rolls into Sydney the home support and the Barmy Army have forgotten the cricket and are chilling at Bondi by day and partying at King’s Cross by night.

But that's no fun is it?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Another 4? Must Be Time For A Delicious Chicken Bite

Chicken nuggests, Johnnie Walker, Gatorade and the Colonel: it must be the cricket season.

Two fantastic test so far in this Ashes series. No complaints about the events on the pitch but for the fans there are nuisances and irritants at every turn, as the rampant commercialisation of the game steps up a level.

In every conceivable gap in the action, whether watching live or on television, there is a barrage of advertising and ex-players lining up to offer their ringing endorsements to some product or other.

Hayden brings a beaming smile and a gushing, excited travel pitch to his 1 minute of fame, while Gilchrist is involved in a hilariously stilted conversation about youth cricket. However neither can match one of the chief sponsor's spots which involves the current, beleaguered team singing embarrassingly into the camera. Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field...add can't sing to that list.

Serious calls Down Under for Warney to be recalled but he's already making his presence felt, just unfortunately not with his sharply spinning, dipping leg breaks. Not only is he offering his pearls in the commentary box, he is also fronting a frankly ridiculous campaign for everyone's favourite fast-food chain.

Turn to the big screen after a ball whistles to the boundary and you will invariably see the great man's grinning face behind the latest poultry-based, nutritious sarnie.

Eventually you might get to see a replay of the shot.

Often he can be talking on the TV when the ad will be visible behind the action so you get to see and hear old Shane simultaneously. The tagline for the same company on the hoardings reads, 'So tasty it sells itself.' Why the need for Australia's favourite son then?

If it's a significant score for the batting team, hundred up for a batsman or a record partnership we must now accept that this is a Johnny Walker milestone. A drinks break is no longer simply a chance for the players to rehydrate, it's an excuse to bring a huge bottle of energy pop onto the ground. The 20 minute stoppage after the afternoon session has been re-named the Vodafone Tea Break. The stumps are similarly branded. If anything can be comandeered by the sponsors it will be.

What's next?

Is the sacred green, baggy cap safe? Or will we soon see that embossed with corporate logos and messages?

The promotion of children's cricket during the lunch interval at the Gabba or Adelaide Oval is of course commendable...but does it really need to be sponsored by a high calorie, chocolate milk drink? Clearly every sport needs its sponsors but fast food, whisky and energy drinks hardly seem ideal choices for the young cricketers watching on or indeed the active sportsman.

Advertising is taking over the television coverage, and no longer solely during the commercial breaks. We now have the Colonel's question thanks to Kid Friendly Chicken, Kangaroo Fried Chippy or whatever it is called. Or a trivia poser from that bottle of scotch.

But nothing is more shameful than when one of the commentators shifts seamlessly from an analysis of the game to plugging a mobile phone provider or another needy sponsor. Mute buttons have never been used so quickly around the country.

Can I heartily recommend ABC's radio coverage of the test matches which is thankfully still immune to this marketing blitz. It remains focused on insightful and entertaining commentary rather than all this hullabaloo which surrounds and invades the game.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Good Old Aussie Style Hammering!

In the end any overnight concerns about inclement weather or the stoicism of Mr Cricket proved unnecessary as England romped to a huge innings victory in Adelaide before lunch on the final day. First such victory against the old enemy since 1986 at the MCG. That win in Melbourne was completed within 3 days and saw Gatt's men take the series and the Ashes.

Not quite there for Strauss and co but it's going to take something extraordinary to stop them now. Something like Warney being recalled. Now that would be some comeback and perhaps not quite as implausible as it sounds. His mere presence would be worth a few wickets and interest in the remaining tests would sky rocket. Has anyone asked him the question?? He's still twirling it in the IPL and even half a Warne is worth 10 of Doherty. Young Xavier isn't going to be playing any test matches for the foreseeable.

To today's action. Swann and Anderson did the main damage, Finn chipping in with the crucial wicket of Hussey. The image of Jimmy Anderson catching the ball and flinging it in the air with the Barmy Army going wild behind him will live long in the memory. Little over an hour was all it needed to clean up the remaining wickets.

Good job too as no play would have taken place this afternoon now that the thunderstorm has well and truly arrived. Bucketing down. Makes Pietersen's dismissal of Clarke with the final ball of the day yesterday even more important in retrospect. England has utterly dominated Australia but any team needs a bit of luck - the rain abating yesterday to allow England a final dart at Clarke and Hussey falls into that category.

A winning team makes any captain look good but Strauss is doing a sterling job at present. Many observers were calling for an overnight declaration after day 3 but those quick runs from Pietersen and Bell proved to be very handy in the final analysis.

Similarly today. The pundits thought England should persevere with the old ball to give Swann a better chance of running through them. But Strauss handed the new cherry to Anderson and Finn and promptly saw them pick up 3 wickets, including the form pair of Hussey and Haddin. Then Swann bowled with the new ball anyway and ended up with a 5-fer.

The skipper knows his own mind, has clear plans for each day and has built a great team spirit in the camp. Such a marked difference between his captaincy and Freddie in 2006. Freddie could change a game through his sheer force of personality, a la Warne or Botham, but Strauss is the one you want calling the shots. He's safely sunbathing on the beach while Ponting struggles in the water, all at sea. Freddie next to him on the pedalo.

It's been so long since an England win in a 'live' test in Australia that many at the Oval today weren't even alive when it happened. The celebrations were understandable. As the 7th and 8th wickets went down and victory became a matter of time, many fans left their seats in the Chappell Stand to join the Barmy Army, take photos of the scoreboard and relive the key moments on the big screen. Strauss and Pietersen both made sure to thank the travelling support in their post-match interviews and they were rewarded with raucous cheers from the hill.

Things are looking up. Onwards to Perth. Australia need to win two of the final three tests and draw the other to regain the Ashes. Well never say never but even so...

KP Leads Way From First Ball To Last

More records tumbling at the Adelaide Oval on day 4. KP notching up his highest test score with his thrill-a-minute 227; the biggest Ashes total ever at the Adelaide; the second highest total by England in Australia, only 16 short of the mark set in Sydney in 1928; the first time England have posted consecutive scores of over 500; only the second time England have managed four partnerships of 100 or more in one innings....the list goes on.

What a superb day of test cricket. The day started with Pietersen, Bell and then Prior given a licence to thrill by captain Strauss as they hurried to the declaration. 69 runs were added in only 9 overs. Nearly every ball was a boundary waiting to happen, particularly from the hapless Doherty. His first three overs went for 13, 11 and 14. First innings figures of 1-158 from 27 overs. Will the Aussies have to change their bowling line-up again for Perth and find another spinner? Hauritz back or a chance for leggy Steve Smith?

Bell played some wonderfully inventinve shots on his way to 68 not out and one could argue he has now missed out on two deserved test centuries. In Brisbane due to a lack of partners and here because of the declaration.

Then it was the turn of Ponting's men to show how they could bat on this wearing but still excellent pitch. Unscathed at lunch, they then lost three wickets in the afternoon session, Swann doing what Doherty couldn't by spinning the ball sharply out of the foot marks and grabbing the prize wickets of the skipper and a crocked Katich.

Meek surrender doesn't come naturally for Australia and it was no surprise to see a comeback mounted by Clarke and Hussey. Both had scares but it was Clarke who fell to the final ball of the day to the spinner...not Swann but Pietersen of all people. He's had some day.

Barmy Army in full cry once more. Vocal ringleader, Jimmy Saville, managed to last the whole day after being ejected from the ground yesterday (he was later allowed to return). Then there was a lovely banner unfurled by the English supporters in the new build, next to the Sir Donald Bradman Stand:. It read: Sir Alastair Cook Stand. Let's hope he goes on and on. Could he break another of the Don's records? He now has 450 runs in the series, at an everage of 225. Bradman scored 974 in England in 1930. Wally Hammond has the most by an Englishman in an Ashes series: 905, Down Under in 1928-9. Cook's nearly halfway there.

The day ended with the Aussies praying for plenty of the forecast rain on the final day. Talk about role reversals. England will be buoyed by that late wicket. A struggling North in next, then Haddin and a fairly long tail. It would be a crying shame if it was still all sqaure going into the third test. The weather is the chief barrier.

And, say it quietly, but England could retain the Ashes in Perth if it wins here and on the West coast. One step at a time. Much work to be done yet.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Let's Hope We Can Bowl...

...this was the front page headline this morning in the local rag, The Advertiser. Well two changes to the Aussie bowling attack but the same treatment from England's dominant batsmen. In the last two innings, Strauss' men have amassed 834 for the loss of only 3 wickets. What a transformation from 2006 when an England batting collapse was lurking around every Australian corner.

No doubting the tormenter-in-chief for England; Alastair Cook who has now scored over 400 runs and been unbeaten for over 1,000 minutes. He will be hard pressed to beat his double ton under pressure in Brisbane but in the sweltering conditions at the Adelaide Oval his concentration levels have been quite staggering. A 150 looms on day 3, and maybe more if his defence remains as strong and his square cutting as immaculate. 3 consecutive boundaries through point off the bowling of Doherty just one of many highlights in his flawless knock.

Trott again looked confident and untroubled before chipping a catch to Clarke. Any hopes that Ponting had that this would bring some respite for his team were rudely dashed when Pietersen came in and batted like a man who has been sitting with his pads on for hours, itching to get in and stamp his authority on proceedings. Looks like there's far more batting to come from Mr Twitter in this series.

All of this after losing the toss on day one, bringing a grin and, 'Well have a bat," from Punter. He certainly wasn't smiling after the first over which saw him follow Katich back into the pavillion without scoring. You wouldn't want to miss the first over of play in this series. A comical run-out and a beaut of a delivery from Anderson to get the Aussie captain were the treats this time round. This is maybe the one area the men in baggy greeen are matching England; snaring Strauss in the first over today to follow his duck in the opening over in Brisbane.

Anderson and Swann ensured that this rude awakening for Australia wasn't in vain. Ponting must have had 400+, even 450+ as a par score when batting first in the City of Churches. 245 was a world away.

Two days in and England really couldn't be in a more dominant position. A big total beckons. The pitch is starting to take spin. There may be some uneven bounce. Tails are up. A note of caution: this test is following a similar pattern to the first one where Australia bowled England out for less than 300 and ended up leading by over 200 after the first innings. Yet it still couldn't force a victory.

Strauss won't want to be declaring too early either, if he has the chance, after the debacle of 2006. Let Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood and Bell make a bit more hay yet.

Best case scenario: England rack up a monstrous 600+ score and win by an innings. Worst case Australia find some inspiration on day 3, manage to limit England to a lead of no more than 150 before piling on the runs in its second innings and bowling England out late on day 5. It's a measure of how far England has come that the first scenario sounds plausible while the second sounds fanciful.

We know what Australian sides of the past would do in England's present situation. It's pay-back time.

Adelaide First Day Snaps

Glorious weather at the Adelaide Oval to kick off the 2nd test. And what a day. Losing the toss and skittling them for 245...what's going on over here?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Opportunity Knocks In The City of Chuches

Everyone ready for round two? To the City of Churches and the most picturesque ground on the Ashes trail.

Unfortunately it was also the scene of England's incredible defeat on the last tour in 2006, despite declaring its first innings on 551. Collingwood, with a double century, and Pietersen with 158 were the main protagonists. England led by 38 runs on first innings but then collapsed to 129 second time round at the hands of McGrath, Lee and, chiefly, that man Shane Warne. Australia polished off the 168 needed to win with ease, losing only 4 wickets and going at a rate of more than 5 an over. The beginning of the end for that calamitous tour.

Fast forward 4 years and Australia can no longer call on that famous trio of bowlers and instead finds itself in a right old pickle about the best attack to pick to take 20 English wickets. Mitchell Johnson is certainly out, that much was confirmed today. His reaction was a world away from the arrogance and big talk that preceded the first test:

"In the end, I need to work things out, go to net sessions, get back in the gym, get my head straight, and get back into the team."

Strange he never mentioned these mental frailties before Brisbane. He'd be advised to add a lesson in humility to his recovery plans.

This means that the new men, Harris and Bollinger, will compete with Hilfenhaus for two spots. Siddle is the only front-line bowler secure in his position and he only made the cut for the first test because of fitness doubts over Bollinger. The Aussie players and management have been quick to downplay talk of England gaining the psychological upper hand in Brisbane, pointing to the fact that the series remains tied. But they will be praying they win the toss and bat for as long as possible to give their bowlers a break.

England will be hoping for exactly the opposite, not only to wear down the Australian attack but also to get the chance of bowling last on a wicket that tends to deteriorate on days 4 and 5. In turn, this this will give Graeme Swann the perfect opportunity to make his mark on the series. No selection problems for the England set-up. The same side will take the field and the bowlers should be fresh, a bonus considering they are playing back-to-back tests. A session of bowling with their tails up on the final day in Brisbane was perfect preparation, even if they could only manage one Australian wicket.

The batsmen must repeat the heroics of the second innings rather than squander their wicket when well set, as happened on day one. A big total will be needed whether they bat first or second and centurions will be required. The top three have shown the way, Pietersen and Collingwood must now cash in at Adelaide, just as they did 4 years ago. Ian Bell will be itching to get to the middle again, such was his form at the Gabba, while Prior certainly owes the teams some runs. A strong showing is expected.

An even more crucial toss than the Gabba. As Warney wrote in his column for the local paper today, "As a rule, if you win the toss and bat big in the first innings, its hard to lose." True everywhere, but doubly so here.

Tails for Wales never it right Straussy.

Back Of The Net

Headed down to the Oval today to see how the last minute preparations were going, take in the Sir Donald Bradman museum, catch the final England net session and brave the autograph scrum to get some photos with the players. Managed Prior, Anderson, Broad and man-of-the-moment Alastair Cook.

Beautiful ground, lots of green areas, especially with the park surrounding it. Far more chatacter than the Gabba. "A proper cricket ground," as I overheard one Pom say today. Now to find out what it looks like when full.

The museum was small but plenty of interesting memorabilia - Bradman's bats, kit and trophies plus photos and paintings of the great man. Some great footage from his career, a potted history and video of the Don honing his technique at home with only a stick and a golf ball for company. Maybe today's players could do without Merlin and all those other state of the art bowling machines.

The Don's test batting average is legendary of course: 99.94 and only 4 runs in his last innings away from the perfect 100. He made 12 double centuries in only 80 test innings. Lara, the next best, managed 9 in 232 innings. Some way for Alistair Cook and the rest to go yet.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Occupying Time At Brisbane Airport...With A Few Friends

Michael Vaughan was never one to hang around at the top order for England and he certainly got the ball rolling in the cricket spotting stakes today as I awaited my early morning flight from Brisbane to Adelaide.

He was milling about with a few journalists from the papers back home, as untroubled by the news of the delayed flight as he was by a Brett Lee bouncer.

Next thing I know there's an announcement over the tannoy:

"Could the following four passengers please report to the Qantas check-in desk: Kevin Smith, Brian Jones, Simon Bradley and Kevin Pietersen. Thank you."

Funny I thought, that last passenger has the same name as the cross-nationality thrasher the Aussies love to hate. Bit of a coincidence.

It was finally time to board the late-running flight and as I struggled to cram my rucksack into the overhead locker, what with all the England embossed paraphernalia, it finally dawned on me: hang on I'm on the same flight as the England cricket team.

I turned round to see the imposing figure of Stuart Broad towering over me, thankfully without the new cherry in his hands. The beanpole was stooping to prevent a hole in the ceiling and more technical problems for Quantus. Then, as I took my position at the non-striker's end, ex-captain and current batting guru, Graham Gooch, was standing patiently as another mere mortal tried to force his bag into the little remaining space above his seat.

I say, 'patiently'...a, "Are we going to be here all day?," was clearly audible from his formely tasched topped lip. Funny, hanging around all day never seemed to bother him when he was a player.

As Graeme Swann, Ian Bell, Monty and assorted backroom staff took their seats around me I was left bemoaning my luck as a middle-aged woman from Camp America took the vacant seat next to me rather than an England legend in waiting. Still, she gave me a free lift to my hostel on landing in Adelaide.

But where's the skip? Obviously they've split the party in two. Insurance reasons probably. Wandered off the plane to the magic carousel and found myself stride for stride with Strauss and Collingwood. Almost like I was escorting them to the middle. Gave Strauss a meek, "Good luck on Friday, Straussy," which he met with a level, "Cheers buddy," as he led the boys to the exit. In domestic, aviation travel as on the fair pitches Down Under.

After nearly being bowled over by Steve Finn on entering baggage reclaim, the England players were conspicuous by their absence. Don't want to risk a torn bicep picking up all that cricket gear after all. But hang on isn't that Nasser Hussain in classic holiday garb? Standing next to Bumble, Beefy, Michael Holding and Athers? Looks like the Sky team were on the same flight. Both and the legendary West Indian were engaged in an animated conversation about the latest runners and riders in the local horsing stakes. I could swear Sir Ian's thoughts were wandering to which bottle of red (s) would best compliment his evening, slap-up meal.

Thankfully the carousel is above pandering to A-list cricketing celebrities so I picked up by backpack and left them all to it.