Archive for the ‘adelaide oval’ Category

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.

The finished article

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

God knows Jimmy Anderson has known pain at Adelaide.

Four years ago, he was pasted all round the ground.

Since then he earned the reputation of someone who either bowled like Jesus or who sent down the rankest kind of ungodly, wayward filth imaginable. For the England fan, trying to predict which Jimmy would turn up on any given day proved a short-cut to distraction.

The talk before this series was that he would be cannon fodder on decks conducive to batting.

Today, he not only earned himself some karmic compensation for Brisbane, but he also proved that the callow youth, the unfinished, undisciplined article – whose only wicket here in ‘06 was Glenn McGrath’s and who took only five wickets in the entire series at 82.60 – has been banished forever.

It was a fair assumption to make (and one based on bitter experience) that the team batting first would put big runs on the board. No one could possibly have imagined that by the end of the first day, Australia would be blown away for 245, with Anderson the man who not only lit the fuse in his explosive first two overs, but who would lead the other England bowlers in a merry war dance around the burning wreckage.

It was a team effort, this; Broad, Swann and Finn chipping in and backed up by superb ground fielding, and Jonathan Trott setting the tone early on with his dead-eyed throwing down of the stumps to run out Simon Katich off only the fourth ball of the day.

But it was Anderson who was the day’s undisputed star. David Saker, England’s bowling coach, has impressed upon his charges the importance of line and length when conditions are unhelpful. Aim for the stumps. Bowl full. Execute the basics. Give the bastards nothing. Anderson showed today that in this he has been a willing and attentive pupil.

Katich dispatched back to the pavilion, Ricky Ponting came to the crease on the back of a fluent 51 in the 4th innings at Brisbane. He lasted only one ball, playing forward to a beauty of an outswinging delivery that found the edge and ended up in the hands of a jubilant Graeme Swann at second slip.

Michael Clarke was Anderson’s second victim, gone for only 2 to a ball that straightened and came back in. Struggling with woeful form and a back injury, he averages 17.81 in 17 innings at number four, and he must surely now come under extreme scrutiny. Hilditch and co. could do worse than picking someone like David Hussey as a replacement while Clarke takes time out of the international game to get himself right.

Australia failed today because they came up against a bowler who is not only nigh-on unplayable when the ball is swinging, but who is now pretty damned good at the basic stuff as well. The batting was a tale of individual failures, and starts squandered and thrown away. Only Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin succeeded in keeping the wreckage afloat long enough to avoid complete capitulation.

England’s batsmen must now repay the efforts of their bowlers and set the kind of total they must have dreaded from their opponents when Andrew Strauss lost the toss.

Day 2 will be the big push. It will be the day that could determine this series. This will remain a good batting wicket, but they will be facing a fired up Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris, who, though bowling with a chronic knee injury, sent the last ball of the day down at 94mph.

If this series has so far taught us anything, it is that deviations from the expected order of things can and will occur. England have the upper hand, but only graft and application will put this game beyond Australia’s reach.

Adelaide preview

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Win the toss and bat. And bat some more. Bat as though your life depends on it. And for fuck’s sake, don’t declare.

So the wicket looks a bit green, more grass coverage than something you’d normally expect to be the colour of a Rich Tea biscuit. Might offer a bit for the seamers, you might think.

Never mind that. You win the toss, you bat.

With England’s doughty draw at Brisbane, fears of a repeat of the 5-0 drubbing that England suffered in the Series That Never Happened (amnesia pills, one per day) were laid to rest.

They can now do the same in Adelaide, exorcising the ghosts of a match they should have won but pissed up the wall instead, collapsing like a row of cheap tents in their second innings to a swan-song performance by SK Warne, aided and abetted by McGrath, Lee and Stuart Clark.

All this after 551-6 declared. In all the annals of cricket history it truly was one of the great “what the fuck happened there?” Test matches.

As expected, Australia have dropped Mitchell Johnson. Cricket Australia have long persevered with Johnson, because he as likely to be as devastating in bursts as he is dross for the rest of the time. With him, there is no in-between, which is what makes him dangerous.

England fans might bemoan the omission of a bowler who went wicketless in Brisbane (the first time in his 39 Test career in which he failed to take a wicket in both innings) but his record at Adelaide is not terrible, including a 5 wicket haul against the West Indies last year.

Ricky Ponting has indicated he is unhappy about Johnson’s dropping, which suggests that new selector Greg Chappell may have decided that the Johnson Experiment is better continued in the slightly less seething cauldron of Shield cricket, where he will be expected to prove he can fight his way back into the Test team.

Fake-follicled, hard-charging stalwart Doug Bollinger is likely to replace Johnson. Ryan Harris could come in for Ben Hilfenhaus, dependent on the latter’s hamstring niggle.

Harris – fast, skiddy, built like a brick shithouse – could find success with his low-slung deliveries on a pitch that will punish anyone who bangs it in short.

It is for this reason that England may consider playing Ajmal Shahzad, though that would admittedly be unfair on Steven Finn, who bagged 6 wickets at Brisbane. England management may feel, however, that over-bowling him after a tough Day 3 at the Gabba is a risk they are not willing to take, and they may decide to rest him.

England’s three Brisbane centurions will be expected to continue where they left off, and Kevin Pietersen will be expected to make the most of the batsman-friendly conditions.

As Andrew Strauss has reminded us, the series still stands at 0-0.

And it all starts again at Adelaide.