Archive for the ‘gabba’ Category
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Well, it was bound to happen, wasn’t it? Speak of the devil, and he appears. Call Stuart Broad a “27-year-old medium pacer” and he takes five wickets.
Tempting fate? Best not to. Schadenfreude? Perhaps just a smidgen. Childish the Courier-Mail’s antics may have been – in a “let’s just ignore him but devote a full front page to him” kind of way, but it was pretty amusing, and to be fair Broad, with his at-times pompous air of self-importance, brings a lot of it on himself (his scathing passing of judgement back in the summer on what constituted “a true England fan” when someone on Twitter dared criticise England’s soporific batting was especially irritating).
But the man can bowl, and yesterday took five wickets quicker than you can say “the Aussies will be a much tougher prospect at home”. That prediction could yet turn out to be true – bitter experience has taught never to assume anything until England have batted – but the Australian batting had the same jerry-built, threadbare feel to it that it had back in England, despite all of Michael Clarke’s bullish talk of a more settled team, a team that picked itself, lessons learned, and all the stuff you’re supposed to say when fronting up to your country’s media on the back of nine Tests without a win.
The wickets of Chris Rogers and Shane Watson bookended the morning session, with the latter likely proving the most disastrous to Australia’s search for a respectable total on an excellent batting wicket, but it was the scalp of Michael Clarke that should worry the home-side the most – all of that work in the nets, practising against the short ball, only to have Broad fire one into his ribs: the Australian captain fended it to short-leg with all the spinal flexibility of a brick smokestack. The wickets of Dave Warner and Mitchell Johnson rounded out Broad’s five; when he’s on a roll – whether on Twitter or the field of play – there is no stopping him.
England’s other bowlers acquitted themselves well, too. A muscle-bound Chris Tremlett, resembling another structure also made of brick, was preferred to Steven Finn for the role of third seamer, and while he has a way yet to go to recall the glory days of 2010-11 after a long injury layoff, he too bowled with conviction and control and was rewarded with the wicket of a potentially destructive Steve Smith. Jimmy Anderson, in his usual default mode of menacing accuracy, deserved more than two wickets.
So far, it’s like Australia never left England. The problems they had there are still in evidence. That they’re having them at a ground where they were expected to prosper – the last time Australia lost here was twenty-five years ago – is even more sobering.
Given that being a target for derision in the Aussie press seems to act as some kind of reverse jinx (see also the media’s reaction to Michael Clarke being made captain in 2010) Kevin Pietersen must now be licking his lips as he contemplates batting on the second day, given he too has been a target for similar nonsense in the papers before they decided to turn their attention to Broad.
Thursday, though, belonged to the Man With No Name. The wicket was good, the batting (Haddin and Johnson’s partnership of 114 aside) was bad, and right now the chances of the home side turning the tables on the Poms look downright ugly.
Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
So that’s it, then. The English summer is over, another Ashes series is only hours away, Sachin Tendulkar has called time on a career as notable for what it said about celebrity, history, and an entire country’s gestalt as for the bare statistical facts of its long, illustrious unfurling, as if that maiden Test ton in 1990 was the start of a red carpet unrolling into infinity, a future in which the image sometimes became indistinguishable from the individual.
There have been many fine pieces written in tribute to Sachin, the best of them describing an isolated moment, an encounter (on or off the field), experienced by the writer and how it affected them, because while many have tried to pin him down as an individual with all the various depths of light and shade that exist in a person, perhaps his greatest legacy is the effect he has had on his country, the Indian people, cricket fans around the world: a force of nature, like gravity, or oxygen.
Driving back from a family funeral in Scotland last week all of this touched me only peripherally, at a distance, though it seemed in keeping with the notion of November as a time of endings and intimations of mortality. The long drive south, through darkness, constant rain, the penumbra of gloom on pine clad hills, seemed depressingly apposite.
Just as you can’t sum up a life in a twenty-minute eulogy, the hype surrounding Sachin’s final bow at Mumbai was so much extraneous scaffolding, and with so many clichés – heart-felt nonetheless – that it drives home the inadequacy of language. But then words are not enough for a lot of things.
Life has a treadmill feel to it at the moment, a one-foot-after-the-other deal. Anything that can be put into words feels glib. It’s been a truly lousy year for people I care about: cancer, heart problems, mental illness, bereavement. At the moment it feels like the next crisis is just around the corner. I don’t like things I can’t control. Sometimes, this life we live, on this small rock, wobbling on its axis, spinning through an uncaring cosmos, seems a little too random for me. Fate, of course, is impersonal, but I’d go so far as to say there are times when the completely random becomes desperately unfair.
I remained relatively untouched by the Sachin hoopla and the Ashes build-up because it felt like sport was trivial when placed against the end of a life. But as I’m finding now, there is welcome distraction in the irrelevant, and it helps to rationalise the struggle when you tell yourself that everything is insignificant when placed next to something larger, because there’s always something larger – therefore everything is equal in its seeming insignificance, and everything matters.
From paying only passing attention to the publicity machine that’s gone into overdrive ahead of the Ashes, from not feeling much enthusiasm for the series itself (I guess it doesn’t help that we’ve only just had one – Ashes series, like buses, etc) I’m starting to feel the glimmer of excitement. It might even be on its way to becoming a bona-fide buzz, even though the weather for Brisbane looks diabolical and more likely to engender disappointment and delayed gratification.
As the toss grows ever nearer, I’m devouring the previews and the predictions, the hype and the controversies. Matt Prior’s calf. Michael Clarke’s back. Michael Clarke’s front in “announcing” England’s Gabba line-up before England did. Kevin Pietersen’s 100th Test. How the pitch will play for the first two hours. How George Bailey will fare for Australia, batting at 6. Michael Carberry embarking on his second time round as England Test opener. How Malcolm Conn, Australian journalist and redoubtable rabble-rouser, thinks England are on the way down and the Poms won’t have it so easy this time around. Stuart Broad as the new pantomime villain.
All petty bickerings, bravado blusterings, preenings, struttings and five-nil predictions. All trivial when placed in the greater scheme of things.
There is comfort in trivialities.
There is comfort in runs scored and balls bowled, the white lines that mark the 22-yard area of combat and the boundary rope that encompasses the whole. Everything outside that rope can be forgotten when an Ashes Test is underway.
This is how we go on. We make the little things matter.
Monday, November 29th, 2010
One by one, the records fell.
By the time Andrew Strauss called Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott in – yes, that would be the same two who started the day with their team only 88 runs ahead – England had not just sacked Fortress Gabba, they had taken up residence and were throwing a party complete with hookers, coke and midgets.
In a veritable orgy of statsporn, England’s second innings total of 517-1 declared, with Cook on 235 and Trott on 135, encompassed the following milestones:
- This is only the 6th time a team has passed 500 without losing more than one wicket. It is also England’s highest total for one wicket down.
- Alastair Cook’s 235 not out is the highest Test innings at the Gabba, surpassing Don Bradman’s 226 against South Africa in 1931.
- Cook’s 329-run stand with Trott is the highest by an England pair in Australia, and, perhaps most satisfyingly, is the highest partnership ever at the Gabba, usurping Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin’s 307-run stand in the same match.
Who could ever have predicted all this when Andrew Strauss directed only the third ball he faced straight into the hands of Mike Hussey at gully on Day 1?
It’s been a strange match, a roller coaster of a match; a match where if you were an England fan you girded your loins and prayed that England would escape the Gabba with at least their dignity intact.
They have done more than this, much more. Aside from the bare facts of the draw, and the graphs and charts and numbers that flashed up on the screen with almost dizzying regularity during Cook and Trott’s marathon stand, the psychological advantage England now has heading into the 2nd Test is perhaps the most important accoutrement they will take with them on the plane to Adelaide.
Alastair Cook’s celebration on reaching his double ton was an unalloyed joy to watch. I am holding my hand up here to admit he has never been my favourite player; the flaws in his technique, big runs scored against small opposition, his early anointing as future captain by the England management for no immediately obvious reason, are the reasons why I’ve never really warmed to him as a batsman.
He will never be the prettiest of stroke-players, but the fact this knock was so important within the context of the match – salvaging a draw that had looked extremely unlikely after England’s paltry first innings total of 260 – must be recognised for the gutsiness and downright balls it took to compile.
Jonathan Trott continues to be England’s anchor. He now has over 1000 Test runs in 2010, and with his average now at 59.95, is England’s most successful number 3 for 50 years. There has been talk of Ian Bell perhaps being promoted up the order in the future, but Trott has made this position his own and I cannot think of anyone else I’d rather see walking out to the middle when the first wicket goes down.
Australia, if not quite up the proverbial creek, needs to carve itself a paddle and quickly.
Doug Bollinger and a fit-again Ryan Harris have been added to the squad for the 2nd Test after Mitchell Johnson showed his absolute loss of form and confidence with a performance that was nothing short of abysmal. If his Test match could be encapsulated in a single ball, it would be the one he bowled round the wicket to Jonathan Trott and that disappeared down the leg-side for 4 wides.
Steve Harmison would have been able to sympathise.
The Australian selectors, however, may be of another mind entirely.
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
When Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook walked out to open England’s second innings, the task in front of them seemed almost insurmountable.
The mountain they had to climb was one that had been raised up on the back of a six wicket haul for Peter Siddle, and whose peak was lost in the clouds of newspaper headlines praising Michael Hussey’s return from purgatory and his epic stand with Brad Haddin.
As with those two icons of English pluck (and ultimately tragedy) Mallory and Irving, we do not yet know whether Strauss and Cook did enough to lay the foundations of success in avoiding defeat. But by the time Cook and Trott walked back to the pavilion, play suspended for the day due to bad light, England had reached parity and batted themselves into credit for the loss of only their captain.
And a captain’s innings it was, too. That England will start the last day of this Gabba Test on 309-1, 88 runs ahead, is due in large part to the perfect instance of a skipper leading by example. Anything wide of off-stump was cut away; charges down the wicket ceased to become a novelty from this normally staid batsman, and we were treated to several sumptuous cover-drives – a sure sign that Andrew Strauss is up for taking the fight to the opposition.
When he fell for 110, stumped (for the first time in his career) off the bowling of part-timer Marcus North, his partnership with Cook was worth 188, the highest English partnership ever at the Gabba. When Cook brought up his 14th Test hundred with a sweetly-timed cut to the boundary, it was the first time both England openers had scored centuries against Australia since 1938.
That the wicket played flat and the bowling was toothless should not detract from England’s achievement yesterday, but Australian eyes will be focused in particular on Mitchell Johnson who seems to have suffered an almost catastrophic crisis of confidence.
Victory for England is almost certainly out of the question, but after finding themselves all out for 260 in the first innings, a draw will feel almost as good.
Base camp has been reached; the tent pegs hammered in; but there is still a long way to climb. As all adventurers know, sometimes the conditions have a habit of suddenly turning nasty.
All it will take will be for Johnson to rediscover his mojo, even temporarily, and if more than two wickets fall in the morning session, the climb to safety could yet turn out to be a rocky one.
But if England can continue where they left off when Cook and Trott take their guard this morning, the clouds obscuring the summit might just begin to lift.
Saturday, November 27th, 2010
Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin weathered a superb spell of bowling from England early on to build a partnership that broke records and has made victory for England nigh on impossible.
Hussey, a new man after suffering a prolonged slump in form and a let-off first ball when he edged just short of second slip on Day 2, brought up his ton with a celebration that was more primal scream than war-cry. He has admitted the criticism of recent days has affected him; the decision of the selectors to include both him and Peter Siddle in the side ahead of Dougie Bollinger and a younger batsman now looks to be vindicated.
Hussey’s day was not – again – without its share of luck. Given out lbw on 82 off the bowling of Jimmy Anderson, the decision was overturned on referral when Hawkeye showed the ball pitching outside leg stump. Three runs later Anderson went up again, to no avail: had England not used up both their referrals, the simulation would this time have showed the ball hitting the stumps.
James Anderson’s figures do not accurately reflect how well he bowled today, for no reward. Brad Haddin, who together with Hussey compiled a partnership of 307 that lasted six and a half hours, admitted that the spell he faced from Anderson early in the day was “probably the hardest Test bowling I’ve ever had to face”.
Misfields and dropped catches in the deep added to England’s gloom, and when at last the partnership was broken and the tail-enders mopped up by Finn, Australia’s lead was 221.
England’s innings did not start auspiciously, Strauss rapped on the pads leaving the first ball he faced and having to endure a nervous couple of minutes as the not-out decision was reviewed and upheld due to height.
He and Alastair Cook survived to stumps but a draw is now the best England can hope for. It is a task that that will require cool heads, calm nerves, and some big names to step up. Realistically England will need to bat all of Day 4 and until lunch on Day 5 if they are to escape the Gabbatoir alive.
It was never going to be easy for England at this ground, but they can still come out of this Test with their morale intact if they prove to themselves and their opposition that they have the stomach for this fight, even if defeat now seems the most likely outcome.
Friday, November 26th, 2010
There are two ways you can approach what could be your last Test match, if your form is in the toilet, your best days are behind you, and you are only in the team by the skin of your teeth and by way of a last-gasp 100 in a Sheffield Shield match.
You can grit your way through it, blocking and nudging, barricading yourself into your crease, crawling slowly towards some semblance of a respectable total while knowing that it is only a matter of time before there will be a ball with your name on it and it will be unplayable.
Or you can say fuck all that, and take the bastards on.
Mike Hussey had some luck, first ball he faced. In fact, he had a lot of luck. Steven Finn, fired up after removing Simon Katich with a sharp caught and bowled taken only inches above the ground – not a bad effort for a bloke who’s 6ft 8 – induced an edge from the nervy left-hander which fell just short of Graeme Swann at second slip.
Hussey himself admits he said a small prayer as he nicked it. It is on moments like this that careers are curtailed, or second chances given.
After that – especially against the bowling of Swann – he played like the last couple of years had never happened. Spurning the very concept of timorous defence as though it were completely beneath him, short deliveries were pulled with an imperious efficiency and his footwork and timing were impeccable as he set about righting an Australian ship that was listing at 100-3 when he came to the crease.
By the time bad light had stopped play, two more wickets had fallen – a woefully out of nick Michael Clarke who is likely suffering with his degenerative disc problem more than his team are letting on, and Marcus North, another under-pressure batsman who got a ball from Swann that was simply too good for him. But, with an able wing-man in Brad Haddin, Hussey is proving to be his side’s backbone.
Resuming on 220-5, Hussey and Haddin will face the new ball and an England who just have the edge in the bowling department in a morning session that could decide the outcome of this Test match.
After struggling on the morning of Day 2 to find their line and length, the England seamers recalibrated their radars during the lunch break and came out firing. Finn’s high action and ability to extract bounce as well as his athletic fielding off his own bowling are signs of an exciting young talent, and Jimmy Anderson’s economy was excellent.
Graeme Swann got some tonk – the Gabba is not a happy hunting ground for off-spinners – but given cracks are starting to appear in the wicket he will come into his own in the fourth innings.
For now, all of England’s focus will be on this partnership of Hussey and Haddin, which must be broken quickly if the visitors are to move into ascendancy.
Thursday, November 25th, 2010
There’s something strangely comforting in the familiar sense of helpless rage experienced on waking up to another bloody England collapse.
Truly, no winter is complete without it.
Having kept myself going throughout the night on a diet consisting almost entirely of coffee and foam bananas, I threw in the towel at tea time, when England were 171-4.
When I woke up this morning they were 260 all out, and Australia were 25 for the loss of no wickets.
The first over didn’t go so well.
Third delivery, Strauss got a ball from Hilfenhaus that seemed to nip back in and cramped him up; going for the pull he was out caught by Mike Hussey at gully. Rash shot or genuinely good ball? Bit of both, I think; nerves probably did for the England captain after all the relentless hype and talk leading up to this game.
Cook’s head is still falling over like a piss-head sailor negotiating a storm-tossed deck, but he played sensibly and solidly for the most part, that ugly-as-hell technique of his not such an issue since the ball wasn’t doing a heck of a lot.
Trott played well enough despite a couple of streaky boundaries and nervy edges that fell just short of fielders, but he batted with good intent and helped his team get a start. The fact he departed attempting a loose drive off a decent ball from Shane Watson is not a mistake he will want to repeat.
It is all too easy to hold Shane Watson up as a figure of fun, and he does bring it on himself, but he was the pick of the bowlers for me in the morning session, snaring Trott with one that nipped back off the seam, causing the England batsman to lose his shape while attempting to drive it through midwicket.
The small battle between Kevin Pietersen and new boy Xavier Doherty was entertaining, and nothing gave me more heart than watching KP charge down the wicket towards the debutant who immediately hurled the ball back at the batsman in anger. Tasty stuff.
There’d been a bit of hooha about Peter Siddle’s selection, with the explanation offered by Ponting for the omission of Bollinger not making a heck of a lot of sense (lack of match practice – a supreme piece of arsed-up logic).
Siddle proved the selectors had made the right decision in the most emphatic way possible.
Often referred to using the terms “blue collar” and “honest trier” – which sounds rather like a classic case of damning with faint praise – he proved to be England’s chief executioner. His hat-trick – Cook, tempted into playing forward to one that nipped away; Prior, full, straight, nipping back in, pegging back the off-stump; and perhaps the best of the three, the one that got Stuart Broad: full, straight, referred, upheld – was the bolt-gun to the forehead that knocked the legs of England’s batting out from under it.
It was a truly outstanding spell of bowling, an example of a canny bowler adapting to the conditions, a history-making passage of play that brings a cricket ground alive regardless of which side you are supporting.
After viewing that spell over a late breakfast, catching up on the action I missed when I retired to bed, I am more inclined now towards the philosophical where England’s situation in this match is concerned.
Had Siddle not bowled so superbly, Ian Bell, playing beautifully and with more assuredness than I have ever seen him play in a Test, would have gotten his ton and England would possibly have added another 100 runs to their total.
Instead he came up against a bowler seen as second best by many and with a point to prove, and whose removal of the batsmen at the other end put the mockers on a total of 350 plus, quite achievable on this deck.
England’s bowlers now have it all to do. I fear Day 2 might turn out to be a very long one.
Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
The warm-ups are over. Now is when the shit gets real.
England’s preparation – two wins, one draw – has proceeded with military precision. The team have runs and wickets under their belt and are united, relaxed and exuding an air of quiet determination.
Australia are too busy eating their own to put the boot in. Desultory efforts to rile the Poms have most recently included Shane Warne lamely trying to sow dissent among England’s ranks by suggesting that in the hierarchy of the team Kevin Pietersen is treated as “an outcast” – a suggestion Andy Flower batted away with all the insouciance of Douglas Jardine swatting flies in the outfield.
England don’t really care about what the Australian press has to say, something they demonstrated by not turning up to a pre-Test lunch attended by their Australian counterparts and raising the ire of local worthies and Ian Healy, who initiated a chorus of “three boos for England”, despite the fact England never promised to turn up in the first place, clashing as it did with a practice session.
Tell you something, though. Australia win at the Gabba, and all will be forgiven on the part of the Aussie press. It won’t be long till the 5-0 predictions are dusted off and given a raucous airing.
If England win at this Australian fortress – and it would be the first time since 1986 – the ghost of the drubbing they received last time they played Down Under will be exorcised.
But while England hold the whip hand going into this Test, it is important not to assume victory here – or in this series – will be a formality.
Michael Clarke has been passed fit to play, struggling with an old back injury aggravated in the recent NSW match, but is still, however, Australia’s second best batsman.
In the spin bowling department, Xavier Doherty has been preferred to Nathan Hauritz, but that oft-quoted, oft-mocked first-class career average of 48 is a tad misleading. Doherty has improved steadily over the last two years, and this year averages 27.45, with 11 wickets from 3 matches.
His economy rate of 2.39 makes him the 4th most economical bowler – and the most economical spinner – in Shield cricket this season.
Mitchell Johnson could either win this or lose it for his country, but Doherty’s economy at the other end will take the pressure off if he starts spraying it around like an over-excited incontinent elderly relative.
Mainly, though, the selectors will have observed Kevin Pietersen’s continuing weakness against left arm spin.
Pietersen’s form continues to be a worry, though he himself is in bullish mood. It helps that the team does not solely depend upon him, with Ian Bell being the most recent standout performer with the bat in the preceding warm-ups.
Darren Gough has said that he thinks a big score for Kevin Pietersen is just around the corner.
Me, I’m as nervous as Steve Harmison with the new ball and Flintoff ready at second slip.
But it will also be a relief when that first over is out of the way and we can settle the hell down and enjoy some bloody good Test cricket.
Because come 10AM local time – 00:00 GMT – the bullshit stops.
Australia 1 Simon Katich, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ricky Ponting (c), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Xavier Doherty, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (c), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn.