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Wrong, Wrong And Wrong Again

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm

My pre-Ashes comments and predictions have proved substantially incorrect. Thank Heavens for that. See Apologia, in bold, below.

Easy wickets
There are too many softies in the current English batting line up. The West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan have all demonstrated that.  Alastair Cook is a gimme, with a test average of 27.60 in Australia. In Perth, he was bowled for 5 by a Leicestershire 2nd XI trier called Steve Magoffin. Kevin Pietersen has declined significantly since he was last in Australia. His pre-tour form, in England, South Africa and in the Australian warm-up games is poor – as it has been for over a year. Neither Bell nor Collingwood frighten the Aussies. They’ll respect Strauss, remembering all the while that he was ranked the 11th best batsman of the 2006/2007 series, with an average of 24.70.

WRONG: Where to start? England scored nine centuries, with an average partnership of over 50. Their 644 in Sydney was their biggest ever score in Australia. For some, the difference in the batting averages second time around is staggering: Ian Bell, a passenger in 2005 with an average of 17, just clocked 65.80 for the series. Alastair Cook’s average has gone from 27.60 in 2006/7 to a ridiculous 127.66 in 2010/11. Cook, especially, has improved his technique, but the overall impression is of a focused batting unit facing an Australian attack that has completely lost its way.

Lack of Stayers
Full credit to Mr Trott for finally nailing a double ton for England vs Bangladesh in the summer. At last someone has done it; the last player to do so anywhere for England was Rob Key, versus the West Indies in 2004. In other words – Bangladeshi heroics aside – this is a team with a proven track record of not scoring the kind of big ton which is a critical element of a successful tour down under.

WRONG: The daddy hundreds have made the difference and won matches for England. Cook’s appetite was enormous, but credit also to Trott and Pietersen for registering big scores. Given the fact that this tour featured only the 4th and 5th double centuries ever by England players in Australia demonstrates the rarity of the achievement.

Four Bowlers
What on earth are we thinking? Typical Australian scores in Brisbane at the end of day one: 2/321, 3/344…These guys are bred to occupy the crease for hours on end, and the longer and hotter it is, the more they like it. There is no way this quartet is going to survive a five match series, let alone snaffle up 20 wickets a go. Expect some brutal days in the field.

WRONG: The four man bowling attack worked. Sometimes Australia were blown away, as in Adelaide or Melborne , but more often it was a case of death by suffocation . Australia pegged back at 50 odd-1 in the morning session in Sydney, with just the one  boundary, was one of many examples of the England attack strangling the life out of the Australian batting. What was impossible to predict was that Bresnan and Tremlett would come in midway through the series – with England still sticking to the four man attack – and bowl so superbly.

 

 

James Anderson
Terrific against Pakistan in the summer, but the conditions in Australia are the opposite of Jimbo-land, and we know from previous experience that when the shine goes off the ball on a day of blue skies and hot sunshine, then the great Jimmy starts to go for some, and then some more, and some more….Rewind just one year to the tour in South Africa, and Jimmy’s 1-104 at Centurion or his 0-111 at the Wanderers. Is he really that much better now?

WRONG: On the press day before the first test, JA was asked to bowl in the nets at a helmet on a stick to impress the journos; one ball,  no run up, and he smacked it bang on target. The guy was clearly in form, but back then it was still a fair question to ask: is Jimmy really that much better than he was last time out Downunder? Oh, yes. He was 625 overs of awesome, from his wicketless new ball bowling in Brisbane to his final masterclass in Sydney. He’s even improved from last summer, when he was quite brilliant but still sent down the odd loose delivery. It’s the ‘cold and calculating’ element to his game that is so impressive.

Ricky Ponting
He is by far the best batsman in either side. Yes, Ponting has the burden of captaincy on his shoulders, but he remains the real deal: obdurate, destructive, hungry. You’ll remember that he wasn’t at his best against England in 2009, struggling to a series of average of…just over 48. That’s the thing about this guy – his wicket is so precious that we forget how expensive it is to acquire it. Playing at home, against a side he’s successfully bashed about for years is likely to bring the best out of him. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

WRONG: I don’t feel sorry for Ricky, as some England fans do. He’s had a great career, and has been lucky enough to captain an incredible team, only to watch the overall standard around him fall off a cliff. Usually, however, Ricky Ponting has Ricky Ponting to rely on, and regular watchers may feel that it just doesn’t feel right seeing him so unmanned by the England attack. It was actually embarrassing by the end. His series average of 16 compared to his career average of 50+ is a reasonable indication of the strength of this England bowling attack, and Anderson’s glorious outswinger to dismiss Ponting in Adelaide – the 3 for 2 ball – was THE moment of the tour.

Mitchell Johnson
Australia lost the 2009 Ashes as a direct result of Mitchell Johnson’s abysmal display in the Lords test of that year. He was so bad that even Cook filled his boots. All the signs are that Johnson has long since got his mojo back and – being the best and fastest bowler on either team – that’s bad new for England. Even including the Lords debacle, Johnson still took 20 wickets in that series, compared to Broad (18) and Anderson (12). Playing back home in his favourite conditions, don’t expect the wheels to come off again. MJ’s got unfinished business to attend to.

WRONG: Oops. The wheels did come off again: a duck and 0-170 in Brisbane. If Troy Cooley is such a coaching genius, how could he allow MJ to start the test series in such terrible form? Steve Harmison was better prepared in 2006. Getting Johnson ready for the Ashes should have been their top priority. Instead, Johnson was dropped after a dreadful start, before coming back for a one-off blitz in Perth, with 6/36 still the best bowling figures of the entire series. MJ is sometimes very good with the bat and sometimes unplayable with the ball. And yet, if Strauss had the option to include a Mitchell Johnson in his team, would he be selected? No chance. Too unreliable.

Home Advantage
Look, mate, Australians are always going to enjoy watching an England team struggle. But an England team as full of itself as this one, a team so quick to assume the mantle of favourites, with that bloody Graeme Swann mouthing off… The Aussies are really going to love watching the slide from The Hill in Sydney. All this Australian pre-series doom and gloom…you’re not really falling for it, are you?

WRONG: They only sing when their winning. The famous MCG walk out – the Australian fans, that is, not their batsmen – demonstrated the fragility of the local support. In contrast, all credit should go to the loyalty and good humour of the Barmy Army (speaking as a brief member myself – Perth, WA, 1994, which is a long way to go to watch England lose by 329 runs).

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Reality Check: Why England Will Lose The Ashes

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Easy wickets
There are too many softies in the current English batting line up. The West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan have all demonstrated that.  Alistair Cook is a gimme, with a test average of 27.60 in Australia. In Perth, he was bowled for 5 by a Leicestershire 2nd XI tryer called Steve Magoffin. Kevin Pietersen has declined significantly since he was last in Australia. His pre-tour form, in England, South Africa and in the Australian warm-up games is poor – as it has been for over a year. Neither Bell nor Collingwood frighten the Aussies. They’ll respect Strauss, remembering all the while that he was ranked the 11th best batsman of the 2006/2007 series, with an average of 24.70.

KP bowled: Oops. There he goes again.

Lack of Stayers
Full credit to Mr Trott for finally nailing a double ton for England vs Bangladesh in the summer. At last someone has done it; the last player to do so anywhere for England was Rob Key, versus the West Indies in 2004. In other words – Bangladeshi heroics aside – this is a team with a proven track record of not scoring the kind of big ton which is a critical element of a successful tour down under.

Four Bowlers
What on earth are we thinking? Typical Australian scores in Brisbane at the end of day one: 2/321, 3/344…These guys are bred to occupy the crease for hours on end, and the longer and hotter it is, the more they like it. There is no way this quartet is going to survive a five match series, let alone snaffle up 20 wickets a go. Expect some brutal days in the field.

James Anderson
Terrific against Pakistan in the summer, but the conditions in Australia are the opposite of jimbo-land, and we know from previous experience that when the shine goes off the ball on a day of blue skies and hot sunshine, then the great Jimmy starts to go for some, and then some more, and some more….Rewind just one year to the tour in South Africa, and Jimmy’s 1-104 at Centurion or his 0-111 at the Wanderers. Is he really that much better now?

Jimmy Aaaaah: Have I got to 100 yet?

Ricky Ponting
He is by far the best batsman in either side. Yes, Ponting has the burden of captaincy on his shoulders, but he remains the real deal: obdurate, destructive, hungry. You’ll remember that he wasn’t at his best against England in 2009, struggling to a series of average of…just over 48. That’s the thing about this guy – his wicket is so precious that we forget how expensive it is to acquire it. Playing at home, against a side he’s successfully bashed about for years is likely to bring the best out of him. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Mitchell Johnson
Australia lost the 2009 Ashes as a direct result of Mitchell Johnson’s abysmal display in the Lords test of that year. He was so bad that even Cook filled his boots. All the signs are that Johnson has long since got his mojo back and – being the best and fastest bowler on either team – that’s bad new for England. Even including the Lords debacle, Johnson still took 20 wickets in that series, compared to Broad (18) and Anderson (12). Playing back home in his favourite conditions, don’t expect the wheels to come off again. MJ’s got unfinished business to attend to.

MJ's Mission: I Want My Ashes Back

Home Advantage
Look, mate, Australians are always going to enjoy watching an England team struggle. But an England team as full of itself as this one, a team so quick to assume the mantle of favourites, with that bloody Graeme Swann mouthing off… The Aussies are really going to love watching the slide from The Hill in Sydney. All this Australian pre-series doom and gloom…you’re not really falling for it, are you?



Your 2010/2011 Ashes Digital Digest

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2010 at 7:33 am

Brisbane. Excited yet? The Ashes are just days away. To be precise, four days, three days, two days…just use your Sky Sports countdown clock to keep up to speed, to the hour and the second. The clock is perhaps the most obvious little bit of digital content currently being served up by the cricket media ahead of the five match England vs Australia series. Here is a selection of other tasters from popular online sources.

PODCAST: The web is heavy with chat, as analysts put forward their trenchant views on four man bowling attacks and the wobbly Australian middle order – without fear, yet, of contradiction by actual facts. Cricinfo’s weekly podcast with the firm of Miller,McGlashan & Dutta is bouncy, opinionated and not too long. My pre-Ashes top pick, however, must be the Times’s pre tour discussion panel (3 x 20mins) which included such heavy weights as Michael Atherton, CMJ, Richard Hobson and the venerable John Woodcock, all good ‘voices’ with educated opinions. Woodcock (The Times cricket correspondent 1951-1988) is the star, thanks to his magnificent Edwardian tones and incomparable back catalogue of cricket tales (‘as Bradman once told me when we shared a taxi…’). Once the action is underway, Test Match Special’s end of day podcast with Jonathan Agnew and Geoff Boycott will be unmissable.

TWITTER: This is cricket’s new media of choice, thanks essentially to Kevin Pietersen’s twitter tantrum (twantrum?) after being dropped by England last August. KP’s output since then has all been Brylcream and adidas, but I will tune in if things go poorly for him Down Under. Instead, my top twitter recommendations would be a) Graeme Swann’s (Swannyg66), which is less frequent than KP’s (kevinpp24) but much funnier. And b) Agnew’s rather un-BBC musings and updates from the tour (Aggerscricket).

Where did it all go wrong?

Where did it all go wrong?

TV: Sky, of course. This is now available online live as well as via satellite services. The overall visuals and graphics are exemplary, but I find their commentary somewhat ponderous. Michael Holding is great in limited doses, but match him with Willis over a long wicketless spell and the sparks don’t fly.  Nasser is a terrific analyst but lacks the brevity and the bite of Simon Hughes. Botham is dull, as are Gower and Atherton. Together, there is an irksome pomposity about the output of the Sky commentary team, perfectly represented by their nauseating publicity poster. The Sky commentator we all want to listen to has to be HRH Shane Warne, preferably with Australian tottering at 95-6. I was amazed to read that Richie Benaud will be doing the Australian coverage for Channel 9. Lucky buggers. The value of non-Sky subscribers to the ECB is clear from the fact that with just one week to go, they hadn’t even decided where to place the Ashes free-to-air highlights package. ITV4 got it with 10pm slot, so too late for kids.

ONLINE VIDEO: Graeme Swann. What a theatrical lovey. He just cannot get enough camera time, as evidenced by his Ashes video blogs on the ghastly mess which is the ECB website. They are a bit patchy but the third one is hilarious. There is something about these productions which bug me…Oh yes, I remember. Isn’t Graeme Swann supposed to be a rather important cricketer? As in ‘The Man Who Can Win Us The Ashes’? Can’t all that Question of Strictly Celebrity Factor stuff be put on hold for a bit, please? As far as us fans are concerned, he has only one job this winter: taking 25+ wickets. For archive and nostalgia, the BBC’s Ashes TMS flashback is enormous fun.

WEBSITE: The old webpage now counts as traditional media. A browse through the Telegraph is uninspiring, as is the output of their correspondent Derek Pringle. The Guardian is enjoying a good phoney war, thanks to Steve Busfield’s minute-by-minute Ashes Update and the analysis of Duncan Fletcher. The BBC also go for the ‘real time’ Ashes coverage with their Ashes Countdown. The Times coverage (see podcast above) is voluminous and generally good quality but the new paywall is a huge obstacle. One unintended but  pleasant side effect is that their comments section is less blathery and more interesting, with regular posts by the columnists themselves. Cricinfo is good for reminding the Anglo Australian reader that there will be other cricket going on over next few months.

ASHES FREE ZONE: A salute to the Wisden Cricketer website, who’s front page glories in not one mention of the Ashes at all. A magnificent achievement, enhanced by an excellent article by Matthew Engel on cricket corruption in the sub-continent.