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Posts Tagged ‘ben hilfenhaus’

Mitchell Johnson, after a disappointing Ashes series (even allowing for his fine showing at Headingley), is showing English crowds what he’s capable of. After taking a wicket with his only ball of the rain-curtailed Twenty20 series, he was at it again at The Oval, taking 3 for 2 from his 7 overs as Australia won by 4 runs.

The potency of Johnson and the equally impressive Brett Lee as a strike partnership may have Australian fans pondering what might have been if the two had bowled together in the Test series. Whilst Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Clark picked up plaudits in some quarters, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the series was ultimately decided by two awesome bowling spells (particularly, of course, Stuart Broad‘s at The Oval) which Australia’s pacemen couldn’t quite deliver.

Speculation is of course an idle pastime, but there are certainly plenty of Poms who reacted to Lee’s injury at the start of the summer in much the same way as they did four years earlier when Glenn McGrath managed to injure himself in a warm-up without so much as an Owais Shah leg-biter to blame. I don’t think anyone is saying that Lee would have had as much impact as McGrath undoubtedly would have in 2005 (indeed, I made that point at the time), but the Aussie pace attack might have been a little more stable with his involvement.

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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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Australia begin their Ashes warm-up in earnest tomorrow with a tour match against Sussex, and all eyes will be on the bowlers as the Aussies try to determine what their strongest attack is. Of the five pace bowlers in the squad, only Mitchell Johnson can feel confident of his place in the side for the First Test in two weeks’ time. That leaves Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Peter Siddle and Ben Hiflenhaus to battle it out for the remaining places. Leaving aside the various possibilities regarding spinner Nathan Hauritz and all-rounders Shane Watson and Andrew McDonald, the Sussex match (and next week’s match against the England Lions) could be seen as a shoot-out between the four pacemen. But who should play?

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Australia, still reeling from conceding 414 runs in the fourth innings of the First Test, have made some changes to their attack ahead of the Boxing Day Test. Ben Hilfenhaus has been called into the squad as an extra option, Krejza has been swapped for Hauritz, but Siddle stays.

The logic of bringing in Hilfenhaus is that he could cause South Africa the same sort of problems that Johnson did in Perth. What this means for the struggling Brett Lee is unclear, but Siddle, who took only one wicket at the WACA, is the more likely candidate for being dropped.

The change of spinner seems a little less clear in its motivation, and in general there’s not much that suggests all of Australia’s problems will disappear before Friday.

The main factor that will fire up the hosts is likely to be the sour taste of home defeat, not a familiar flavour for most of the side.

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