Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Oval and on...

This strange series finished with a thumping Australia victory at the Oval.  Cook won the toss and put Aus in, they rode their luck and had a good first day.  England's batsmen were awful on the second day and it was here that the match was lost.  We were following on by day three and I was dreaming of Headingly '81 but that was never going to happen.  The last rites were administered on day four with Aus winning by an innings and 46 runs.

Most of the Aussie runs were scored by Smith with 143 and Warner 85, if the top three don't get them the middle order won't!  To be fair Voges showed improving form with 76.  He looks a good player but is nearly 36 so won't be a fixture.  Their best bowler was Peter Siddle playing his first test of the series, England will be thankful he wasn't picked earlier in the series.  For England the only batsman to pass fifty was Cook with 85.  Moeen Ali scored a few in each innings and Buttler finally looked like he was finding form in the second.

Australia have already seen the retirement of the excellent Ryan Harris before the series and he will be joined by the likable Chris Rogers and the skipper Michael Clarke.  Apart from the 'broken arm' sledge and unbearable gloating during the last series down under, Clarke has been one of the more likeable Aussie skippers in recent times.  It seems unlikely that Haddin and Watson will feature in tests again.  This tour has been the end of an era for a decent Aussie side just like the last Ashes series was for England.

I've noticed that the Aussie cricketers are generally a lot more likable these days (except Warner).  This is probably because we've become more used to beating them than the period from 1989 to 2003 when their great team routinely battered us.  Most of the stars of that era seem decent blokes now they've retired but while they were piling misery upon us I loathed them.  I can't really say I dislike any of the current bunch, except Warner.

Going into the series hardly anyone predicted an England win, even I, a most biased England supporter, couldn't believe we'd win but I was optimistic enough to say " In 2009 I thought Australia were much better than us and would win comfortably.  A few months ago I saw this series in the same way.  I was wrong in 2009, England managed to nick it and this time around I think the sides are more closely matched.This first match is crucial and if England can come out of it undefeated I think England have a chance in this series and if we play well we can beat Australia."  This prediction wasn't far out so I'm feeling a bit smug.

A 3-2 series win was probably a fair reflection of the two teams over the five matches.  The first test was the only one that wasn't as good as over after two days but in the end it was hardly close.  All the other results were thrashings.  This series has proved similar to 2009 again as individually the statistics show Australia have had the better players but collectively we have won more matches!  4-1 would have flattered England and possibly disguised the fact that England are still two or three players short of being a top test team.

Cook had a reasonable series with the bat and caught & captained well, he'll be opening the batting for England for many years to come.  Adam Lyth fielded well but didn't score enough runs, he needs time in county cricket but may come again.  Bell scored the runs that set up the win at Edgbaston but didn't have a great series by his standards and is no longer an automatic choice.  Joe Root was brilliant.

Bairstow came into the side to replace Ballance and done OK but the latter looks more likely to have a long test career, once he regains form and confidence.  Bairstow is a good man to have around the squad, especially as Buttler didn't trouble the scorers too much.  His wicket keeping was pretty good though.

Stokes is inked in as England's all rounder for years to come, he contributed in all aspects of the game throughout the series.  The other all rounder Moeen Ali scored vital runs throughout the series and looked comfortable against good pace bowling.  His own off spin is not up to scratch and we need a spinner badly.

With Anderson, Broad, Finn and Wood we have four decent pace bowlers to choose from.  The first three all produced great spells of bowling at times in the series while the latter was a consistent problem to the Aussies and scored useful runs too.  It was great to see Finn back in test cricket and performing. Anderson is a legend and Broad was man of the series for me.

England face Pakistan in the UAE this winter, a difficult place for touring teams to play and we should be underdogs.  Of the thirteen players used in this Ashes series all but Lyth have a good chance of selection.  There is talk of playing Ali as an opener which will leave room for another spinner, possibly Rashid who deserves a chance.  Monty Panesar done okay in a county match earlier this month, if his mind is right, he should go.  Monty at his best is a match winner.

This has been a really enjoyable test match summer with loads of great cricket and wow moments, we musn't forget the contribution of the New Zealand team earlier in the year.  Before the tests began, one English cricketer dominated the headlines and now he's chip wrapping, nobody is talking about him.  KP?  Who? 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

England have won the Ashes!

Three weeks ago the Ashes series stood at 1-1 and the force seemed to be with Australia, surely there fearsome bowling attack would continue to rout England while their batsmen piled on the runs?  Well it didn't quite work out like that!

The fourth test was very much a carbon copy of the third but if anything England were even more dominant.  Broad took 8-15 to help destroy Australia for 60.  Then Joe Root scored 130 and England declared with a lead of 331.  Aus were better in their second innings but even with the openers putting together a century opening stand, the ball was still nipping around and wickets seemed inevitable.  Ben Stokes done the damage second time around finishing with 6-36 and England won the match by an innings and took the series.  Injury to Jimmy Anderson made no difference, unlike the injury to Harris before the series started.

Australia's bowling attack looked very good on paper but in truth they haven't been able to maintain pressure and haven't been able to exploit "English conditions".  Only Starc has had any real impact while four different English bowlers have taken a  '6 for' in this series.

It's Australia's batsmen that have been most disappointing.  Smith has played one great innings and had one good match.  Other than that only Rogers and Warner have been anywhere near good enough.  Every time England have managed to take early wickets the aged, inexperienced middle order has been blown away.  Opener Lyth has struggled but otherwise all England's batsmen have contributed at some stage.  The catching from all, including Lyth, has been superb.

There's one last test match to go and as long as England retain their focus they should wrap the series up 4-1.  I expect they'll name an unchanged side, giving Lyth another chance and not risking Anderson.  It's Australia with the selection problems and for a one off match they could do worse than recalling Haddin, Siddle and even Watson!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Edgbaston and on...

Three tests, three thrashings, England lead the series 2-1 that's the very good news.  
The dark cloud is an injury to Jimmy that will see him miss the next match at least.  
Finn played and had his best match for England.  He looked superb and should be a confident new ball partner for Broad at Trent Bridge, this could be the making of him.
Mark Wood seems the obvious choice to slip back in as the third seamer with Plunkett and Footit added to the squad.  If this the kind of wicket we used to expect at Trent Bridge then I'm confident England can take twenty wickets even without Anderson in the side.
Bell's move up to three proved a success in this match, Root continues to be in the form of his life and Ali scored vital runs with the tail again.  
Adam Lyth is not contributing with the bat but has been retained for the next test.  If he fails it could be his last for a while.  Buttler is having a lean time too but his keeping has been solid and we know he'll come good with the bat.

Australia are the team with problems, the middle order is non existent, if the top three don't get the runs (like they did at Lords) they don't look capable of getting a score in English conditions.  The Aussies of the nineties knew how to play in England as the likes of Hayden, Langer, Hussey and both Waughs all played a lot of county cricket.  International cricketers rarely play in their own domestic leagues nowadays, let alone over seas.  The one exception is Chris Rodgers, say no more.
The lauded strike bowlers are erratic, in hindsight injury to Ryan Harris was a massive loss, surely Peter Siddle would have bowled well at Edgbaston?  Worst of all the captain Michael Clarke is in dire form and nothing is going right for him.  There is little chatter from him these days either, no 'broken arm' threats this time around.

Australia haven't won an Ashes series here since 2001 and in those 14 years only India, Sri Lanka and South Africa (twice) have managed to win in England.  This Aussie team is not as good as those that have lost here on the last three tours.  If we have a typical Trent Bridge wicket and England bowl it in the right place we will win the ashes next week.

A book.

I first read "To Kill a Mockingbird" at high school in the early eighties.  I began reading it because I had no choice and little enthusiasm but it hooked me up and moved me.  I've just finished reading it again, thirty years on it is even more addictive, more beautiful, more moving and at times very funny.  I absolutely loved it second time around and urge anyone to get a copy, if you haven't read it, why not?  If you have, read it again.