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Posts Tagged ‘ashes’

Australia are facing the prospect of losing their ranking as the world’s best Test side for the first time since 2003. Only victory at both Headingley and The Oval would see the Aussies hold on to top spot, whilst defeat in the Ashes series could see them sink below South Africa, India and Sri Lanka to fourth, which would be their lowest ranking since the current system began. With the weather forecast for Leeds not looking great (as well as the fact that the pitch no longer favours bowlers as it used to) and The Oval’s growing resemblance to a pancake, the tourists could be facing a serious rankings slump.

To be honest, Australia have long since ceased to enjoy the level of dominance that, for younger cricket fans, they seemed to have possessed for eons. The ultimate humiliation, although very unlikely, could come later in the summer – at the time of writing, Australia only lead England in the ODI rankings by 8 points (Australia are in third with 119 points, England are fourth with 111).

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For anyone currently scratching their heads and thinking ‘who on earth is Jonathan Trott?’, here are a couple of nuggets of information about the man they call ‘Trotters’:

  • The last time a Test was played at Headingley, there was also a surprise call-up for a player with Antipodean origins – Darren Pattinson. England – be afraid, be very afraid.

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The ten-day weather forecast for Leeds (or at least the one available at the time of writing, these forecasts have a habit of changing) doesn’t make pleasant reading for an Australian side one Test down with two to play. Given the impact that losing a day’s play (or more) tends to have on Test matches – and the growing feeling that Headingley’s reputation as a bowler’s pitch with a wicket that “is variable, and – particularly when there is cloud cover, too – aids seam bowling” may be based more on the past than the present – means that the draw is the favourite.

If things do turn out that way, then the last Test at the Oval could be a repeat of the dramatic match at the same venue in 2005, with England needing merely to hold out for a draw to regain the Ashes. If the weather doesn’t improve in South London, then not even shares in Altrincham will be enough to cheer up Ricky Ponting. The long-range outlook is for sunshine and showers, which in the UK is a bit like saying ‘same as usual, but maybe slightly warmer’.

On most levels, it would be a shame to see the series decided by the weather, but I’ll wager that there are more than a few England fans out there perfecting their rain dances.

UPDATE: The forecast is now looking a fair bit brighter, but things have been so changeable recently that it’s difficult to be sure.

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After that all that talk about Phil Hughes not being under pressure evaporated in a single tweet on Thursday morning, and Shane Watson made his case as a makeshift opener, the pressure is starting to build on Mike Hussey, not least because of this shocking leave yesterday. As has been mentioned on numerous occasions by various others, Hussey’s form has been poor for some time now, and if Australia were to lose at Edgbaston with ‘Mr Cricket’ failing in the second innings, he may prove to be the fall guy.

Interestingly, given Australia’s struggles so far with the ball, the selectors have left the bowling attack unchanged (aside from the extra option that Watson provides). There have been suggestions in some quarters that in reality, Hughes is paying the price for Mitchell Johnson’s continuing troubles, rather than his own failures with the bat.

Even if all of these decisions prove to have been the wrong ones, however, the quality of Australia’s reserves has been somewhat understated by many in the English media – much as Hughes was built up by the same media based partly on big scores for Middlesex in matches that lots of journalists had seen – and surely Graham Manou can’t be quite as anonymous as he seems. In short, Australia may not have the big names any more, but it is a brave (or foolish) thing to discount players purely because they aren’t as well known as Shane Warne or Brett Lee.

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Mitchell Johnson isn’t having the Ashes tour he was supposed to. His form is erratic, his mum and his girlfriend are complaining about each other in the press and the same papers are calling for him to be dropped.

English conditions are being blamed by some, his mum is being blamed by others, but whatever the cause the decline from top-ranked fast bowler to potential liability has been as striking and sudden as Steve Harmison’s. Nevertheless, with Brett Lee still sidelined, Johnson may well feature at Edgbaston, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if his mind is concentrated by all the criticism that has come his way over the last couple of weeks.

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Ian Bell will definitely start the Third Ashes Test at Edgbaston, after England opted not to call up a replacement for the injured Kevin Pietersen. Bell hasn’t played for England since February, when he was part of the touring side that collapsed to 51 all out against the West Indies in Jamaica, and the lack of any competition for batting positions could be seen as indicative of a lack of strength in depth.

Certainly, Bell’s average against Australia (a mere 25.10, as opposed to Pietersen’s 50.72) doesn’t inspire much confidence. Australia’s bowlers have had the better of Bell in the past, and he will need to come up with more convincing performances than he has in the past if he is to make an impact on the series.

Pietersen’s absence, of course, also heaps more pressure on Ravi Bopara to make some runs at the top of the order, and perhaps the expectation will be for Bopara to take on the role of aggressor in the manner that KP made his trademark. Whatever happens, there is a long way to go in the series, and plenty of time for reputations to be made, restored or cemented.

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In all the (admittedly irresistable) excitement about Flintoff, 1934 and all that, it’s important to remember that 2009 is not 2005. The tension has been similar, but mainly because both sides have alternated between dominance and capitulation, rather than because the standard of cricket has been as high as it was during the much exalted series of four years ago.

England, certainly, have looked much less impressive with the ball than they were at their mid-decade peak, with even Flintoff only occasionally managing to dispel the impression that he is something of a nostalgia act (today, of course, has been a glorious exception). The batting, too, is less assured – perhaps surprising, given that Ian Bell was in the 2005 side.

It’s hardly revelatory to suggest that Australia’s bowling attack is weaker than it has been for any Ashes series for nearly two decades, but it’s nevertheless accurate. Whereas the Aussies used to have the best bowlers in the world, Hauritz isn’t even necessarily the best spinner in Australia, and comparing McGrath to Hilfenhaus or Siddle is a bit like comparing Elvis to Jimmy Ray, at least for the moment.

So, it’s not time to start planning that chapter in your memoirs about the ‘legendary summer of 2009’ just yet, but unfortunately, this Ashes series seems to be having a similar effect on my mental health to the 2005 edition.

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The follow-on, and specifically whether or not it should be enforced in any given situation, is always a subject that provokes debate, and Andrew Strauss’ decision not to ask Australia to bat again at Lord’s is no different, with those who think he should have put them back in debating the issue with those who feel that batting again was the right decision.

It’s not necessarily an easy call to make. In the past, Strauss has been accused of conservative captaincy, and there is a danger that he will overestimate the possibility of the Aussies chasing down a monster total when he times his declaration. But five or six sessions should be plenty of time to bowl a side out, even Australia (although it will still require decent performances from the bowlers), and a faint heart never won a fair urn in any case.

Of course, soon those on both sides of the debate will have the benefit of hindsight -if England win, Strauss is a genius; if the Aussies escape, he’s too cautious and England don’t have the ‘killer instinct’ or ‘ruthlessness’ required.

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England fans everywhere are carefully considering whether or not to get their hopes up after their side ended the second day of the Second Ashes Test at Lord’s needing only two further wickets to bowl out Australia, who currently languish 69 runs short of the follow-on target.

Jimmy Anderson in particular starred with the ball for the hosts, taking 4-36 in his 17 overs on Day 2, including the wickets of Cardiff centurions Ponting and North. Earlier, the “Burnley Express” had made a career-second-best 29 with the bat, most of which in a tenth-wicket stand of 47 which doubtless added to Australia’s frustration.

For the tourists, the task ahead is incredibly tough, but if they are asked to follow on, it could play into their hands, especially if the showers that are being forecast materialise at the right time (or the wrong time, depending on your viewpoint).

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Andrew Flintoff’s decision to retire from Test cricket has come at a strange time (and may yet distract England’s focus ahead of the Second Test of the Ashes), but it’s sadly far from surprising. The numerous injuries of recent years (as well as the numerous alcohol-related incidents) may have tarnished the glorious memories of 2005, but the heroics of four years hence will be Flintoff’s epitaph as a Test cricketer (unless he pulls off something special against the Aussies this time around). Enjoy his finest hour (at Edgbaston in 2005) below:

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In all the excitement about England’s remarkable batting to save the First Test (Monty Panesar faced 35 balls, for goodness’ sake), and all the inevitable claims about the effect on the remainder of the series, it’s important to remember that the finish was only as dramatic as it was because England failed spectacularly both in taking Australian wickets and in defending their top-order wickets.

It is to be hoped, as well, that the failure of the bowlers isn’t overshadowed by today’s events (not even by the Ryanair protest which may have saved England). Australia dominated the match from lunch on Day 2, took 14 more wickets than the hosts managed, and nearly won having conceded 435 runs.

Overall, I think an Australian series victory is still pretty much nailed-on, but for now I’m clinging to Paul Collingwood‘s innings as a sign that there is at least some mental strength in the England side. That and the thought of Ricky Ponting being upset (which he probably isn’t – the Aussies will undoubtedly win at Lord’s anyway).

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Much has been made in the build-up to the Ashes about the supposed weakness of Australia’s bowling attack, but it is quickly becoming apparent that England’s isn’t quite as good as some people would have you believe.

Flintoff has bowled plenty of overs without looking particularly menacing; Panesar‘s only wicket was more or less self-inflicted by Ponting; Swann hasn’t proved as dangerous to the left-handers as was predicted, and has been outperformed so far with the ball by Nathan Hauritz, Australia’s alleged weak link; Jimmy Anderson has been Jimmy Anderson, threatening for a spell then innocuous until the second new ball; Stuart Broad has gone for nearly 4 an over.

If England want to bowl Australia out twice in a Test this series, then someone needs to step up. Graham Onions may be feeling confident about his prospects for the Second Test (as indeed may Harmison).

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