Tag Archives: Ashes

Ashes to ashes.

At some point in the early hours of Tuesday morning, England’s cricketers will surrender their final wicket of the 3rd Test Match and relinquish the Ashes to Australia. The optimism in the camp that precipitated from Stuart Broad’s five wicket haul on day one of the series is a distant memory. England seized the initiative in those first two sessions at Brisbane and for a moment looked as though they might pick up where they left off following the recent 3-0 series victory on home soil. Australia, however, defied England in the final session of that first day’s play, firstly wresting control of the game through Brad Haddin’s battling 1st innings contribution, before Mitchell Johnson set the tone for the rest of the series by obliterating England’s batting line-up both in Brisbane and again in Adelaide. That was that. England were at the races for four hours of this contest and have been absent ever since.

Australia have been superior to England in every facet of the game. Their catching has been outstanding and their ground fielding has epitomised their obvious rejuvenation since Darren Lehman’s influence began to take hold midway through the English summer. England’s bowling has also lacked the usual penetration and control, the former due to Broad and Anderson being unable to coax a benign Kookaburra ball to move in the air or off the pitch, the latter in part due to Australia’s deliberate and successful ploy to target the normally economical Graeme Swann. By comparison the four Australian quicks employed have bowled with venom for the most part and with patience during the brief periods where England’s batsmen have looked to apply themselves.

In truth, Australia have rarely had to resort to the patient approach as England’s top order have repeatedly gifted their wickets with the generosity appropriate for the impending festive season and this is where the major discrepancy between the two sides has lain. Any one of a number of statistics points to the culpability of England’s batters. Australia have racked up 1250 first innings runs compared to England’s 559. England have yet to register an individual score of more than 87, let alone bring up three figures as the Australian batsmen have done on seven occasions. And perhaps most fittingly, Mitchell Johnson, Australia’s leading wicket taker in the series can also boast a series batting average superior to that of any England player.

Kevin Pietersen’s mistakes with the bat will be singled out above anyone else’s; he’s just that kind of player. Australian skipper Michael Clarke has played on KP’s desire to take the attack to the Australian bowling and in doing so turned one of Pietersen’s greatest assets – his ego- into a palpable weakness. At times Clarke has packed the mid-wicket region blocking off Pietersen’s most profitable scoring area, or employed men in the deep challenging KP to clear them. Each time Pietersen has obliged seemingly unable to help himself and perished trying to defy the Australian captain’s obvious ploy to shackle him. Five out of six dismissals in the series to date could be attributed to Pietersen trying to impose himself on the game rather than being got out by the opposition.

Superficially it smacks of recklessness and there are England supporters and media pundits alike who have been only too happy to put the boot in, judging this seeming display of selfishness to be one indiscretion too many in a career already littered with them. Others have been quick to leap to KP’s defence with the oft-touted line of “that’s the way he plays”.  And it is the way he plays. This time he has been found wanting and it looks bad but recall the times when it has gone the other way. Recall the Oval Test Match in 2005 when Pietersen took on Brett Lee’s bumper barrage and came out on top. Recall the knock KP played in Leeds last year flaying the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to all parts. Recall the recent match winning centuries in the sub-continental climes of Mumbai and Colombo; innings which few batsmen in the history of cricket could replicate. For every meekly hit catch to mid-wicket or mid-on there have been plenty more occasions where the ball has been audaciously flicked to the boundary or flat batted past the bowler’s head. You can’t ride the crest of the wave at the Oval or Headingly or Mumbai or Colombo without plumbing the depths at the Gabba or the WACA. When Pietersen has attempted to add some circumspection to his game, the end result has not been as productive nor as compelling to watch.

One former player has now suggested that KP may not be a great player, merely a good player who has played great innings. This may be a fair comment but then the same might easily be said about the most prolific run scorers in English cricket that Pietersen has already surpassed and one or two more at the top of the list that Pietersen will surpass given time. Very few of the greats were great all of the time, perhaps only the Don himself can claim that level of consistency.

For now the Ashes are gone, the most disappointing aspect being that there was no contest, save for a scant few hours in the opening exchanges on the first day. England will now look to save face at the traditionally happier hunting grounds of Sydney and Melbourne. With the series gone and the pressure off, there’s every chance that England can salvage something from this series and avoid an unmitigated disaster.

Less is more you say? Well here are a few Haikus. Mark Twain had it right.

Four titles for Seb.

Not a rival in sight. Guys!

Drive faster next year.

 

No seat for the Hulk.

Financial backing required.

So, Max? He’s too slow.

 

Sledged by an Aussie.

It’s not unusual but,

keep it on the field.

 

Thumped at the Gabba

Mate, two hopes at the WACA.

Adelaide: must win.

The 68 syllables above were inspired by the The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge – http://dailypost.wordpress.com/ – which this week has bloggers distilling their writing into the Haiku form.

Not wanting to stray too far from what I know, I’ve tried to condense into three lines  a couple of themes from the recently completed 2013 Formula 1 season in which Sebastian Vettel wrapped up a record breaking campaign with victory in Sãu Paulo. Next season will see the costly introduction of new turbo-charged engines forcing even some well-established teams to employ drivers who bring more in terms of sponsorship than they do in driving ability.

And then on to the Ashes, which kicked off in more ways than one last week in Brisbane. England were despatched in explosive fashion by the mercurial Mitchell Johnson. His nine wickets in the match were a painful riposte to his serial tormentors: the taunting Barmy Army. There has definitely been more than an air of niggle surrounding this latest Anglo-Australian contest. This is to be expected and relished but things boiled over in the aftermath of the 1st Test Match with comments being aired in the press that would be best left on the field or in the sanctuary of the changing rooms. England’s selectors now have a conundrum in how to accommodate the departure of Jonathan Trott, who has returned home with a stress-related condition. Many observers give England little chance of victory on the traditionally fast and bouncy Perth pitch and so the next Test Match at Adelaide could be the key to retaining the Ashes.

The Umpire Strikes Back

462915-review

The British August Bank Holiday weekend is nearly upon us and as many of us eye the weather forecasts anticipating a late summer sojourn to the beach or the park, F1 teams and drivers are returning from their own four weeks vacation ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. As the second half of the season begins, we will see if anyone can chase down Sebastian Vettel to deny him a fourth World Championship in a row. England’s cricketers will also have enjoyed a week off savouring their Ashes series victory before the 5th Test Match begins at The Oval tomorrow. In any other series this final game might be dubbed something of a dead rubber after Australia succumbed in Durham and went three down with one to play. However, with another five-test series beginning in Australia in as few as 90 days, there are scores to settle and points to prove for members of both sides.

So other than the fact that many people will be tuning into their car radios whilst sat in stationary traffic to listen to these two sporting events over the next few hopefully sun-drenched days, what else connects them? Well, there’s plenty really, but as Arsene Wenger might say, “I want to talk about the refereeing”. In cricket they have umpires and in motor racing the stewards officiate, but in both cases the purpose of those in charge is to ensure the rules are respected and applied consistently. Questionable umpiring has been an unfortunate theme of this year’s Ashes series and has detracted from some closely contested cricket. In the same way, the harsh treatment by the stewards of Romain Grosjean at last month’s Hungarian Grand Prix may have left a bad taste in the mouths of some F1 followers.

To refresh your memories, Grosjean – who has taken plenty of flak recently for his Mario Kart-like approach to wheel-to-wheel racing – cleanly overtook Felipe Massa around the outside of the Hungaroring’s Turn 4 (a blind left-handed corner at the crest of a hill taken at 130 mph). The last few seasons have seen the introduction of a number of regulations designed to define what is and what isn’t acceptable with respect to overtaking. The simple rule which always existed was that a driver must respect the track limits i.e. keep at least part of the car inside the white lines that define the track. It used to be that there was a gravel trap, a barrier or even a lamppost at the edge of the track to make the drivers respect the track limits. In the interests of safety these are more and more frequently being replaced by tarmac run-off areas, affording drivers the opportunity to overtake whilst technically off the track. This creates the problem of drivers deliberately forcing an opponent off the track to avoid being overtaken so a regulation was written in decreeing that an opponent should always be given a car’s width of space. The problem comes when you try to send two cars through a 130 mph blind corner. Sometimes there’s only space for one car and it then becomes a matter of opinion as to who left whom space and who deliberately left the track. Fans and seasoned pros alike all agreed that Grosjean’s move was a thrilling example of exactly the type of thing we want to see every other Sunday. The stewards disagreed and found that the Frenchman was a couple of centimetres beyond the track limits during the manoeuvre. The subsequent penalty denied Grosjean the opportunity to challenge for a victory that was very much a possibility.

You could argue for and against the application of this penalty just as you could argue for and against many of the contentious umpiring decisions at the Trent Bridge and Lords Test Matches. In many cases it’s a matter of opinion. It’s interesting though to look at the two contrasting approaches the two sports have taken to improving their standards of officiating.

In the cricket, a lot of the controversy has surrounded the implementation of the Decision Review System – DRS for short. DRS was adopted in 2009 in an effort to increase the number of correct umpiring decisions. The standard of on-field umpiring had improved markedly over previous years with the advent of the International Cricket Council’s elite umpiring panel but with players’ careers potentially resting on the umpires’ decision making ability, it was felt more use could be made of the television replays and technology already being used by the broadcasters to enhance their coverage and inform their viewership. And so, in came DRS, granting teams the opportunity to refer any decision that they felt was erroneous to a jury of super-slow-motion replays, infrared thermal imaging cameras and military grade ballistic ball tracking software. Cricket’s approach to improve decision-making was to take away as much of the subjective as possible and use technology to deal with matters of fact.

In some ways this is in contrast to the approach taken by Formula 1’s governing body the FIA. The FIA’s solution to provide consistency was to bring along driver stewards to each race to give their objective opinion on contentious matters. Of course this comparison is not entirely fair; cricket umpires are trying to adjudge matters of fact, whereas motor racing stewards are often dealing with matters of opinion.

Before the advent of Hotspot and Snicko, we had to make do with only grainy slow-motion replays to decide whether a batsman had got a slight feather on the ball. If it was not clear-cut, we were happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and move on. Now with the microscope of DRS we demand a definitive answer and while the technology allows us to get more decisions correct there is still going to be the odd one where we just don’t know for sure. It’s the same in motor racing; it used to be that the fairness of an overtake was judged on whether each driver still had four wheels attached to his car following the move. If the answer was yes then it was probably fair game. If not, it was probably Eddie Irvine’s fault. These days we go through the video replays to try to show definitively who’s to blame and again it’s not always possible.

What’s clear in both cricket and F1 is that the more you scrutinise the rules and the decision-making process the more contentious issues you will create. The traditionally sedate game of cricket has taken the hi-tech approach to decision-making and Formula 1 has attempted to use good old-fashioned common sense. In both cases the end result has been to create more grey areas. Let’s just hope the grey areas stay away this Bank Holiday Weekend.