Archive for the ‘Ashes’ Category

Australia go fishing while England make hay

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

It is technically summer in Australia, but by the end of play on Day 1 at Melbourne the dropping temperatures and chill wind sweeping the mostly empty stands can only have added to the abject misery of the few Australian fans who remained.

More reminiscent of Grace Road in early April, England made the most of a green wicket early on and overcast conditions to plunge the opposition into a slough of despond from which they never managed to escape.

Bresnan came in for Finn, as predicted, and Australia stuck with their Perth line-up – perhaps a selection predicated on winning the toss, as Ricky Ponting admitted he too would have bowled had the coin come down in his favour.

James Anderson was the pick of England’s bowlers, despite watching Shane Watson being reprieved twice off his bowling early on, dropped by Collingwood in the slips in only his first over, and then again by Pietersen at gully.

Chris Tremlett’s snaring of Watson came as karmic redress for the opener’s continued and undeserved presence at the crease, but Anderson really deserved more than the 4 wickets he ended up with.

Tremlett again continues to show his worth, removing Ponting when the Australian captain had only 10 runs to his name – another low Ponting can ill afford while his captaincy, as well as his performance as a batsman, are under such intense and damning scrutiny.

Bresnan chipped in with the wickets of Hughes and danger man Haddin, and Australia’s entire innings lasted only 42.5 overs.

Mike Hussey, Australia’s shining star in this series, went in the last over before lunch, and with him, you felt, all hope of reaching a total approaching respectability rather than the dismal 98 they ended up with.

All ten wickets came off edges caught behind the wicket; poor judgement in fishing at deliveries that should have been left alone will no doubt make batting coach Justin Langer wonder just what in the hell his charges were doing.

Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook toyed with Australia’s bowling until stumps, making the most of the bright sun that broke through the cloud cover and a pitch that will only get flatter as this match goes on.

Anderson led England's attack

Anderson led England's attack

It is days like these that win or lose Ashes series. England may well be able to point to today as the one that saw them tighten their grip on the urn.

Melbourne Preview

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

My flight took off from London’s Heathrow airport twelve hours later than scheduled from a snowbound Britain crippled by freezing weather.

I was one of the lucky ones. I understand only now are flight schedules returning to normal, the cold weather front having moved on from the UK and deciding to blow its load all over France.

I hate flying – it terrifies the hell out of me, irrational though that fear is – but I have never been happier to set foot on a plane. Thank you god for Qantas, diazepam, and a window in the fucked up UK weather.

I am here, I have no clue what day it is – I have informed it is Christmas Day but the weather is muggy and there is no snow so that is obviously bullshit – but all that is important is that tomorrow is the first day of a Test which could make history, not just in terms of attendance figures (95,000 is the figure being bandied about for Sunday) but if England win it will be their first Ashes series victory in Australia since Gatting’s men carried off the spoils back in ’86-‘87.

There was much talk in the aftermath of England’s dismantling at the hands of the opposition in Perth about a doctored MCG pitch, and while it had a slight green tinge to it when I took a gander at it – albeit from a distance – on Friday, going on how wickets here have played in Shield matches recently it’ll do a bit early on and then flatten out considerably. Whoever bats first will have to pull up the drawbridge for the first session or so, but batting should get easier the longer the match continues.

I watched Jimmy Anderson in the nets yesterday and he looked fine, with no niggles or soreness. Finn was also given a decent workout, and while Andrew Strauss has said he will wait till Sunday morning to decide, with indications that Bresnan could play, opinion seems to going towards the way of England playing a side unchanged from Perth.

This could be risky; Finn took wickets in Perth but went for a shitload of runs, and dropping Collingwood and playing a fifth specialist bowler would take some of the pressure off a young man who seemed to be struggling under the workload.

Ricky Ponting has given assurances he will play, but will be directing operations from mid off or mid on, rather than his customary position of second slip. He can also expect to receive a barrage of short stuff targeting that broken left little finger, but he is long overdue for a big score and his record at the MCG of 1186 runs at 62.42 in 13 matches means that time is now if his chances of retaining the captaincy are not to disappear down the crapper entirely.

Australia will have their own gamble with their all-pace bowling attack should they decide to continue on this course, as seems likely. The last time Australia beat England in a Test at the MCG with four seamers was 52 years ago, and they cannot call on the likes of Lindwall, Davidson, Meckiff and Rorke now.

An England team coming off the back of a defeat; Australia with momentum from a comprehensive victory but with an injured captain and still with no apparent plan as to how or when to utilize a spinner, or indeed who that spinner should be in the long term. Make no mistake; this match will be a cracker.

I am expecting less chat, less susceptibility to petty distractions from England this match. I am also hoping to see more application, at least from the batsmen. England took their foot off the gas and their eyes off the road in Perth with disastrous consequences.

If they do so again it will make their task of ending that 23 year wait for an Ashes series victory Down Under that much harder.

KP in the Nets

KP in the nets

Many a slip ‘twixt urn and lip

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

I wouldn’t say the new England, the England that got the best of a draw at Brisbane and beat Australia at Adelaide, had made me blasé about the likelihood of retaining the Ashes.

While likelihood had hardened into certainty for some, it still felt too much like a novelty to me to take an England that can win games Down Under for granted. The scars left by Australia’s 5-0 demolition of us in 2006/7 go too deep.

Mitchell Johnson was chiefly responsible for England’s collapse yesterday. Today, they really had no one to blame but themselves.

Ian Bell and nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson will walk out to the middle tomorrow. England are 5 wickets down and it will require 310 runs and individual acts of heroism to stop Australia from squaring the series. With two whole days to go in this Test, that ain’t going to happen.

Oh, England batting collapse, how we thought we had waved good-bye to you, hopefully never to see you return – well, not in this series, anyway.

But this is England, and their capacity for digging themselves a hole, jumping in and handing their opponents the shovel should never be underestimated.

This is not to say England have gone backward, but if this team is to retain the urn and look beyond that to climbing up the Test rankings then there are things they clearly still have to work on.

They are still relatively weak against spin, although thankfully this isn’t a problem they’ve had to deal with against this opposition. But against venomous pace bowling on a bouncy, fast WACA pitch they have had to learn to readjust from the low, slow tracks they’ve become accustomed to, and it has been a struggle.

England’s second innings got off to an edgy start and they never looked comfortable. Strauss and Cook were out to good balls; Pietersen, Trott and Collingwood wafted late and ineffectually at balls they should have left. Looking to impose themselves on the bowling, all they did was hasten the increasingly inevitable.

Hometown heroes Mike Hussey and Mitchell Johnson prospered with bat and ball respectively, with Hussey feasting on the England bowling; anything short-pitched was pulled disdainfully to the boundary.

Swann bowled hardly at all, and Finn was once again expensive. Of the bowlers only Tremlett emerged with credit once more, taking a well deserved 5 wicket haul, in a losing cause.

And so England go to what will be the last day of this Test on a hiding to nothing. Perhaps, after the dream of the Adelaide victory, with the series square and two Tests to go, this will have been the wake-up call they needed.

They cannot afford complacency, nor can they afford another abject collapse like this one.

Mitch ado about nothing

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Mitchell Johnson, dropped from the Australian team at Adelaide and banished to the nets, said today in an interview after his explosive bowling on the second day of the Perth Test, in which he has so far taken 6-38: “I got to work on a few things”.

What those things are was not immediately obvious. Nothing about his action seems to have changed, particularly: still the same low, slingy left arm; his head still flopping over like a rag doll’s when the ball is released.

The only obvious difference seems to have been between the ears.

Mitchell’s always been a lippy bastard. Quiet off the field, he has plenty to say on it. He and various members of the England team have exchanged a few verbals in this match, and not for the first time.

The difference here is that he let the ball do the talking as well.

On a wicket offering him extra pace and bounce he found swing too, using it to lethal effect in removing Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Collingwood for a total of 7 runs before lunch. The balls that accounted for those last three were late inswingers that were nigh on unplayable.

How often have you watched a fearsomely talented quick self-destruct in spectacular fashion? Steve Harmison is perhaps the other bowler of recent times who most readily springs to mind.

Confidence is everything with these men. Consistency too, with Johnson in particular veering dramatically between lethal blitzkrieg and damp, wayward squib.

Cricket Australia had begun to lose patience with the rapidly diminishing returns Johnson was giving them, after all that time spent nurturing him in the Petri dish of its Academy, and after all of those second chances.

When Johnson bowls this well he is worth taking a chance on.

After all the howling invective and demands that he be dropped at Adelaide, those criticisms levelled at him now seem academic. It was probably less a case of “working on a few things” than it was simply having a break. Over-coaching is one of the most insidious destroyers of a young bowler’s form and confidence there is.

Johnson bowled like Jesus today. Next time, he may just as easily bowl like garbage.

Perhaps Australia’s selectors should just accept that.

Goober no more

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Chris Tremlett admitted to having a few nerves prior to bowling his first ball in a Test match for three years.

6 deliveries later, after softening Phil Hughes up with a couple of short balls, he had the newly-recalled 22-year-old playing all round a fuller delivery that removed the bail from his off stump. Australia were 2-1, after all of ten minutes.

Tremlett says he felt better after that.

From then on, the nerviness was to be all Australia’s.

There’s something immensely satisfying in seeing a talented player come back from the wilderness. Clashes of personalities; changes in coach, selectors or both; a bad or erroneous first impression that sticks: there are many reasons why players are discarded, or not given a chance at all to prove their mettle in the international arena. Often, talent is not enough.

Chris Tremlett arrived at Surrey in January on the back of three years in the international wilderness and a decade at Hampshire dogged increasingly by injury, staleness and a low, slow Rose Bowl wicket that gave his height and pace no assistance.

He has also had to put up with criticisms of not being hard enough, of not getting in the batsman’s face, of being too nice by half. “Gentle giant” is a term that gets applied to him a lot. So, until he moved to Surrey, was the nickname Goober, bestowed on him by then-teammate Dimitri Mascarenhas in reference to what was perceived as lumbering, dorkish timidity.

Shane Warne seems to have run out of patience with him at Hampshire, and while Tremlett admits the move to Surrey was necessary to help him mature and take him out of his comfort zone, it would seem that the man-management of a bowler good enough to take the wickets of India’s galacticos back in 2007 went awry somewhere down the line.

England bowling coach David Saker says he kept close track of the rumblings coming out of Surrey: the swiftly-increasing momentum of Tremlett’s renaissance. Entrusted by manager Chris Adams with leading Surrey’s attack and with a blanket ban on the use of that Hampshire nickname, Tremlett repaid his new county with 48 wickets, including a ferocious 4-32 in a county match against Sussex in August on a green Guildford wicket.

Today, he completed his journey back as the pick of the England bowlers with 3-63 to help limit Australia to a below-par total of 268. Bowling with menace and aggression, his consistently tight line and length did for Michael Clarke and Steve Smith, both batsmen wafting weakly outside off stump and edging fuller deliveries to keeper and first slip respectively.

Andrew Strauss’s decision to bowl first and make the most of the seaming conditions, as well as to play Tremlett, are signs of a new aggressive England.

Belated tail-end biffing from Johnson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus aside, only Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin once again made anything like respectable scores. By the end of the day the WACA pitch had flattened out considerably under the broiling Perth sun, and England will be looking to bat Australia out of the game and retain the urn.

Chris Tremlett may find it harder to take wickets the second time around, but surely after what he has done today he deserves an extended run in this England side.

At 6ft 7 inches he is most certainly a giant, but today Australia found him anything but gentle.

Perth preview

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The wicket looks green but it will probably be a road; Chris Tremlett will play but then again so might Tim Bresnan; Australia are looking to the future through Beer goggles, and Andrew Strauss is warning that this Perth Test is going to be no pushover.

Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen has been caught doing 21kph over the speed limit in Shane Warne’s Lamborghini, and Shane Warne’s been caught doing Liz Hurley.

And if it’s a free piece of official Australia cricket kit you’re after, then Nathan Hauritz is your man, and he might perhaps even throw in a book about Viv Richards if you’re lucky.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING, as Bill Lawry would no doubt scream in his more excitable moments – of which there have been many – but the truth is no one seems quite sure how this 3rd Test will go, with “caution” seeming to be the most favoured approach, if you’re Andrew Strauss anyway.

“If Australia were wounded in Adelaide and have a point to prove, they will be much harder to beat and we have to be ready.”

History would suggest Strauss is right not to be over-confident. England’s last victory at the WACA was in 1978-9 against a team weakened by the lure of Kerry Packer’s World Series. Their last 5 Tests here against Australia have resulted in defeat, they have failed to score 300 nine times out of ten, and have never bowled Australia out twice.

Against the Australia of four years ago, at this ground you wouldn’t give England a hope in hell.

The Australia of 2010 is a wounded animal, but wounded animals are unpredictable and have the tendency to rip your face off.

Nevertheless, Australian selection for this Test has been confusing, and not even Ponting seems to know what his final eleven will be, stating that he will want to take one final look at the wicket before he decides.

Michael Beer, a grade cricketer until two months ago, looks unlikely to play, which makes his inclusion rather puzzling. One can only assume the fact he is a left arm spinner who took Kevin Pietersen’s wicket in the tour game against Western Australia has something to do with it, as KP’s then-perceived weakness against left-armers seemed the sole reason for the selection of the now discarded Xavier Doherty. Doherty did succeed in his mission, albeit not until Pietersen had wracked up an imperious 227 runs.

Beer is now the tenth spinner called up since Shane Warne’s retirement, and even Beer’s predecessor Doherty has admitted, “I am sure the selectors are not quite sure who the next person is”. They certainly seem unable to offer any convincing rationale for this latest selection.

It all leaves one feeling rather sorry for Nathan Hauritz, spotted the other day giving away his Australia kit in front of his house with the explanation, “I don’t play for them anymore.” (Note: may not be exactly what happened.)

While this may be cricket’s equivalent of throwing one’s toys out of the pram, Hauritz, known to be an emotional sort, has a point in feeling aggrieved. He recently took 5 wickets at the WACA and scored a maiden first-class hundred at Sydney, yet the message being sent to him by the selectors seems very much to be one of complete and final rejection.

As far as Australia’s other likely men go, recalled pace enigma Mitchell Johnson could be a handful if the Fremantle Doctor gets up a head of steam, and Phillip Hughes has vowed to go all Sehwag on England if they attack him with any short stuff. Good luck with that.

For England, press reports seem to have been swinging back and forth between proclaiming Tremlett, Bresnan, and then back to Tremlett as Stuart Broad’s likely replacement.

While this pitch might not offer the bounce and carry of WACA decks of old, England would be crazy to decide on the safe option of Bresnan.

Chris Tremlett last played Test cricket for England in the India series of 2007. I saw him take 3 wickets in a losing cause on the last day at Trent Bridge when India had only 73 runs to make and he was magnificent. The notion of him being “timid” or “not aggressive enough” has always seemed to me spurious bullshit. The fact he took the wickets of Laxman, Tendulkar and Dravid during that series should suggest that his talent is beyond question, and his appetite for a fight as well.

If he shares the new ball with Jimmy Anderson in a Test that could retain the Ashes for England, he will get another chance to silence the doubters.

Ghosts of Adelaide haunt England no more

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

England have won their first Test in this Ashes series. It is only one win with three more Tests to go, but it feels like the Ashes are England’s.

After the horrible trauma of the last time England played Australia on their home turf, I can only begin to describe how weird this feels.

It’s like breaking out of the basement dungeon Australia have kept us prisoner in, and watching while they get run over by a train.

It feels like freedom, and it smells like victory.

England needed just over an hour to dispose of the six remaining Australian wickets to win by an innings and 71 runs. Graeme Swann got a five-for with support from Jimmy Anderson, Steven Finn, and the golden arm of Kevin P. Pietersen.

Two hours after the match ended, the rain came down like Armageddon.

I still think it was a gamble for Strauss to declare. He got lucky. If the rain had arrived any earlier, with Australia, say, 8 wickets down, he would have been ruing that 40 minutes spent adding runs he didn’t need. If Michael Clarke had hung around, and Hussey and Haddin had reprised their Gabba heroics, England could easily have run out of time, ending up with a draw when they deserved better.

But, after this stunning victory, that is really just cavilling on my part.

Because Australia are now in the position we became so used to seeing England in – captain without a clue, revolving-door approach to picking a bowling attack, and batsmen who, in the words of Michael Vaughan circa 2008 are “hitting it really well in the nets” but not quite so well out in the middle.

And fuck me, but that feels good. Weird, but good.

Ironically, despite each side’s exchange of fortune, there has been some synchrony in that both teams have suffered casualties.

Stuart Broad is out for the remainder of the tour due to a torn abdominal muscle, and likewise Simon Katich, who admirably made do without the use of a runner, is out for the rest of the series with a ruptured Achilles.

Broad is more easily replaceable than Katich, with Chris Tremlett being the most obvious choice for the next Test at Perth, where the fast, bouncy WACA wicket will be tailor-made for him.

Philip Hughes will most likely step in for Katich. Hughes is in good form at the moment in domestic cricket, and clearly the Australian management are keen to give him another opportunity in the Test arena, though Andrew Strauss maintains his technique remains flawed and can be exploited.

If this Test does prove Simon Katich’s swan song, I will miss him. Nice bloke, good batsman (if ugly as hell), once tried to strangle Michael Clarke.

I will also be surprised if Marcus North hasn’t finally worn out the patience of Australia’s selectors, but as replacements Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson were less than convincing in the Australia A game in Hobart.

Xavier Doherty will almost certainly not play in Perth, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nathan Hauritz back. I thought they were a tad hasty in dumping Hauritz in the first place; he doesn’t have all that bad a record against England. They also need to stop summarily picking and discarding bowlers because they’re not the next Warne, and give one bloke a decent go.

Doherty got a lot of stick in this match, but he should not bear the brunt of criticism; the batsmen gave him little to defend in the way of runs. Michael Clarke’s form remains bingled since his break-up with Lara, and Ricky Ponting needs to drop down the order.

Watching the reaction of the Australian press over the next few days will be revealing as well as entertaining.

I do declare!… Eventually…

Monday, December 6th, 2010

So, you are Andrew Strauss and your team has outplayed the Old Enemy for the second Test in succession.

Your bowling attack is superior, your batsmen are breaking records. Your opposition are in disarray, key players are out of form, and their selection policies seem born of knee-jerk desperation.

You have skittled them for 245 and responded with a total that’s the highest for England in Australia since 1928.

Their shoulders are hunched and their heads are down, and your team are riding the wave.

You have two days to win this, but with one big caveat.

Rain is on the way. Not just rain, but thunderstorms and hailstones the size of golf-balls, real wrath-of-god type shit. This weather is forecast to disrupt the tail-end of Day 4, and very likely wipe out completely any prospect of play on Day 5.

What do you do, motherfucker? WHAT DO YOU DO?

Andrew Strauss decided to take the safe option. He did not declare overnight.

He did not send a message to a beaten Australian side, saying: We have enough runs, bring it on, make us bat again; anything you set us, we will chase down, or give it one bloody good try.

No.  Despite having a lead of 306, he sent Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell back out to the middle.

We waited, listing to ourselves all the possible milestones that Strauss would permit England to achieve before calling them in. A lead of 350; 600 runs on the board; Kevin Pietersen accomplishing a new personal best Test score – all these key moments came and went and still no sign from the balcony.

At one stage, we were treated to the sight of a maiden over being bowled, while Stuart Broad sat with his pads on up in the England balcony.

Time drained away, and the rain clouds got ever closer.

Finally, after KP had departed and England’s lead had reached 375, Strauss finally waved them in.

The message this sends to Australia is a negative one. It says England have no confidence batting last on this wicket, despite the Australian attack being garbage. If Australia do make them bat again, how hard would it be, given the superlative form of England’s batsmen, to chase down 150 or so?

And worse than that is that the weather reports seem to have been disregarded in favour of the canny approach of looking out the dressing room window and saying, “Well, it’s not raining now, is it?” as Graeme Swann indicated they had more or less done in his interview at the end of the day’s play.

As weather reports go, this is pretty much on a par with Michael Fish back in 1987 forecasting that it “might get a bit breezy today”. Awesome – now what’s this I’ve heard about a hurricane?

Andrew Strauss kept England batting for 9 overs while 69 runs were added. Rain came after tea, as predicted, and over an hour of play was lost. Considerably more time will be lost tomorrow. At best England may have a window of two hours in the morning before the thunderstorms descend with a vengeance, kiboshing the remainder of the day.

Australia will start the day 4 wickets down, included among them the valuable scalp of Michael Clarke, snared off the last ball by England’s new all-rounder (according to him, anyway) Kevin Pietersen and breaking a valuable partnership.

England would rather they were in the tail. Time, due mostly to the weather and partly to Strauss’s conservative captaincy, is not on their side.

If the weather arrives as forecast, a draw seems almost certain now. It would be scant reward for an England team that has played so well.

The Return of the King

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

It was only going to be a matter of when, not if.

Only one bowler really gave Kevin Pietersen pause while on his way to his second, and most triumphant, double century of his career.

And it wasn’t Xavier Doherty.

Ryan Harris, recovering from a knee injury, retreating to the boundary every so often for treatment from the physio for a tweaked shoulder, ran in, every sinew straining, to throw everything he had at England’s best batsman.

He beat the bat a few times. In one particularly fiery over early on, one bouncer had Pietersen hopping and staggering, and another was top-edged only to land safe, short of the man at deep square leg.

Pietersen does not believe in delaying the inevitable, but he has been out 5 times in the 90s, something Harris was hoping he could exploit with the short ball.

An appeal for LBW against Pietersen from Harris was turned down, reviewed, and upheld. The review was at best tactical, more likely desperate, as the ball pitched well outside the line and even in real time did not look out.

After this, Pietersen made Australia suffer.

He reached his 17th Test hundred and his 3rd against Australia, and then accelerated.

Along the way he lost Alastair Cook, gone to a good length delivery clipping the inside edge and taken by Brad Haddin in a superb diving catch. Back to the pavilion too went Paul Collingwood, who added a useful 42 but in comparison with Pietersen was so subdued as to be invisible.

The way Pietersen played, it was as if he has never been out of form. Short balls were cut and pulled; hapless spinner Xavier Doherty and part-timer Marcus North were driven with crushing disdain. The strut, the swagger, the arrogance returned. The flamingo shot made a reappearance. It was a stunning display from a batsman who is one of the best ever to strap on the pads for England, and boy, his resurgence could not have come at a better time.

Everything is falling into place for this England team. Players struggling with a dearth of runs, vulnerabilities in their technique, or lapses in confidence have come good.

They have admittedly come good against an Australian bowling attacking which is arguably the worst in years.

But this has not detracted one iota from the immense satisfaction of seeing an England captain marshalling so ably a close-knit, determined team; nor has it detracted from the satisfaction of seeing Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell bat so beautifully.

So when Kevin Pietersen drove Doherty wide of mid-off and took off for the single that gave him his double century, it felt like another piece of the machine – and perhaps its most vital – had slotted back into place, had the rust knocked off it, and was now firing with all cylinders gloriously intact.

Pietersen is a very different beast to England’s top three, and compared to the batsman who comes before him in the order he is the Ferrari Testarossa to Jonathan Trott’s Bentley Continental. As he himself observed at the end of day’s play, it is the solid base that the top three give the innings that allows him carte blanche to give his genius full and exuberant rein.

One last thing. Statistics in cricket, which we devotees of this beautiful game tend to regard with the same reverence that mystics reserve for numerology, can seem fraught with portent and meaning.

When Kevin Pietersen went to lunch on 158*, memories were awoken of the fact that four years ago, at this ground, he was run out on the same figure. In 2005, he made 158 at the Oval in the 5th Test with an innings that arguably won the Ashes for England. He has been out on 158 three times, and until now has only once surpassed it.

When the rain came down yesterday and the evening session was cancelled, England finished the day 4 wickets down with 551 runs on the board. This is the same number of runs that Andrew Flintoff declared on back in 2006 during that disastrous Test on this ground when everything went so traumatically and catastrophically wrong.

England are a different team now. They are a better team, and some statistics are only significant if we make them so.

Pietersen came back after that lunch break and became the most successful England batsman ever to play at this ground. Likewise, Andrew Strauss can put England’s traumatic past behind it, declare ten minutes before play starts and dare Australia to make his men bat again.

England’s foot is now on Australia’s neck. Strauss now needs to abandon any safety-first considerations that may have guided him in the past, and give his team the chance to strike the killing blow.

England bloom, Australia wither under the Adelaide sun

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

When Alastair Cook was interviewed in front of the Adelaide Oval pavilion after close of play on Day 2 of the Second Test, he didn’t look like a man who had finished the day on 136 not out.

He did not look like a man who has scored 438 runs so far this series, or been on the field of play for all bar 11 overs to date, or, counting his epic second innings at the Gabba, batted for 1022 minutes without being dismissed.

He looked like a man who had had a bit of a net.

He looked as fresh as a fucking daisy.

As Australia’s seamers pounded in for over after over under a searing Adelaide sun it was a case of spent, rather than unstoppable, force meets immovable object.

Gone is the leaden footwork, especially against spin; gone is the stiff-legged hesitancy that minimised scoring options and left him stuck in his crease; gone is the suicidal tendency to waft outside off stump.

He has not so much reworked his technique as stopped worrying about it and gone back to how he used to play. The result is that he is now playing with the kind of regained confidence and technical assuredness that grinds down bowling attacks expecting easier prey.

It seems that every time he goes out to bat now, another record falls.

Aside from runs scored and minutes batted – breaking the records for both for an England player – he is now the second most successful England batsman to play in Australia in terms of average, and the first for ten years to follow a double century with a century.

All this and he is only 25 years old. Only Sachin Tendulkar had scored more centuries than him by the time he reached the same age.

After the early loss of Andrew Strauss, Cook and Jonathan Trott continued their consolidation of the record for England’s most successful second wicket partnership. Trott’s innings was an especially swashbuckling one – before lunch he was cracking along with a strike rate in the 70s – and his superlative onside play (shades of the great Gordon Greenidge at times with that raised left leg) was once again augmented with sweetly-timed driving through the covers.

Trott’s was the only other wicket to fall, and Kevin Pietersen set about the bowling in brisk and imperious fashion. It is no surprise that he targeted Xavier Doherty in particular, given Doherty has been included in this Australian side at the expense of Nathan Hauritz purely because of Pietersen’s recent, and self-inflicted, vulnerability against left-arm spin.

The way England have been batting recently, Doherty must have been wondering if he’d ever get a crack at the man he is supposed to unsettle. Pietersen, dancing down the wicket and at one stage driving the unfortunate young Tasmanian back over his head to the boundary, was very plainly having none of it.

Pietersen is back, and all is right with the world.

He and Cook will need to continue where they left off. England are 72 runs ahead. Andrew Strauss must surely be eyeing a total in the region of 600. If England achieve this – and there is, of course, no guarantee – Australia will need to dig deep if they are to escape from this with a draw.