Saturday, 4 December 2010

AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND - 2nd Ashes Test 2010: The Adelaide Oval, Day 1

The time came again last night for the duvets and pillows to be shifted downstairs in preparation for the second Ashes Test at the Adelaide Oval, one of the more attractive grounds in world cricket.  The pitch looked like a belter to bat on, with both captains certain to bat should they win the toss.  Ricky Ponting did exactly that and had no hesitation in telling Mark Nicholas “We’re gonna have a bat, mate.”  I hope I wasn’t the only England fan thinking “oh dear” as I was so sure it was going to be a run fest with all the Australian batsmen filling their boots for fun.  However, a run fest it was not, as James Anderson and co. had other ideas.

James Anderson dominates on Day 1
Just when England fans were soiling themselves after Andrew Strauss cut straight into the hands of gully, after only the third ball of the game, Australians began to feel just what that felt like.  Except worse.  Simon Katich, was runout after a sloppy bit of ball-watching and a refusal to scuttle to the other end in time.  The crab, obviously distracted by a dead fish lying on the outfield, thought it would be more beneficial to fill his crabby stomach than his boots with runs.  Credit where credit is due though, it was a marvellous throw from Jonathan Trott sprinting round to square leg and unleashing the ball with one stump to aim at.  With Ricky Ponting at the crease on what is supposed to be a brilliant wicket, is enough to give anybody a headache but James Anderson produced an outstanding delivery, aimed in at the batsman and then straightening slightly to take the outside edge.  Graeme Swann made no mistake at slip and suddenly Australia were 0-2 after only 5 balls.

Michael Clarke soon decided that he missed Ponting’s company and thought it would be best if he went back to the pavilion to give him a cuddle as soon as possible.  He was dismissed for 3, snicking off in similar fashion to Ponting, again to Graeme Swann.  With Australia 2-3 after 3.1 overs, Michael Hussey came to the crease on the back of an almighty ton at the Gabba.  Hussey and his partner, Watson, dug deep and put on 94 for the third wicket.

Australia’s middle order saved what would have been an embarrassing total with Hussey, North and Haddin scoring 93, 26 and 56 respectively.  James Anderson finished with superb figures of 19-4-51-4.  The lower order added little to the total and Australia were bowled out within a day for 245 after 85.5 overs.  This gave the England openers one over to negotiate, which was done successfully at 1-0 at stumps.

Friday, 3 December 2010

AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND - 1st Ashes Test 2010: The Gabba, Day 5

Apologies for the tardiness of this post, my only excuse is that I’ve been far too celebratory over the last few days to write one.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true but this is what happened on Day 5 of an incredible Test match.

England resumed the day at 309-1 after 109 overs, the battling Alistair Cook and Jonathan Trott at the crease on 132* and 54* respectively.  What ensued proved to be a quite sensational day’s play with no English wickets falling throughout the day.  Alistair Cook blasted his way to a career best and record-smashing 235* and Trott stroked his way to an elegant 135*.  It is not often you here the commentators say things like “And now England are just annihilating Australia’s bowlers”, and if we’re going to be critical of that proclamation, it can be said that it’s an under-statement.  Cook and Trott, under normal circumstances, would be up in front of a jury, charged with murdering six Australian bowlers, to the point where they might as well have bowled underarm.  We all know what an underarm delivery looks like, thanks to a certain Australian character so demonstrations would not have been needed…

Cook & Trott soak up the applause for their record stand of 329
The Australians were poor in the field as well with Mitchell Johnson, after being smashed all round the park, dropping a relatively simple catch by Test match standards.  Michael Clarke added to the list of drops with the most straight-forward regulation slip catch you could possibly see.  Not that it would have made much difference to the outcome of the game, but it certainly gave the Barmy Army something extra to cheer about.

England eventually declared on 517-1 after 152 overs, bringing an end to battering to the Australians.  Simon Katich and Shane Watson walked out to the crease to face England’s pumped bowlers and were reduced to 5-1 when Broad snared Katich to an almighty roar from the English fans.  The obdurate Ricky Ponting, however, did not add to the fun and finished the day 51* with his partner, Watson, on 41* and the Australian team on 107-1 after 25 overs.  The game was deemed to be a draw with both teams shaking hands over a quite spectacular game.

With the next test at Adelaide, widely considered to be a batsman’s paradise, hopefully we can expect more of the same from England’s batsmen.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND - 1st Ashes Test 2010: The Gabba, Day 4

Strauss knocks his maiden Ashes ton in Australia
Apologies for the lack of report on Day 3 of this Test, I was too depressed by the score line to get my thinking cap on and simply couldn’t do it.  Basically, England got hammered by Hussey and Haddin who got hundreds apiece and spoiled my evening.  However, after the events of last night, I could get back to my normal ways.

England resumed the day on 20-0, over 200 runs in arrears with two days to play.  Captain Strauss and fellow opener Cook had survived a barrage of 15 overs the previous evening and resumed the day spritely.  After a nervy edge through the gully region Cook started to find his feet and played nicely.  Strauss was positive in attack, punishing the bad ball whenever possible.  His driving especially was an example of superb elegance, which most left handers struggle to achieve.

Strauss reached his fifty in 110 balls just after the first drinks break, much to the delight of the Barmy Army.  Cook soon followed suit, his fifty coming in 122 deliveries.  They finished off a clinical morning’s work for England, with a score of 135-0 at the luncheon interval.

Cook on his way to 132*
The afternoon started as exactly as it finished, with England dominating the Australian attack.  Strauss became entered the history books as one of the few people to score a duck and a hundred  in the same match; his ton setting the tone for the rest of this series.  England continued to plod along at a canter before a crazy Andrew Strauss moment occurred, where the skipper danced down the wicket to part-time spinner Marcus North and missed the ball only to find himself stumped by keeper Haddin.  Still, with very little alarm, England finished the session 238-1 after 78 overs.  Shortly after the break, Cook reached his century in nice fashion as he cut the ball to the boundary.

Quite simply, England dominated all three sessions and the day overall, bringing themselves right back into this game from the jaws of defeat.  They finished the day on 309-1 after 109 overs with Trott also reaching the half century landmark.  It was good to see such a fight back as so many people had written England off in this game.  A good morning session full of quick flowing runs tomorrow will give England perhaps two and a bit sessions to bowl out the Australians and take the Test.

Friday, 26 November 2010

AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND - 1st Ashes Test 2010: The Gabba, Day 2

First of all, because I managed to stay awake on day 1 for two and a half sessions, I paid heavily in terms of Ashes watching last night.  Please don’t expect this to be the most informative report but I shall do my best anyway!

Mike Hussey halted England with 81*
Australia resumed on 25-0 after 7 overs, as my housemate and neighbour took to the sofa with our customary duvet, pillows and mugs of tea.  Not 15 minutes into the days play and with Australia on 42-0, The Crab, Simon Katich, had a rush of blood to his pincers and scuttled sideways for a quick single.  To his horror Watson at the other end (generic tall, blond Aussie type and completely un-crab like) was sending him back with Cook shying and missing the stumps.  Katich wasn’t even in the frame as the ball hurtled past the stumps and yet he managed to survive.  The first wicket of the day fell with Australia on 72-0.  Watson prodded defensively at an Anderson length ball, perhaps moving away a fraction of the seam, straight into skipper, Andrew Strauss’ hands.

I recently did a survey at the University of Manchester Cricket Club about people’s opinions of Ricky Ponting.  They were given a selection of words and had to select which one they would use to describe him.  The choices were: Warrior, Fighter, Whinger, Fantastic, Inspiring, Irritating.  Quite unsurprisingly, the results were resoundingly negative with Irritating coming out on top.  But an irritant he was not, as Ponting was caught behind down the leg side off James Anderson much to the delight of my house, who had to keep the noise levels down because there were some people who did not understand Ashes fever and wanted to sleep instead.  Crazy people.

Australia closed the session on 96-1 after 33 overs and I’m afraid that soon afterwards I fell asleep.  I awoke this morning and of course the first thing I did was the check Cricinfo.  Australia, at stumps, amassed 220-5 after 80 overs.  Katich had made 50 and Hussey and Haddin were unbeaten on 81* and 22* respectively.  It was nice to see Michael Clarke had failed as he can often be as annoying as mosquito, but without the necessary preparation to his game, England would have always felt that they had a chance to get him early.  In conclusion, it can be said that it was an even day with both sides having good and not so good spells.  If England want to assert their dominance over this Test, they will have to hit the ground running tomorrow morning and take some early wickets to ensure that Australia do not take a hefty first innings lead.

Day 3's report will be up tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND - 1st Ashes Test 2010: The Gabba, Day 1

Sky Player was ready, duvet and pillows were moved downstairs, the kettle was on and the excitement was evident.  With minutes to go, I felt like a child on Christmas Eve with the prospect of watching England’s best opportunity to win the Ashes in Australia since I’ve been alive.  My neighbour and two of my housemates (one of whom doesn’t even like cricket) sat down in front of the telly and watched as England, who had won the toss and elected to bat, came out to a roar at the Gabba.

England won the toss and elected to bat
Anybody who put any money on Strauss scoring a century in the first innings of this test would have been sorely disappointed, as with the 3rd ball of the series, Strauss played one of his usually strong cut shots straight to Mike Hussey at Gully who made no mistake.  Strauss could barely believe his bad luck, walking off the ground with his hand on his head as if to say “what have I done?”  It was certainly the worst start England could have hoped for.

It was not long after that Jonathan Trott survived a close LBW shout.  The South-African born batsman’s heart must have been in his mouth as Aleem Daar denied a screaming Peter Siddle his first wicket of the match.  The interesting thing here, was that the decision was reviewed judgement was that it was to stay with the on field umpire.  So had Trott been given out, he would have stayed out if he had reviewed it.

England stumbled to 41 before the next wicket fell.  Trott, with a rush of blood to the head, played an expansive drive to a Shane Watson delivery which did not swing as much as his previous deliveries and the ball snuck through the gate and clattered into his stumps.  Trott had looked pretty good up until then, and would have been extremely disappointed in not making a higher contribution.

It was not long after that the edgy Alistair Cook played an uppish cut shot to point where debutant Xavier Doherty dropped a relatively simple catch by Test match standards.  The left arm spinner seemed to judge his jump a little early and made it a bit more difficult for himself but still should have taken it.

England finished the morning session on 82-2 after 26 long nervy overs.  It was at this point my neighbour decided to call it a day and my housemates went to bed.  I was left alone for the afternoon session waiting for my other housemate, who was out, to return home and join in the fun.

At around 3:30am he did exactly that walking into the living room, a glorious shade of orange and wearing blue tights that Crash Bandicoot would have been proud of.  He had a cracking night, so it seems, but at the expense of a pretty entertaining morning session.

Peter Siddle becomes the 5th Australian to take an Ashes hat trick
England continued after lunch with Pietersen and Cook prodding slowly.  A double wicket wammy ensued with Pietersen nicking off to Ponting at slip and Paul Collingwood deciding that Pietersen’s dismissal was the way he wanted to go, also nicking off to slip.  These were the only two wickets of the session as the afternoon mirrored the morning with 82 runs scored for the loss of 2 wickets.

It was at this point I decided to watch the rest of the game in bed.  This was an obvious mistake as I nodded off for a bit only to wake up to find Peter Siddle steaming in for his hat trick ball.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the ball thundered into Stuart Broad’s foot and Aleem Dar’s finger raised into the air.  I’d had enough.  I switched off my laptop woke up around 11am to find that England had been eventually bowled out for 260 in 76.5 overs and Australia had started their campaign finishing the day at 25-0 at stumps.

Overall, Australia won all the sessions and won the day as a whole.  Watch this space for Day 2’s report!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

THE STARTING XI: WHO WILL PLAY AT THE GABBA?

England started their first warm up game ahead of the Ashes last night.  With this in mind, thoughts are turning to the starting XI for the Brisbane Test.  This is a conversation I had with a colleague of mine from the University of Manchester Cricket Club and thought it would be interesting to share it with the rest of the world and gather the opinions of others. The debate commences below with my starting XI:
 
Me:  1. Strauss (c) 2. Cook 3. Trott 4. Pietersen 5. Collingwood 6. Morgan 7. Prior (†) 8. Broad 9. Swann 10. Anderson 11. Finn. Bell a maybe?

Experience of Bell or the flair of Morgan?
Gyan:  So you would go in with 6 batsmen and Prior?  I’m going to disagree with you on one thing. 1. Strauss (c) 2. Cook 3. Trott 4. Pietersen 5. Collingwood 6. Bell 7. Prior (†) 8. Broad 9. Swann 10. Andersen 11. Finn

Me:  Interesting.  I’m a massive fan of Bell. Under normal circumstances I'd pick him but I think it'd be unfair not to give Morgan a chance since he's had such a good summer.

Gyan: Unfortunately, I think Bell has the right to this spot at the moment.  Morgan did okay against Pakistan with 1 century, however I think judging on the fact that people reckon the line-up that was put out today for the first warm up game is going to be the team for the Test and Morgan wasn't in it.  I don’t feel he has done enough just yet.

Me: I reckon that's to give Bell a go and see if he's in form.  Bell's been injured this summer don’t forget and lacks match practice.  Morgan did get a ton against the Aussies in that ODI and got a few more useful scores. I'd give him a go.  Massive fan of Bell like I said but I think they’ve got to pick Morgan.

Will Morgan keep his place?
Gyan: But Ian Bell has the past scores to prove he can bat, just like he did in South Africa. Tests are different to ODIs and though Morgan is a talent, but I don’t think he’s ready yet.  Good job we aren’t England selectors.  However, a big shout could be drop Collingwood and play both Morgan and Bell.

Me: I think it's more between Bell and Collingwood than Bell and Morgan, even though Collingwood is England’s Mr. Reliable most of the time.

Is Collingwood's place under threat?
Gyan: Now raising that argument then I go in with Collingwood and Morgan.  Bell hasn't got the fight Collingwood has.  But I think Bell in front of Morgan, but not in front of Collinwood.  Bell has better technique and I think that is more important.

Me: That I agree with too.  Morgan definitely has more fight than Bell.  Indeed Bell does have an excellent technique, but it doesn’t count for anything unless you've got grit and with Bell’s lack of batting in recent months that certainly won’t help him prepare.  I’m sure that'll play on his mind and it could lead to his detriment.

Gyan: But then again Bell has the experience of an Ashes series, which Morgan doesn't.  Now I do think that plays more than Morgan’s fight at the moment.

Me: I have to disagree I’m afraid.  Morgan's fresh from Aussie scars so give him a go.

Gyan: You have a point, but because it is me I would go in with Bell and Morgan.  It’s different but I think it would be my choice.  Realistically, I think it is going to be Bell and Collingwood.
Me: You think the selectors will leave Morgan out?  I'd be happy with either to be honest.

Gyan: Yeah because I feel that for the first Test, England will go in with their strongest/most experienced team and I think Bell fits the bill in that respect.

Me: Next point then.  If Bell is selected, is where would you bat him?

Gyan: Bell’s best stats are when he is at 6.  He averages the best part of 62 there.  I just think he’s settled at 6.

Me: I'd put him above Collingwood.  If England have a collapse, Collingwood is much better dealing with that than Bell.  I think psychologically, if the Aussies get through our top order, they'll be less pleased to see Collingwood come in than Bell because he is a gritty character and capable of sticking around, although I'd like to have a look at his averages at different positions.

Gyan: Yeah true.  But again, I think in the England line up he is settled at 6.  I don't think the selectors will change it for the first Test.

Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

AUSTRALIA WOBBLE IN ASHES PREPARATION

Australia look mortal as Ashes approach

Marcus North returns to form with a ton
After Australia had lost the first Test against India in Mohali, many English cricket fans are wondering whether to clap their hands in glee or to take the cautious “they’re Australia, they can do anything” approach.  For me, it is certainly the latter.  India is a particularly tricky place to tour, with pitches that tend to be low and slow; the complete opposite of the hard and fast tracks in Australia.  However, the Aussies are notoriously good at adapting to conditions quickly and this has been shown in the second Test in Bangalore, where they amassed 478 all out in their first innings.  Marcus North, who proved to be a thorn in England’s side in the previous Ashes series, scored 128, with Shane Watson, Tim Paine and skipper Ricky Ponting notching up 50s apiece.

This is why England fans should temper their Ashes enthusiasm.  If England have a good day, Australia are more than capable of adapting and beating England down in the other four days.  Never underestimate the power of a wounded animal, and when Australia are down, this is when they play their most dangerous and fighting cricket.

In previous Ashes tours in Australia of recent times, England have looked clueless to the sheer might of the Australians.  It was like throwing a child into the lions’ den with no weapon with which to defend himself.  This tour, I believe, is England’s best chance of winning away since I’ve been alive.  This time, the child has matured into a man who has a weapon with which to defend himself against the lions.  This weapon, in my opinion, is Graeme Swann, where the turning wicket of Sidney will suit him best.

Many pundits agree that Australia’s weak point is their bowling attack.  I have to agree, but I also believe that England’s bowling attack isn’t the best possible. What England lack, is that talismanic figure, a paceman, who can be called upon in times of need to lift spirits.  Without a Flintoff-esque man in the team, this is where others can be called to become that hero.  Indeed, history has shown that the quickest way to win Down Under is to unearth a menacing fast bowler in the mould of Harold Larwood or Frank Tyson.

Both teams batting line ups seem pretty solid.  On Australian wickets, I predict there to be a run fest this winter, with both sides filling their boots.  Where the Tests will be won, will be down to the bowlers and whether or not they have the ability to take twenty wickets each game.  At this moment in time, it’s anybody's game.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

ASHES SQUAD ANNOUNCED

Strauss' squad looks well set for the toughest test yet

Surprise duo Panesar (left) and Tremlett (right) included
Ashes squad selection sparks debate every time the board of selectors nominate those men set the monumental task of retaining the little urn down under, on the old enemy’s turf.   This year is no exception, namely with the inclusion of Monty Panesar and Chris Tremlett, both of whom have spent the last two seasons in county cricketing exile.

Kevin Pietersen retains his place in the Test squad, after having spent some time at Surrey this summer.  The South African born batsman will be hoping that his omission from the international scene will spark some good form in Australia, where it counts the most.

Eoin Morgan has, of course, secured a spot on the flight out to Australia, after his breakthrough summer included runs in all forms of the game.  His aggressive, but skilfully mastered stroke-play, will add a certain amount of depth to England’s middle and lower order, which has often struggled in the wake of Andrew Flintoff’s retirement.

There have certainly been a few raised eyebrows with the decision not to include Yorkshire paceman, Ajmal Shahzad, in the squad.  It is quite possible that he was not included because, despite his lyrical action, he is too similar to the other the other seamers who have been picked.  Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Steven Finn have proven to be England’s main strike quickies over the last couple of series with wickets to boast and many notable performances between them.

The rest of the squad was a surety before it was announced, with Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann all making the final cut.

Despite his inclusion in the squad, Warwickshire batsman, Ian Bell, must be worried whether or not he will play this tour.  If injuries are kept at bay, he may struggle to see where he will fit into the team.  Strauss and Cook will, undoubtedly, open the batting, with Trott and Pietersen coming in at 3 and 4 respectively.  If Collingwood comes in at 5, Morgan comes in at 6, Prior at 7, that leaves Broad at his usual number 8, Swann at 9, Anderson at 10 and Finn bringing up the rear at 11.  The old battle between Collingwood and Bell may be reignited with both of them fighting to secure the number 5 spot.

It’ll be a tough winter, as all Ashes tours are, but if the pitches turn and a little bit of luck goes our way, I don’t see any reason why Andrew Strauss’ men cannot pull of a victory and secure the Ashes in Australia for the first time since Chris Broad’s annus mirabilis of 1986/87.

FULL SQUAD:
Andrew Strauss (*), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (†), Steve Davies (†), Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

THE PAKISTAN "SPOT-FIXING" SCANDAL - 4th Test: Lord's 2010

On day two when I was at Lord's, Mohammad Amir bowled what can only be described as a deliberate no-ball. Even my dad noticed it from the Tavern Stand, where we were sitting, and immediately thought something was wrong here. My initial thought was that Amir had bowled it deliberately so that he could gain an extra yard of pace when bowling a bouncer to the batsman. Turns out it's a bit more sinister that than, with the News of the World collecting a huge amount of evidence to suggest that the Pakistan team were indulging in a bit of "spot-fixing" where they would be paid by a certain person to ensure the outcome of a certain delivery, in this case it being a no-ball. Journalists can be cheeky little buggers at times, but this time their sneakiness has exposed an underground world of illegal match fixing that could have happened in other fixtures too. Journalists posed as illegal gamblers and paid the crook Mazhar Majeed £150,000 for the details of the precise moment when the no-balls would be bowled.  There were three of them. Botham claimed "it looked like net bowling".  Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir are still being questioned by police and face lifetime bans or possibly even imprisonment.

Disgraced: Butt, Asif and Amir face serious implications if found guilty
It begs the question, why would a young lad of 18 with all the talent in the world and the potential to become a great bowler, put his career in jeapardy for some money? Some people may call him naive but that's rubbish, if you're as talented as that, you don't risk screwing up your career for anything, even if you are an idiot. Another question. Whenever the game of cricket is brought into disrepute, why is it more often than not Pakistan who are involved? Apart from the Hanse Cronje incident with South Africa, fact is fact, Pakistan indulge in cheating far too much.

The players found guilty should be banned for life in all forms of cricket to act as a precedent. The whole team should not be banned, in my opinion, as there will be honest cricketers around who would appreciate the chance to represent their country.

Another question that needs asking is, if these players are found guilty (which seems likely they will; watch the undercover video on the News of the World website), will this Test at Lord's be deemed void?  And if that happens, will Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad's hundreds be scratched from the honours board at Lord's?  If I were Broad (and indeed Trott), I would be gutted if that were the case.

Ah well... Hopefully, this will all sort itself out, the players found guilty will get what they deserve and we can all turn our attention to a nice Ashes series against our Australian chums. Sounds like much more fun.

ENGLAND v PAKISTAN - 4th Test: Lord's 2010

Broad salutes the crowd after an extraordinary ton

One wonders where to begin with the thoughts on this Test.  I will start by writing about the game itself, completely oblivious to the scandal that ensues until a better place in this article arrives.

Putting the game into context, Pakistan, having won the third test at the Oval, had an rare opportunity to pull off an unlikely series draw against England going into the 4th Test at Lord's.  The young Asian side showed real character in the last Test to come away with a victory, especially considering they were already 2-0 down in the series.

The first day was almost a complete washout and with Andrew Strauss losing the toss and being asked to bat in overcast conditions, it certainly seemed like a bad toss to lose.  England battled through to 39-1 in 12.3 overs, but with the weather being rude, no further play was possible.  What was left of the crowd on day one rushed home to, I'm sure, claim back their 50% on their ticket price.

Day two was interesting, not least because I was there and witnessed what was probably the most enthralling day's cricket I've ever seen.  England, having lost Andrew Strauss the previous day, would have looked to be cautious against the swinging ball and indeed they were, but were a bit tentative.  It's hard to be critical of the England collapse that followed (I'll get onto that dolt, Pietersen, in a moment) because Mohammad Amir produced one of the best spells of swing bowling ever seen, one which would have caused the great Glenn McGrath to seethe with envy.  He ripped through Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood, Morgan, Prior and Swann to notch up six wickets before tea.  With exception to Pietersen who had a wild slash outside his off stump first ball and nicking it through to Akmal, the rest of the England batsmen seemed to get a jaffa each.

Australian cricket fans down under would have been rubbing their hands with glee at this point, probably thinking that it was a good time to go to bed and catch up on England's collapse in the morning papers.  I would have liked to see the look on their faces, as they spew their morning cup of tea all over the newspaper that read "TROTT AND BROAD SAVE JAMMY POMS WITH TONS APIECE",  because what followed, was the most extraordinary display of guts, determination and fight the game has ever seen.  The ever steady Trott made his way up to 149* proving that he is the natural choice for the number 3 spot with his impeccably neat technique.  I can't big up Stuart Broad enough here as showed Pietersen how to bat and finished the day on 125* - his first hundred in any form of professional cricket.  Even his old man, Chris Broad, could never manage a test century on the hallowed turf, and he was picked as a batsman. 

Day three saw Trott and Broad make it to 184 and 169 respectively and suddenly England were bowled out for a massive 446 after 139.2 overs with the English pair putting on a world record 8th wicket stand of 332.  I did wonder at this point what the bookie's odds would have been for England to make it past 440 when we were 102-7.  People simply completely forgot that Amir had taken six wickets the day before.

As it looked now that the game could teeter out for a draw, Pakistan saw fit to get themselves bowled out for 74 in 33 overs just to add a little more spice to the game.  Nobody got going.  Skipper Salman Butt top scored with 26 but failed to capitalise again and all the England bowlers chipping in with wickets.  Swann ensnared 4, Finn 3, Broad 2, and Anderson 1.  It was the third time in the series Pakistan had been bowled out for under a hundred.

Andrew Strauss would have considered the option of batting again, considering it would be the last middle practice for the batsmen before the upcoming Ashes tour but in the end he decided against it and put Pakistan in again to have a another crack at them.  It ended up paying dividends as Pakistan were four down by the end of day three with only 46 on the board.

It didn't pick up on day 4 as Pakistan were bowled out cheaply again for 147.  Umar Akmal played a blistering innings of 79* with shots all round the ground including 11 fours and 2 sixes.  Other than that, that was that and England had won by an innings and 225 runs and taken the series 3-1.  Not a bad way to end the series, onto the Ashes, you might say, but......
(Read my blog above about the scandal involved in this match)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

ENGLAND v PAKISTAN - 3rd Test: The Oval 2010

The cogs turning in Andrew Strauss' head
After a 12 hour shift at work and the night before the 4th Test starts at Lord's, it seems as though this would be a good time to write my report on the 3rd Test at the Oval. Cast your minds back to the last two games, where Pakistan demonstrated the skills of a poor school boy side in comparison with England's ruthless ability. I hope you can forgive me for already pondering about certain lines that I could include in this article as I was trapped in complacency, thinking that lightning could strike three times.  Let's face it, anyway... You wouldn't bet against it.  However, cricket has proved, once again, that it can be a funny old game, so my original plans of laying into Pakistan for being weak, inexperienced and brittle have gone out the window.

Let's start at the beginning.  England captain, Andrew Strauss, duly won the toss and elected to bat, on what looked like a typically flat Oval wicket.  England, having a good record of late on this ground, would have been keen to get off to a solid start, with the skipper himself and the questionable Alistair Cook opening up for England as usual.  However, Mohammad Asif, Pakistan's most consistent bowler this tour, had other plans, dismissing Cook in the second over caught behind for 6.  Pakistan, on song for once, continued to rip through the top and middle order that morning and reduced the hosts to 94-7.  Matt Prior then proved why he should be England's top choice keeper/batsman for The Ashes with a battling 84 not out, bumping England up to 233 after 62.3 overs.  Debutant, Wahab Riaz, took 5-63 and though jubilant in celebration, could not match up to Zulqurnain Haider's half century party, which included floor kissing, helmet raising, arms aloofing and grinning like a cheshire cat to the dressing room and the world media.

Pakistan's first innings began strongly with the first pair, Farhat and Hameed putting on 48 for the first wicket.  The first eight Pakistani batsman made it into double figures, implying that they got in and then could not capitalise.  The Pakistan Cricket Board must have been glad that they decided to eat their words on the lifetime ban on Mohammad Yousuf, when he made a useful 56 before getting out caught and bowled to Graeme Swann.  Azhar Ali missed out on his maiden test hundred with an unbeaten 92, as the Pakistan tail crumbled around him. Pakistan were eventually dismissed for 308 after 100.2 overs giving them a first innings lead of 75.

It was good to see England under a little bit of pressure going into their second innings, especially as Strauss departed early for 4 in the first over.  Finally, after so much pain and grief, Alistair Cook fought to make his 13th Test hundred and almost certainly booked his ticket to Australia this winter.  The secret to his success? "I went out there and just tried to hit the ball" Cook commented. Simple game, cricket is. The Essex man went to his hundred in an extremely strange fashion, when Asif, obviously watching my beautiful throwing technique, lobbed the ball over the keeper's head for four, just after Cook had patted it down the pitch just moments before.  Rather disappointingly, the term "brittle" has started to apply to England as well as Pakistan, because, despite Cook's ton, nobody else made any serious runs and England were suddenly bowled out for 222 after 77 overs with the last six batsmen failing to make it into double figures.

Now, Pakistan smelling blood were set a low target of 148 runs to win.  England, in particular, know how low targets can be tricky to chase, and having bowled out Pakistan for under a hundred twice in this series already, there was still some hope for an England win.  Hameed failed first ball, his game ending by another James Anderson swinger, when Pakistan were on only 5.  Farhat and captain Butt got Pakistan up to 57 before the second wicket was taken by Swann.  However, Pakistan made it fairly easily over the line without too much trouble with 4 wickets in hand after 41.4 overs.  I never thought I'd be writing: Pakistan win by four wickets.

On balance, I think it can be said that England losing is probably a good thing with The Ashes in mind.  Yes, it would be nice for a series whitewash, but England cannot afford to become lazy and complacent just before such an important tour.  This loss just might give England a good kick up the backside and remind them that cricket can be a difficult game at times, especially down under, where cricket can be described as anything but easy.  Looking ahead to the next Test, starting tomorrow at the home of cricket, England will want to learn from as many lessons as possible, as their next test will be somewhat sterner against the wounded animal that is Australia.

Monday, 16 August 2010

ENGLAND v PAKISTAN - 2nd Test: Edgbaston 2010

Broad vents his frustration as Haider and Ajmal defy England
After a hammering at Trent Bridge in the 1st Test, cricket fans, pundits and former players alike were looking to see if this relatively inexperienced Pakistan team has a bit of "ticker", as the Australians like to put it.  Pakistan had a glorious opportunity to bounce back, fight hard and show the world they are no pushover, and unfortunately for them, England completely wiped the floor with them... Again.

It started badly and got worse from there.  After winning the toss and electing to bat, Pakistan slumped to 36-6 with the top four all failing to make it to double figures.  Anderson gave all the batsmen the run-around with his perilous swing bowling, swinging the Dukes ball in, out, like a banana, all over the place.  They seemed absolutely clueless to him yet again and eventually were all out for 72 after only 39.3 overs, Broad and Anderson picking up 4 wickets apiece.

England's reply started reasonably solidly with much focus on Alistair Cook, whose form has been questionable of late.  The openers put on 44 for the first wicket before Cook ballooned a short ball from Asif to the awaiting hands of Umar Akmal at second slip.  Pietersen, another one of England's under-achievers of recent times, top scored with 80 and Trott making a nice 55 before the tail collapsed and England were all out for 251 after 83.1 overs.

Pakistan, looking to make amends in their second innings, started poorly again with Butt departing for 0 in the 3rd over.  Farhat made 29, Malik hit 3 and with the score on 82-5 in came debutant Zulqarnain Haider on a King Pair to face an on-song Swann.  His heart must have been in his throat as the ball seemed to thunder into his pad and was given out first ball, and an exuberant England celebrated.  One of the joys of this series has been the use of the referral system, and has shown at key times, when used correctly, umpires have reversed their decisions to the game's benefit.  This was one of those occasions as Haider referred the decision and the third-umpire deemed it not out.  Haider then went on to play a sublime innings and knocked brilliant 88 on debut, frustrating England so much that Broad decided to hurl the ball at him of his follow through and was promptly fined half of his match fee.  Haider was supported extremely well by Saeed Ajmal who, though in the team primarily for his bowling, scored his maiden Test half century.  Pakistan ended up on 296 with Swann finishing with career-best figures of 6-65.

So, England needing only 118 to secure victory, thoughts may have turned to another occasion when England almost failed to chase a low total in 2005, that time against Australia where 127 seemed a tall order.  However, after losing Cook again early in the innings, the professionalism of Strauss and Trott carried England over the line with 9 wickets to spare.


Now for the proper analysis...  Despite Andrew Strauss claiming that the England camp are not thinking about the Ashes at this point,  the captain at the very least must be thinking about what the best 4-pronged bowling attack against Australia will be, what the best batting line-up will be, will Trott remain at number 3? will Ian Bell regain his position in the side after injury? And will Eoin Morgan replicate his form down under?  There are so many questions that need answering before the Ashes and although it may be too soon to tell what the plans are exactly, in the back of all our minds, we all want to know as soon as possible!

Another topic under discussion is the use of James Anderson.  Pitches down under are notoriously hard and fast with very little room for swing.  Combined with a Kookaburra ball, which has a thinner seam and loses its shine much quicker than the English Dukes ball, will Anderson's "Samsonite Locks" be taken away from him?  One hopes that despite swing being his most potent weapon, he will be hoping to out-think batsmen in other ways, pace possibly being one of them, as he can consistently bowl at over 90 mph.

In terms of prepation for the Ashes, can it be argued that Pakistan are not helping us prepare in the best possible way for the winter tour?  Yes it's nice to stuff any team by the margins we are doing so, but England have hardly had to struggle in this series, something which they will have to get used to against Australia.  If England have a bad day against the Aussies then I can see the media putting some of it down to the previous series as England will have forgotten what it is like to play under pressure.  The Aussies will come at us hard, as they hate not being the holders, and on their home turf it will be an opportunity to re-create the tour of 2006/07 and embarrass the Poms again.  They say never underestimate the power of a wounded animal, and though I'm sure England won't be complacent against Australia, I hope they are prepared to be hit hard in a few months time.

Watch this space for a report and analysis on the 3rd Test at The Oval coming soon!