Archive for the ‘mcg’ Category

England: more than good enough

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I’ll admit I got slightly emotional when I watched the England team do their lap of honour around the MCG on the fourth day of the fourth Test.

It wasn’t just the fact I was in Australia watching the Ashes. The importance of sport in this country; the hospitality of its inhabitants; the weather for the most part – all this after coming from a snow-bound UK to the extent where I am considering applying for meteorological asylum.

It wasn’t even just the fact I was watching history being made, with that 24-year wait to take the urn on Antipodean soil brought to a long overdue end when Ben Hilfenhaus edged behind off the bowling off Tim Bresnan.

It was for the most part gratitude at how far the England team has come: a quantum leap from the nightmare that was 2006-7 and Harmison’s ball to second slip, a captaincy which Flintoff was completely unsuited for and a team with all the morale of beaten curs rather than elite sportsmen representing their country.

There was no self-belief then, no fight, and that horrible Adelaide result knocked the stuffing out of them and every England fan who was watching and who had thought “surely we cannot fuck this up from here”. In the Tests, fucking up was all England were good for, and victory in the following CB series was a desperate consolation prize the winning of which was blown out of all proportion because anything was better than the team coming home with nothing.

This time, it is different; it feels different. One is caught between gloating and pity when viewing Australia’s current predicament; gloating because it has been a long time coming and pity because England fans know too well how it feels to be the underdog.

Ricky Ponting seems to be in the process of having the captaincy taken away from him by stealth; the Herald Sun reported two days ago that Ponting would definitely lead the team in Sydney since Michael Clarke was also short of runs; how convenient, then, that an x-ray taken after the MCG Test should show his finger injury has been exacerbated and he cannot play. The groundwork was laid; selectorial arses covered.

No bad thing: Khawaja, brought in to replace Ponting at 3, may have failed in the tour game at Hobart but he looks to have something about him with the bat, as well as the stats to back it up, and rebuilding of this team has to start sooner rather than later.

As far as England go, the series so far has been testament to the entire squad and not just the 11 who have taken the field. Tremlett and Bresnan, brought in for an injured Broad and expensive Finn, have surprised everyone with their performances. Shahzad is another promising prospect waiting in the wings and Eoin Morgan’s day will come.

Australia, in stark contrast, are short of young talent who can step in for players who are well past their best-by date.

England’s first team regulars have also for the most part significantly outperformed their Australian counterparts, and nothing has given me more pleasure than seeing the names “Trott” and “Bradman” uttered in the same sentence when it comes to Test averages. Australia’s number three is on the verge of winding down his career; England’s number three has only gotten started.

Like I said, to gloat, or take pity: an extremely surreal but not unpleasant situation for an England fan to be in.

Perhaps the best thing though, was Andrew Strauss’ post-match interview. He said “there’s more to England cricket than the Ashes”. The goal now is the climb up the Test rankings.

Australia lasted barely 90 minutes on the fourth day at the ‘G and they now face the same rebuilding England embarked on after their 2006-7 drubbing. They must pick themselves off the canvas and play for pride in Sydney.

At the post-match presentation at the Oval in 2009, Strauss put England’s regaining of the Ashes down to the fact that when England were good, they were just good enough.

What a difference a year makes.

Job done

Job done

Ponting loses rag, captaincy may follow

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If ever there was a clear indication that the criticisms of his captaincy are getting to Ricky Ponting, today provided stark and ugly evidence of it.

On a day on which England ended 5 wickets down but with a 346-run advantage and a 150-plus partnership between redoubtable number 3 Jonathan Trott and resurgent keeper Matt Prior, Ricky Ponting let his frustrations boil over on the field when a caught-behind appeal after lunch for the wicket of Kevin Pietersen was turned down and upheld on review.

Hotspot showed no edge and so it was difficult to see exactly why the Australian captain was so livid, but livid he was, exchanging angry words with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and then assailing umpires Aleem Dar and Tony Hill with an extended rant which continued even as he stalked off towards his fielding position as the match continued.

Not Ricky Ponting's finest moment

Not Ricky Ponting's finest moment

Ponting has a history of questioning umpires’ calls, and of trying to influence decision-making on the field, most notably in 2008 during the series against India in which his gamesmanship and utter lack of respect left such a bad taste in the mouth that even Australian fans and media turned against him; indeed, journalist Peter Roebuck even called for Ponting to be sacked.

That was pure ugliness from the captain of a national cricket team; today, Ponting’s rantings and ravings smacked only of sad and naked desperation, of a man who has not only found himself in the Last Chance Saloon, but has ignored the dress code, cannot pay his bar tab, and is watching as the bouncers move towards him through the crowd to evict him forcibly from the premises.

That bum’s rush will most likely come at the end of this series, if Ponting cannot pull off something spectacular.

His captaincy is most under threat; his place in the Australian side is under scrutiny too.

Not only has he seen his team demolished first innings for 98 runs, but he himself could only contribute 10 of those runs, and so far his record in this series has amounted to only 93 at a dismal 15.5.

That he is in the twilight of his career is undeniable; that he can muster one last hurrah as arguably Australia’s finest batsman since Bradman is now looking ever more remote.

There have been suggestions that his eyesight is going, his reflexes too; that he has problems picking up short-pitched deliveries he would once have pulled with glorious and virtuoso abandon, and that he broke his little finger attempting a catch in the slips simply because he did not see the ball.

Ponting’s abdication of the captaincy, voluntary or otherwise, will cause problems for an Australia no longer certain of its place in world cricket’s hierarchy – or even of its ability to vanquish its old enemy, England, who once were Australia’s whipping boys but who provide easy pickings no longer.

Michael Clarke, once considered a shoo-in as next Australian captain, is in similarly abysmal form, and others talked of as future leaders, Wayne White and Callum Ferguson, are not even in this Test side. Tim Paine, impressive while filling in for an injured Brad Haddin, looks to be a safe pair of hands, both keeper and captaincy-wise, and is no slouch with the bat, but that is a couple of years down the line still, and Australia need a saviour now.

Whatever the reason for Ricky Ponting’s stark decline, it is a sad end to the career of a great player.

What is even more sad is that, on the evidence of what we saw today, he seems unable to end it with dignity.

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