Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ashes anti-climax??

The summer holiday has been very busy, obviously I’ve been religiously following the cricket but I just haven’t had time to write about it so here’s a roundup of the final two matches of the series.

The fourth test at Durham was an exciting low scoring affair. Not even the most one eyed England fan could begrudge Rogers his first test century in their first innings but 5-71 from Broad pegged the Aussies back.  The match really bubbled up nicely on the fourth and ultimately final day.  Bell’s third century of the series along with big hitting from Bresnan and Swann stretched England’s lead to 300+.  Surely the game and series was in the bag now?  The Aussie openers had other ideas, as I sat on a Norfolk beach clutching my radio, watching the children swimming in the sea the stand reached 100+ and I was thinking the match was gone.  Swann removed Rogers then Bresnan got Warner for 75 and the tide had turned.  Broad produced another great spell claiming 6-50 and England won by 74 runs.  Once again we held our nerve at the crucial times.

Where was I for day one of the fifth and final test?  I was in the OCS stand at the Oval!!!  This was the first time I’ve been lucky enough to get Ashes tickets since Trent Bridge in 1997.  We hoped England would win the toss but Clarke called correctly and Australia batted.  We had high hopes when Jimmy removed Warner for 6 with the score on 11, he and Broad were bowling well and England had control.  However we had to wait for another 100 runs to be scored before Swanny got Rogers (yet again).  In between Shane Watson had absolutely smashed the debutants Woakes and Kerrigan to all parts and had streaked past fifty.

The much heralded Michael Clarke didn’t look himself at all and really struggled against the short ball, Jimmy eventually got him for 7 with the score on 144-3 England had a sniff.  Smith came to the wicket, surely he wouldn’t last long?  He did and along with Watson the Aussies pushed on.  Watson completed his third test century in mid afternoon and then survived a slip chance on 105, if only…  The partnership pushed on through a hot afternoon and was only broken in the evening session by a brilliant catch by the KPego off Broad.  Watson falling for a fantastic knock of 176 and got a well deserved standing ovation.  The day finished with Australia 307-4 with Smith 66 not out.  Englands top three bowlers had performed well and maintained control.  Woakes came back in his later spells, bowled tidily and showed character.  Poor old Kerrigan didn’t look anything like a test bowler and had a nightmare debut.

Day two belonged to the Aussies too as Smith completed his maiden test century, eventually finishing unbeaten on 138 as they posted 493-9 declared, Jimmy took four of the Aussie wickets and Woakes managed his first test wicket.  England finished the day 32-0 so things could have been worse.  Day three was awful, painfully slow batting by England who seemed to set out with only one ambition, avoid defeat.  We managed our first 50+ opening stand of the series but only Root pushed on, making 68.  All of the batsmen got starts but only the KPego passed 50, the day closed on 247-4.  There was some amusing sledging too, Clarke told KPego “No-one likes you” & Kpego replied “no-one likes you either and you’re the captain!”.  Day four was completely washed out by rain.

Day five of the fifth test will live long in the memory.  I spent most of the day at the Colchester cricket festival watching Essex stuff Derbyshire in a YB40 match but had TMS on my radio beside me.  First of all England cruised passed the follow on figure and then pushed on.  Seven of the top eight batsmen passed 25 runs but none got a century.  England finished on 377, Australia had a lead of 115.  At Colchester Essex had made 250+ with Bopara hitting a run a ball 88 and Foster clobbering 41 at the end, all good fun!
The Aussies came out determined to make a game of things and much credit must go to Michael Clarke for opening the game up.  Australia were obviously trying to score quickly but this isn’t easy against England’s top three bowlers and wickets fell regularly.  Aus eventually declared on 111-6 setting England 240ish to win at a run a ball.  It looked like we’d do it too with Trott & KPego at the crease but these two both fell shortly after passing fifty and eventually bad light curtailed a great day of cricket with England sniffing victory.  This was deemed a controversial end by some but the umpires followed the rules, even if they are daft rules!  In reality the game should probably have been brought to a close a few overs earlier but had KPego stayed at the wicket England would have cruised home.  At Colchester Derbyshire were bowled out for just over 150 with Topley taking four wickets.  (I actually played against Topley & dad when he was a schoolboy but that’s another story…)

Despite the disappointing end to the match nothing could damp down England’s celebrations of their third consecutive Ashes series win.  This was unimaginable a decade ago when the Aussies were at the height of their dominance so it seems a little strange to say it wasn’t a great series for England, we didn’t play anywhere near our best.  Only the first test produced a really tight, nervous finish, in some ways I’m grateful for this as 2005 was just too much…
Was 3-0 a fair reflection of the sides?  Apart from the Lords match the other four tests were competitive and the Aussies would claim they had a chance of winning all of them.  However at the crucial moments in each game, when the going got tough it was England that held their nerve and came out on top every time.  England know how to win test matches, Australia have forgotten. The return series in Australia this winter will be much tougher, even in defeat the Aussies will have gained confidence and if England do not improve they could well lose.

After much chopping and changing it seems like Australia now have a settled top five and it would be a major surprise if they don’t play Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke and Smith in Brisbane.  Haddin is inked in as wicket keeper after a decent series and the Aussies have a good crop of quick bowlers to choose from.  Ryan Harris, quite rightly named man of the series, is the pick of these and for Australia to have a chance he has to stay fit.  Starc looks a good prospect and even we Poms can’t help liking the never say die spirit of Siddle.  After experimenting with the obviously talented Ashton Agar, there can now be no doubt that Nathan Lyon is their best spinner.  This Aussie side is capable of beating England, if we don’t play to our best.

England’s batsmen under performed in this series and never once passed 400 runs in any innings.  The problems started at the top of the order as the Root/Cook partnership did not work.  The captain had his poorest series for several years but we know he’s class and I’m sure he’ll make big runs in Australia.  Joe Root has a long future as an England player but at this moment in time he doesn’t look ready to open the innings at test level.  He’s probably done just enough to keep his place however.  Trotty had a quiet series too but like the captain we know his class and know he’ll come again.  If these three players get England off to good starts then we can expect our middle order to capitalise.

The Kpego had a reasonable series but still wasn’t at his best, his place in the side is guaranteed as long as he’s fit.  England’s star was Ian Bell with a century in each of England’s three wins and two more scores over fifty.  At his best Bell is pure class but only a couple of months ago I was wondering where his form had gone.  He was deservedly named man of the series and really was the difference between the sides.
England’s number six spot has not really been nailed down by anyone since Collingwood’s retirement so this spot is still very much up for grabs.  Bairstow may well get the nod but as far as I’m concerned, if No. 6 isn’t getting many runs then why not play an all-rounder like Woakes who can give the team some handy overs and wickets too?  Bairstow could well end up being the natural heir to Prior behind the stumps.  Our keeper is another player who had a poor series with the bat but like many others in our team, we know his class and can expect him to play better.

The big three bowlers all had a ten wicket match which each helped England win a test match in this series.  Anderson, Broad and Swann can all be proud of their performances this summer but each had quiet matches too.  The final bowling spot in the XI will go to one of; Tremlett, Bresnan or Finn, with Bres looking the most likely if fit but I really like Tremlett’s bowling and we know Finn will be a star one day.

Who will make the tour this winter?
Cook, Root, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior, Broad, Swann and Anderson are all certainties.
Bresnan, Finn and Tremlett will surely make the bowling numbers up and Bairstow will go as reserve wicket keeper if nothing else.  Panesar looks likely to be reserve spinner after Kerrigan played himself out of contention at the Oval.  Assuming England take a 16 man squad then there is competition for two places.  James Taylor was picked as batting cover for one of the squads and Onions was in the shake up too.  If either of these is unfit or doesn’t make the plane for any reason then maybe all-rounder Woakes will be on the trip?

This series is over so it’s time for a deep breath, relax while we can because it all starts again in less than three months’ time.  Before then there’s some ODI stuff though…

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