Friday, December 17, 2010

Ashes fantasies

There is an excellent Nick Newman cartoon in the latest issue of The Wisden Cricketer titled "Ashes Nightmare" that first shows someone going to sleep while a voice from the radio announces "and Strauss moves on to nine". Then, below, the next picture shows the same person waking with the sun shining through the window and the radio saying "and Strauss moves on to four".

That is the problem with an overseas Ashes tour: it is always on at the wrong time of day and all sorts of horridness can happen to England while you sleep.

I tried to stay up late to watch the start of most days in the first two Tests, but the third match in Perth starts far too late at 2.30am. By the time I wake, there have been two sessions of play and for a few seconds before I can switch on the radio, I play "guess the score". This morning I was way off.

At the end of Day 1, England were going to win the Ashes. Having walloped Australia in Adelaide, they bowled them out for 268 in Perth and were 29 for nought when Day 2 started. As I reached for the radio, I thought: "Best case scenario, Cook or Strauss are still in; worst case, Swann and Prior are building a small lead."

And then the announcer said: "And Hughes moves on to three." Bugger. Australia batting again after bowling England out for 181.

It is very easy for people to get carried away with Ashes hyperbole. Victory in this Perth Test is no more beyond England after two days than the Ashes was done and dusted after one day. The thing that keeps drawing us cricket fans to the sport is the wonderful unpredictability.

I have tried to keep perspective. The gloating can wait until when (if) England win the series. Until then, let's enjoy the battle. Knowing cricket history helps: Australia may have been dismissed for a sub-par 268 on Thursday, but in 2006 they made 244 batting first against England and still won heavily.

Furthermore, Mitchell Johnson, their erratic bowler, loves Perth and had 22 wickets from his previous three Tests there. Now he has 28 from three and a half.

But if that should have been a warning for England not to assume the match was won after one day, here is a lesson for why Australia, who now lead by 200 at the start of the third day, should not assume their job is done.

Two years ago, Australia took a first-innings lead of 94 on South Africa, with Johnson taking eight wickets. Australia then made 319, setting South Africa 414 to win. The touring side achieved it for the loss of four wickets.

There is a lot of cricket still to be played and I envy those in Australia (or those with insomnia) who are able to watch all of it. For my part, I'll be waking around tea-time, hoping to hear the announcer say "and Strauss moves on to 57" rather than "and Watson moves on to 139".


Peter McGuinness said...

Cracking, CRACKING Test Match everyone. You Poms ought to try to remain awake if possible, because this is developing into yet another memorable Ashes clash after the one-sidedness of England's splendid win in Adelaide.

Johnson's superb spell of truly vicious express bowling yesterday brought the Aussies back from the precipice of series defeat. 0/78 chasing 268 and the Ashes in the bag with a win, was England's start to the day. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, that impregnable position has been turned into a series which is very much alive again.

Not just because England had a poor day and Australia had great one, but that the reversal happened at such a pivotal juncture. From the brink of series victory, England could quite well be an unlikely 1-1 going to Melbourne, despite their near perfect quality play for most of the tour. They looked understandably disheartened at stumps for the first time all tour.

But they shouldn't be. Because the glaring inadequacies of Hughes and the dreadful lameness of Ponting and Clarke leaves far too much for the doyens Watson, Hussey and Haddin to accomplish. The Poms remain deserved favourites, of course. They are the highest quality tourists I've seen here since the Windies in '91.

But...until 11.17am yesterday, it appeared completely out of the question that Australia could take 20 of England's wickets in a match, let alone the 40 (at least) more required for a surprise series triumph. Now, with Johnson lifting the form of Hilfenhaus so obviously and with the terrific play of Harris now a factor, there's been a discernable shift in possibilities.

Johnson, the mercurial X Factor with both bat and ball, has finally shown you Poms his potential, sparked his team mates in the process and deflated some well-earned cockiness out of the rampant England top order. Just in the knick of time.

We'll need a lead of 400 to be comfortable as Paddy correctly points out. There's a lot of this match to go and it is truly either team's for the taking, with so much time in hand. Great day ahead! Get off the scotch and get out the no-dose Paddy!

Southern Waratah said...

Well the 3rd test has come and gone & I for one as an Australian fan am glad we put up a showing. I’ve felt all along there wasn’t too much between the 2 sides, Stat’s out of Brisbane would testify for that & every team can have a bad test.
Australia in Adelaide
England in Perth.
I always felt England would struggle there. History proves that, In South Africa for their last visit & Perth 4 years ago on much the same pitches. I’m just glad the test was in Perth after Adelaide otherwise the series may be over.
Now for the MCG Test and Australia’s favourite hunting ground; there’s something special about Day 1 MCG. I was there in ’06, all 86,000 of us. Warne was pushing 700 wickets, the legends were about to close the door on some distinguished careers and Roy was breaking into the Test Side. It proved to be an easy win for the Aussies, but I don’t think so this time. I just can’t see England lying down for this test, they Seem to have a belief in themselves that reminds me of.... us... & England also have the ability in recent years to bounce back from setbacks.
For all the talk of match winners in this series names like Broad, Swann & Anderson were being mentioned. Anderson has been a revelation compared to his last visits. Swann looks average & the stats will tell you finger spinner bowlers struggle in Australia. Turn the clock around & I’m sure England would have picked another fast bowler in Perth for all the good Swann did. Broad? Well he never had a chance to redeem himself from the 2 wickets he took for an unflattering average he would have been salivating from his village in England watching the Perth wicket bounce around, but I have no doubt we’ll continue to hear what a legend in the making he is....
Mitchell Johnson, can anyone remember a turnaround in form of such that was displayed in Perth? I can’t certainly on the Cricket pitch.. & Mr Cricket continues to improve his legend status amongst debates in the pubs around the country.
Thoughts: 2 Side with what now seems to be a flimsy batting order and one set of bowlers in top form.
Can England bounce back, Can Australia out their foot on the throat of England?