Tag Archives: England

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.

Chris Gayle’s 175 not out: Memorable or Mickey Mouse?

Millions of cricket fans would this week have marvelled at the brutal, unrelenting force that is Chris Gayle in full flow. Batting for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in their Indian Premier League T20 clash versus Pune Warriors, Gayle treated the thousands of adulating fans in attendance at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and millions more watching on TV to 175 unbeaten runs from just 66 balls, bringing up his century off just 30 balls. Nearly 90% of Gayle’s runs came in boundary sized chunks of four or six but did, mercifully, contain 18 balls where no run was scored, showing even in T20 cricket the virtue of getting one’s eye in.

Among the more reserved connoisseurs of the game, however, acclaim for Gayle’s record smashing efforts may have been slightly less rapturous. T20 cricket, and especially the advertising laden product that is the IPL, is seen by some as Mickey Mouse cricket. As such, accomplishments in this format of the game and to an extent its 50 over cousin are all but forgotten by the time the teams cross the boundary rope to contest the next fixture. This is inevitable with the shorter forms of the game where there is scarcely enough time to cram in the obligatory advertising breaks and sponsor presentations let alone develop the ebb-and-flow narrative that contextualises the great individual and team performances of test cricket. The quality of the bowling attack treated so disdainfully by Gayle must rightly be questioned. Aside from the emerging talent of Bhuvneshwar Kumar who conceded a relatively paltry 23 runs from his four over allotment, the Pune Warriors attack contains little else in terms of international experience or class. Nevertheless, Gayle’s innings far surpasses anything that has gone before in the format and leads to the question of how this effort compares to the defining innings of the game of cricket as a whole.

Test cricket boasts many such defining performances with the bat, not least of which was Brian Lara’s 375 made against England in 1994. There are 25 other instances of triple centuries dotted throughout the history of test cricket including two from Gayle himself, but the hallmark of Lara’s effort at the Antigua Recreation ground was the level of batting mastery displayed whereby Lara’s dismissal never looked likely and his dominance of the English bowlers was such that breaking Sir Garfield Sobers’ record of 365 was inevitable once the milestone was in sight. By way of reinforcing the genius of Lara, this same inevitability was also apparent nearly 10 years later when he scored 400 against the same opposition at the same ground.

If Lara’s innings epitomised the combination of god given talent and hunger for runs, then Mike Atherton’s match saving innings of 185 not out in Johannesburg did the same for utter bloody mindedness and grim determination. Superficially, this was a far less entertaining innings, but not only defined Atherton’s career and tenure as England captain, but also defined an era of English cricket where victories were scarce and such performances were to be cherished, especially by habitually suffering English supporters.

Ian Botham’s antics in 1981 are well documented enough that you don’t have to be a fan of cricket to remember them. His performances that summer were remarkable enough taken in isolation, but given the context of all that had gone on before and with the Ashes at stake (context enough for any English or Australian fan), to almost single-handedly take on an opposition, perhaps most notably at the Headingley Test where Botham seemingly scored all of the runs and took all of the wickets (with not inconsiderable assistance from Bob Willis), has allowed “Botham’s Ashes” to go down as the stuff of legend. Likewise, VVS Laxman’s 281runs and match winning partnership with Rahul Dravid will be remembered for toppling the dominant force of Steve Waugh’s Australians from an almost unassailable position.

Each of these performances was played out against the back drop of test cricket’s rich history as well as the preceding events in each individual match. They were the defining contributions in each game and shaped their outcomes but equally these contributions were themselves defined and shaped by what went before. This is the beauty of test match cricket.

In T20 cricket there is no place for reminiscence and scant time for a thread of narrative to evolve; it’s all about the here and now. Its allure is not in its history but in its ability to deliver instant gratification. In the context of instant gratification Gayle’s innings is likely to remain as the defining innings of the format for some time and, for this reason, deserves to be alongside those of Lara, VVS, Botham and Atherton in terms of having a memorable impact, if not in terms of outright quality.