Wednesday marked opening day of the most important Australian first class season in recent
While the opportunity to re-ignite test careers, in the case of Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh and
others, seems close enough to touch, so too is the chance to become a test player for the first time
for a number of strong Australian cricketers looking to make a lasting impression on the Shield
Below is seven names, from all disciplines, who may be closer to a test berth than you may think.
1. Chris Lynn (Queensland). After being struck a strong blow to the groin by a Doug Bollinger delivery early in the domestic calendar last year, Lynn failed to play a First Class match for the Bulls for the season. Iced up and back on the scene, Lynn’s gifted timing was on show for Queensland against New South Wales in the Ryobi Cup final where he guided his team to glory with a sweetly struck unbeaten half century. Lynn’s shortcomings are few, but he has struggled with playing the ball late, looking to dominate, which often sees him playing too far in front of his pad. If he can master that this season, the sky’s the limit.
Having had a season break between his last full First Class season, which was admittedly poor, Lynn will be looking to make up for lost time in the early fixtures, in particular the Western Australian Chairmans XI vs England XI game which he will line up in starting Thursday.
2. Joe Burns (Queensland). Burns exploded onto the First Class scene two seasons ago when he made 140 on debut against South Australia. The classy right hander has an old fashioned back-and- across technique which allows him to play short pitch bowling comfortably, but he’s just as sound on the front foot. Burns can go large if he needs to boost the run rate, but a real feature of his game is how late he plays the ball, something which young Australian batsmen rarely exhibit these days. With real opportunities to present themselves this season, Burns should be in the selectors thoughts when it comes to the crunch provided he can hold up his end of the bargain.
3. Nic Maddinson (New South Wales). The gifted stroke maker from the South Coast of NSW first tasted international action when he was selected for the stand alone T20 fixture against India in Rajkot. He did not look out of place as he blasted 34 off 15 before doing as he has done often before and lost his head on the 16th delivery.
Maddinson has all the shots and timing to be a valuable member of the Australian top six, but is yet to display the temperament needed to bat for long periods of time and weather the attack when bowlers are on top. His successful Australia A tour in the winter, which included a 181 against second division county side Gloucestershire and 113 (off 63 balls) against Ireland showed he has the talent, but he rarely has shown he has the mental application to grind out a long innings. If he can tick those boxes, and at just 21 time is on his side, he will be well on his way to a long international career.
4. Peter Nevill (New South Wales). Those in the know say that Nevill is the best pure glove man in the country. Athletic and technically sound, Nevill is extremely tidy behind the wickets. A perfectionist, Nevill’s work ethic has impressed all those involved in the New South Wales set up since he crossed from Victoria. Nevill, however, is no one trick pony. His technique with bat in hand is just as impressive as his keeping skills. Patient and tight, but with enough shots to bat with the lower order, Nevill has made three first class centuries, two more than Tim Paine, and has selflessly sacrificed his innings in several other digs in the pursuit of quick runs.
Unfortunately for Nevill, he will miss the opening of the Shield season with a hamstring injury he sustained in the Ryobi Cup final, not before he compiled a well-made half century. With Brad Haddin being no more than a series-by-series proposition, a strong season could see him in the test fold, after previously touring with the Australian side to the West Indies in 2012. Watch this space.
5. Chadd Sayers (South Australia). With an action you can set your watch to, Sayers is a genuine swing bowling prospect and terrorised batsmen over the course of the 2012/2013 Shield season, where he collected a competition high 48 wickets at an average of 18.52. Not bad for someone operating on the flat Adelaide Oval wicket.
With Australian front line bowling stocks depleted due to injuries to Pattinson, Starc, Cummins and Bird, Sayers is my selection for the first test at the GABBA, providing a replacement for Starc’s swinging deliveries without the risk of picking an inconsistent Mitchell Johnson. A good chance to play at least some part in the Ashes.
6. Alex Doolan (Tasmania). At almost 28 years old, Alex Doolan has been around the first class scene in Australia for a while, but it was only until relatively recently he started to make noise. As strong a season as any first class batsman in 2012/2013, Doolan found his way into the Australia A team to take on a South African line up boasting Dale Steyn & Vernon Philander and responded by compiling a beautiful unbeaten 161.
If growing up in Perth equips you with the tools to play the short delivery, growing up in Tasmania teaches you to play on the front foot, and Doolan is testament to that. Quickly gaining the reputation as the best driver of the cricket ball down the ground in Australia, Doolan is a pleasure to watch when in full flight. Has the temperament, class and technique to succeed at higher levels and wouldn’t look out of place in the Australian top order. Runs in Hobart are hard to come by these days, and Doolan has compiled quite a few. A good start to the Shield season could mean big things for the classy right hander from Launceston.
7. Jordan Silk (Tasmania). Silk signalled to all that he was a player with a bright future when he scored back to back centuries against Victoria and Queensland at the conclusion of the 2012/2013 Sheffield Shield season, the latter ton coming in the final against Queensland, an innings which displayed the young openers compact driving technique and quality back foot play. On the back of that success, Silk was selected to tour England with the Australian A squad, where the young right hander struggled to make an impression on the scoreboard in his two matches.
Season 2013/2014 probably won’t be the season we see Jordan Silk in the Australian test side, but with Chris Rogers on the wrong side of 35, Silk can forge a place as next cab off the rank if he picks up this season where he left off last. He looks to have the temperament needed to score big runs, something the Australian top order will be desperate for not only this summer, but beyond.
The Ashes are over. Yes there’s the final dance is at the Oval, but the players may as well spend the five (ambitious) days at the Beehive pub, just a stones throw from the ground, because the Ashes as a contest ended at the spiritual home of egg and bacon ties, and the last rites administered amongst the cloud of smoke bellowing from Ian Botham’s barbecue.
The Australian corpse is fresh. Maybe a little too fresh, but from an armchair observer the smell of rotten meat has been there for some time.
So what is wrong? Well that’s a tough one. Let’s start with what’s right:
The bowling (certain selection issue aside).
Ok, now we have that out of the way lets examine the problems.
Australia, despite what the public want to believe, do not have a god given right to dominate the sport because they have for long periods of time throughout the history of the game. There is a cyclical nature to sport, and it is true with cricket as well, and perhaps Australia is going through their period of down time now.
The cupboard is bare. The talent in domestic cricket, although not non-existent, is unproven. The players just aren’t there. But that’s not to say the management can’t get more out of what they’re working with.
The Australian line up we see today is mentally fragile. The batting side of it at least. They’ve rode on the coat tails of Michael Clarke which breeds dependency, a batsman’s biggest curse. If Clarke fails, the team fails, seemingly unable to forge large partnerships without the skipper. Once Clarke is dismissed there is an intangible wave of self doubt that covers the others, they simply believe they can’t do it. Haddin’s mental strength is unquestionable, but he’s in the twilight of his career. Smith has shown a penchant for tougher runs than other new players, but he’s more the exception to the rule. They simply don’t put a premium price on their wicket.
You don’t need to have all the shots. If you do have all the shots, you shouldn’t play them all. Australia are breeding a culture of entertainment first, results second. It’s all well and good Darren Lehmann coming out and saying he wants his chargers to play their natural game and go out and take the game to the opposition, but he needs to look at what he’s working with. He doesn’t have a team with the ability he had. He doesn’t have a team that have made mountains of runs against all comers. He needs to start installing a culture of playing within yourself, and once you’ve established yourself, don’t let those standards slip.
Steve Waugh had a liking for the pull shot in early days. Played the shot pretty well too. But once he got out to the shot two times, and two times only, he put it in the rack, never to be seen again. That is the kind of mental toughness this line up can only dream of. Can you see Usman Khawaja putting away his full blooded cover drive away from the body until he’s got 30 runs on the board? It’s unlikely. It’s time the coach told Usman that he may have every shot in the book, but you succeed in this game by not now many shots you play, but often how many you don’t play.
Phil Hughes is an international standard player of pace bowling but a club, at best, player of spin. And he’s not alone in that. The batting line up, with a couple of notable exceptions, have absolutely no plans whatsoever to spin bowling, which on paper should be their coaches specialty.
Hughes doesn’t go forward. He doesn’t go back. He doesn’t attack. He waits to get out. I’m not privy to the Australian training sessions, but it is a systematic failing of the coaching staff if they are not constantly drilling him with techniques on how to play slow bowling. It’s as simple as going forward when the ball’s above your eyes. Stationery or back when it’s not. Mark Waugh, and later Damien Martyn, advocated the method of playing back when the pitch is slow enough, a tactic which would have been useful in the tour of India and even Trent Bridge more recently. Matthew Hayden mastered the sweep and made India a second home. Whatever it is, Hughes and co needs to pick a method and go with it. Waiting to get out is not a method.
Hughes is worth persisting with as long as he works hard on his weakness. There are countless players who have overcome weaknesses to succeed and Hughes needs to be another.
Lehman is new. It’s unfair to peg this on him, but he has a few months between the English leg and the Australian where he has the team in his hands and he needs to start moulding. Words like ‘be aggressive and take it to the opposition’ will not cut it. It panders to the casual fan who watched Hayden and Ponting boss their way around the crease, but they’re long gone. ‘Play your natural game’ although sounding great on paper, is a cop out. It fails to set standards of play and instead let’s players get off as long as they play what’s comfortable for them. Was Steve Waugh comfortable when he was taking balls from Curtly Ambrose in the ribs? Probably not, but he was willing to sacrifice the easy parts of cricket to succeed.
Australia needs stability. Stability will foster confidence. Confidence gives the players the best chance to succeed. The team going forward needs to know they’re going to get backed as long as they meet the standards expected. No more loose cricket. No more giving it up. The buck stops this summer.
Spreading the Ashes’ Australian top six for Brisbane
Test cricket is like a maze. There are twists and turns (well, not so many turns in Graeme Swann and Nathan Hauritz’s case). Day one at Lords proved exactly that. We saw half a day of absolute English dominance, flaying the Australian attack all over the hallowed turf of Lords. The second half of the day belonged to Australia, with the aid of reverse swing and shoddy batting, meaning day two is tantalizingly set up.
Unlike a maze, however, there is nowhere to hide in test cricket, as Mitchell Johnson found out yesterday. The Queensland come Western Australian left armer was at best mediocre, and at worst, of village green standard. He continued his poor English tour with a series of short and wide balls, using the ball down leg side as a change up. His action has significantly deteriorated since we last saw him in test match cricket in South Africa. He is suffering from a classic left armer foible, falling down at the crease at the point of delivery. This decreases not only bounce, but accuracy, symptoms which were on show yesterday. His wrist position has also gone awry. His wrist went from behind
the seam in South Africa, which gives the ball the maximum chance to swing and cut, to a wrist position which points towards gully position, resulting in a scrambled seam, which effectively gives the ball no chance of swinging, even in the swing friendly English conditions. Although Johnson wasn’t alone in bowling poor to the top order, he was the main culprit, in particular to Alastair Cook, where Johnson continually dropped short, playing into Cook’s hands. It is common knowledge that Cook drives like a drunken Mr. Magoo. The key to claiming his wicket is to pitch it up, with movement either way. He is susceptible to an LBW (the way he was dismissed eventually) or caught in the cordon because of his closed bat.
As poorly as Australia bowled, Strauss was classical. He ended the day on 161 not out following a range of brutal cuts and the occasional bludgeoning drive. He combined with Cook for a 196 run opening stand before Johnson finally got it right and picked up Strauss. It’s no secret that England relies heavily on two batsmen in compiling a big score. Strauss and Pietersen. Yesterday it was the captains turn to go big, and go big he did.
Hilfenhaus was again the pick of the Australian bowlers on a day which claimed the scalp of alleged spinner Nathan Hauritz, who paid the price (a dislocated finger) after dropping a firmly struck return catch from Strauss.
Australia wrested back a lot of the ascendancy in the last session, where Johnson finally hit his straps and got the old ball to swing. More significantly though, he got the ball to swing back into the right hander, as witnessed in the dismissal of Matt Prior who was again bowled through the gate, a technical flaw that the Australian’s will no doubt be aware of.
The late dismissal of an emotional Flintoff gives Australia a real look at the English tail, and although they performed admirably in game one, Australia now have the new ball (5 overs old) at their disposal and should be able to make inroads early on day two.
At the moment, English are in the driving seat, however things can change rapidly. Strauss is obviously the big wicket tomorrow, and whilst 450 is par on this pitch, the English captain will be disappointed with anything below 500, given the platform that was set yesterday.
Although there has been a significant shift, in finances at least, towards the Asian bloc, Lords remains the spiritual home of cricket. The governing body of Lords still decide the laws of cricket and oversees the contentious issue of the spirit of cricket, a debate which continues to rage since Ricky Ponting accused England of time wasting in the first test.
Australia sees Lords as a home away from home. They’ve only lost one test match at the venue since 1896 and it was the scene for the final of the 1999 world cup, which the Australian’s won against Pakistan. A reason for Australia’s dominance at Lords is simple. It’s the one pitch in England which is most like Australian conditions. It’s notoriously pacey, for English standards, and provides bounce which brings into play the horizontal bat shots which Australian batsman play well, having grown up on pitches which offer bounce.
If England are to make a stand against Australia and finally shed the soft underbelly tag they’ve had, they need to win this test, or at least get themselves in a position of dominance. Strauss needs to back his bowlers and employ attacking fields from the get go. The bowlers need to intimidate the Australian batsmen, but not get carried away like Anderson and Broad did against Hughes in Cardiff.
I think we can expect to see inconsistent all rounder Steve Harmison recalled to the test arena for a rematch with Ricky Ponting. In 2005 Harmison struck Ponting with a short ball which cut the Australian captain, causing a scar the prolific right hander still wears today. It’s just one of many tantilising match ups to look forward to in this match.
The make up of both teams is the most interesting aspect leading up to the match. Before Flintoff announced his retirement I thought he was no chance to take the field in match two, however now I think he’ll make sure he’s fit and firing for the Lords finale.
As the sloped pitch is expected to be pacey again this time around, I think England will discard the notion of playing two spinners. I think England will persist with Panesar who has leap frogged Swann as England’s number one spinner following Swann’s poor showing in Wales.
I expect Australia, on the other hand, to go into the match unchanged. They found themselves one wicket away from a crushing victory in the last test. Hauritz and Hilfenhaus both performed well enough to suggest they’ll be making up the XI at Lords.
Below I’ll foolishly attempt to make a few predictions, as I did last match. Feel free to call me on these if you disagree.
England XI: Australian XI
1. Strauss 1. Hughes
2. Cook 2. Katich
3. Bopara 3. Ponting
4. Pietersen 4. Hussey
5. Collingwood 5. Clarke
6. Prior 6. North
7. Flintoff 7. Haddin
8. Broad 8. Johnson
9. Anderson 9. Hauritz
10. Harmison 10. Siddle
11. Panesar 11. Hilfenhaus
Result: Australia by 150 runs.
Hughes to make a first innings hundred
Ponting to make at least a half century in the first innings
Pietersen to make a hundred
Flintoff to take at least 6 for the match
Johnson to take a five wicket haul in one or both innings
Harmison to dismiss Ponting
Overnight, Andrew Flintoff announced his resignation from test cricket, effective at the end of the Ashes series. History will be left to judge the impact Andrew Flintoff had in test cricket, however it is my firm belief that like the great Victor Trumper or even Viv Richards, pure stats alone will never do him justice. In fact Neville Cardus once wrote “We can no more get an idea of Trumper’s batsmanship by looking at the averages and statistics than we can find the essential quality of a composition by Mozart by adding up the notes.” I think in time, the same will be said about andrew Flintoff.
Flintoff possibly only reached his potential in one series, the 2005 Ashes. His feats in that series should never be underestimated. He was courageous, brilliant and heroic. He catapulted cricket back onto the back page of English newspapers, a place normally reserved exclusively for soccer related stories. In fact, he had an impact on the sport in England not seen since Ian Botham was dominating for his countries. He is everything a cricketer should be. Tough and talented, but with a gentlemanly nature, characteristics which are so hard to find in modern professional sport.
One thing for me, however, which disappoints me about the retirement of Flintoff is the fact that he’s retired from test cricket in order to be able to play the shorter forms of the game. Call me a cricket romantic, but I would have loved for Flintoff to do away with one day and twenty20 cricket in favour of test cricket. I realise that the rigors of test cricket, bowling overs and overs on end are somewhat to blame for his injury, however there is something which makes me think that he would have been better suited to retiring from the other forms and focus on getting himself fit for the longer form.
Regardless of the reasons behind his retirement, Flintoff will always be known as a character. He loved a beer as much as he loved terrorising Adam Gilchrist. There is no doubt that Flintoff will be remembered as a good player who had the potential to be great.
He’ll be missed in the test cricketing world, and we can now expect England to be fighting for super Fred for the rest of the series.
Below I have rated each player’s performance in Cardiff out of ten.
Cook 2 – The left hander came into the match in reasonable form and was hoping to build on his personally satisfactory 07/08 tour down under. He only managed scores of 10 and 6. His first innings dismissal was particularly disappointing, caught fishing outside off.
Strauss 3 – The captain was slightly better than his opening partner in terms of batting but what really lost him points was his typically English captaincy. It was defensive and submissive, in particular at the start of day 3 where he let Ponting and Katich play without risk by setting a defensive field from ball one and just waiting for the new ball.
Bopara 2 – Looked extremely nervous in his first Ashes test. Played outside his body on a number of occasions and exposed a flaw in his game, the ability to pick and play the slower ball. We can expect a better game two from Bopara.
Pietersen 5 – Played brilliantly in the first innings until he lost his head and played yet another KP shot, trying to sweep Hauritz from the point boundary rope. Had a terrible mind set in the second innings where he tried to over correct his first innings dismissal and was bowled leaving a Hilfenhaus corker.
Collingwood 7 – Twin half centuries from the sauce-headed batsmen. Almost ingle handedly carried England away from defeat, only to fall in an un-Collingwood fashion (caught fishing).
Prior 5 – Played a fine innings in the first innings, making a half century. Was out caught playing a ridiculous cut out of the rough in the second innings. Glove work was good.
Flintoff 6 – A whole hearted performance by Flintoff who has had to carry the attack for far too long. Was the only bowler to look threatening and his spell against Hughes was reminiscent of 2005. His bowling figures certainly don’t do him justice. Played a good first innings.
Broad 3 – Was poor and ineffectual with the ball. Wasted the new ball and went for over 4 runs an over. Flintoff got him going for a small period of time during his spell against Hughes but other than that, wasn’t threatening at all.
Swann 2 – Gets 2 purely for his batting efforts. Was the disappointment of the match with the ball. Struggled to land any and now probably finds himself second in line as a pure spinner. Was worked over by Siddle in the second innings but, after calling the physio for the 80th time, stuck around and provided good resistance.
Anderson 3 – Failed to swing the new, or old, ball which was hi primary job leading into the series. The English had built him up to be the ‘swing king’ but played more like the line and length princess. Showed guts with the bat to stick around and force a draw.
Panesar 3 – Was better than Swann, but not significantly. Failed to look threatening other than a couple of close LBW shouts. Did well to bat out 69 balls with Anderson to ensure a draw for his country.
Hughes 4 – Looked fluent in his first innings until Flintoff came on and bowled well. Put Australia on the front foot with his 36 and will gain valuable experience from it.
Katich 8 – Brilliant first innings hundred. Never at any stage did he look troubled, apart from an LBW shout and a half chance caught and bowled. Was the rock at the top of the order for Australia.
Ponting 9 – A flawless 150. Was perfect from the start ‘till the end of his innings and although his captaincy at times was questionable, he made up for this by leading with the bat.
Hussey 1 – Gets a one for the good catch he took to dismiss Cook in the first innings. Didn’t do a lot in the match, making three in his only innings. His poor form continues.
Clarke 7 – Played beautifully throughout his innings for a well made 83. Is beginning to bridge the gap between his home and away record.
North 8 – Made a magnificent unbeaten 125 where he played sensible and intelligent, finding the gaps and picking up plenty of 1’ and 2’s. Thought he was under bowled in the first innings, Ponting favouring Katich and Clarke over him as back up spin options.
Haddin 8 – Picked up where Gilchrist left off, making a swift, and at times brutal, hundred. Was dismissed in a typically unselfish manner. Keeping was also sufficient.
Johnson 4 – Was extremely wayward, in particular when Australia needed him late in the second innings. Seems to be falling over too much at the crease. Having said that, still took 5 wickets in the test and managed to ruffle Pietersen’s feathers before day 5. A rare bad game.
Hauritz 6 – The much maligned off spinner was the best tweaker in the match. At times tended to bowl too defensively, but overall bowled quality lines and was able to extract turn out of the rough.
Siddle 5 – The designated Australian hit man lived up to his role, in particular in the second innings where sent down a barrage of bumpers to Swann. Will win few fans over in England, but he is playing the role the team needs.
Hilfenhaus 6 – Probably the pick of the pace bowlers. A surprise selection but more than held his own. Highlight of the match was his dismissal of Pietersen in the second innings where he bowled the eye catching right hander. Thought he was unlucky not to be bowling towards the end of the game.
Firstly, please accept my apologies for the tardiness in which this post arrives. I have been otherwise ‘indisposed’ with other tasks and duties, primarily revolving around contracting the infamous ‘brown bottle fever’. Nevertheless, let us soldier on.
Well, what a test match game 1 was. Certainly shades of 2005, only inversed with the shoe on the other foot.
Although a lot of talk before the test had centred around the debate of whether Cardiff should have even been awarded a test (for a variety of reasons, including a historically poor county set up, ground capacity etc.)
the venue lived up to expectations and provided us with a brilliant, although at times frustrating, spectacle. The pitch, overall, was a sporting one and the only criticism that can be made about it is that it lacked a touch of grass coverage, in particular on day one, which is unlike UK pitches.
By now you would be aware that the English tail, with help from middle order dobber Paul Collingwood, managed to fight off defeat with resolute batsmanship, denying the rampaging Australians victory. For mine, this was yet another example of deficiencies which are apparent in the Australian’s bowling make up. As I discussed earlier in this blog (From Deuce to Advantage Australia), Australia will constantly struggle to easily run through a tail with their current bowling make up. The two key ingredients to easily do away with lower order batsmen is intimidating pace bowling and attacking spin bowling. These two ingredients are missing from the Australian makeup, and it showed in the frustration expressed by skipper Ricky Ponting, who is only now coming to terms with a bowling attack missing McGrath, Lee, Warne or MacGill.
On the topic of Ponting, he must also shoulder the blame for not picking up the final wicket. Like his opposite number Strauss earlier in the match, Ponting implemented largely non-attacking fields. The most defensive fielding position in cricket (deep point) was utilised on a number of occasions and he was reluctant to
position men around the bat when James Anderson, the number 10, was on strike. Far too often he was content with giving Anderson a single in the belief they would easily dismiss the much improved Panesar. As it turned out, Ponting was wrong and it was evidence that the Australian’s hadn’t done their homework on the lower order players. England, renowned for their soft tail, now bat well down, with all players able to hold a bat in some capacity.
I have always been reluctant to criticise Ponting because he has managed to force some results which were unexpected with the bowling attack he now possesses (see the tour of South Africa earlier this year). In this test he was let down by the unlikely Mitchell Johnson who bowled without any direction at all. The last two batsmen (Anderson and Panesar) should have been tailor made for Johnson who draws the ball back into the left hander which makes the batsmen vulnerable for LBW or bowled. He was poor and with the other elements of the bowling line up finding form, Johnson finds himself in a position which would seem impossible only a month ago, bowling for his selection.
Overall, the test was of high quality. The batting, by Australia in particular, was brilliant and the fielding was good as well. At times, the pace bowlers struggled to extract anything out the benign pitch but it still offered enough for all parties, but in particular the spin bowlers when they found the mark.
The Cardiff test has whetted the cricket viewer’s appetite. The series needed this result as much as England. The next stop on the Ashes train is Lords, the home of cricket. Australia has lost only one test there since 1896 a psychological advantage Ricky Ponting is hoping to use to his advantage, meanwhile, if England are to make a stand they need to win this match.
What a day of test cricket. It couldn’t have started worse for Australia with the English tail wagging to push them over the 400 mark which in essence put them in control. The technically adequate Swann was the main thorn in the Australian’s side, making a fluent 47 (40) with the help of nightwatchman Anderson (26) and the more than handy Broad who added 19 of his own.
The first session reignited many of the doubts about cleaning up the tail that the Australian’s have, even if they fail to openly acknowledge them in the media. The seed of these doubts were planted in the 2008 tour of India when Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan et. al., consistently added valuable runs in the lower order to take the game away from the blue collar Australians. If the seed was planted then, it was beginning to sprout in the home series against South Africa later
in that year, in particular in the second test in Melbourne when Steyn and Duminy combined for a match winning stand of nearly 200. There is no doubt that a combination of factors are the reason for the Australian’s inability to consistently run through a tail. It’s a
mixture of lacking a quality strike spin bowler (something Jason Krejza could provide) as well as an inexperienced and at times unintimidating fast bowling attack. Nevertheless, there is great room for improvement in this area for the Australians.
Leading up to the lunch session, and after, it was all Australia. Hughes started fluently and looked untroubled, flaying a series of cuts and back foot off drives in the process of creating a batting wagon wheel which reminded viewers of hair comb, with lines only protruding to the one side. It was clear that the English team had believed the media when they said Hughes had been found out and consistently bowled short and wide which are undoubtedly his strengths. English’s main weapon, Andrew Flintoff, was introduced after the luncheon interval and bowled with pace, zip and accuracy. It was clear that the coach and management spoke of intimidating the young left hander and Flintoff did just that. He eventually claimed the scalp of Hughes with a good short-of-a-length ball which took Hughes’ inside edge which was claimed by Prior for a fluent but at times nervous 36. This sparked a celebration from Flintoff not see since the infamous 2005 series when his heroics almost single handedly got the English over the line.
Ponting joined Katich and immediately took control. He played with balance early in his innings, something which has often avoided him in the past. He and Katich continued to play flawlessly, with Katich only giving one half chance (tough caught and bowled to Flintoff) as well as surviving a tight LBW
shout. They continued on their merry way, Swann and Panesar were unpenetrative and appeared to be reticent at times, in particular to Ponting who looked to dominate. Katich played them watchfully, scoring at a strike rate of 31.49 off the spinners whilst looking more fluent against the pacemen. By late on the second day, both batsmen had passed their respective hundreds and Australia had seized control.
As it stands, Australia hold all the aces in this contest, however, like 2005, one man is hanging over the Australian’s head like a cloud. Andrew Flintoff. Realistically, the burley all-rounder is the only player who can restrict Australia to a score which can see a result forced in favour of England.
Well, 15 minutes before the first ball was bowled in the series and already one of my ill-fated predictions were proved wrong. The selectors and Ricky Ponting opted for Hilfenhaus in place of Stuart Clark, a controversial and mind boggling decision (to yours truly anyway) considering that Clark had played all the warm up matches and had performed admirably, whereas Hilfenhaus was the direct opposite in that he hadn’t played a warm up game at all.
I am happy to admit that the gamble somewhat paid off. Hilfenhaus at times looked dangerous with the aid of the swinging new ball and was probably the pick of the Australian bowlers in a largely workman-like performance by the Aussie attack. His impact, though, was limited as his only weapon is swing with the new ball. He is rendered slightly useless after 30 overs and Australia
looked to search for options to try and get a wicket, this evolved into a steadying partnership between Pietersen and the at times dour Collingwood.
The honours were very much evenly shared after day one. England were on top until Siddle struck late to dismiss Flintoff (playing on) and the impressive Matt Prior (bowled through the gate). Now, at 7/336, the game is in the balance. If Australia can strike early and dismiss the last three batsmen within 20-30 overs, it will definitely be game on with the pitch looking docile and prime for batting on day two.
If Hilfenahaus was the good guy of the day, KP was truly the villain. He successfully employed a shovel-sweep type shot against Hauritz, paddling it behind square on the leg side for 1’s and 2’s. It’s a risky shot and relies on the bounce being even, however it’s effective when it’s not pre-meditated and played to a ball on off stump or middle. His dismissal, though, was nothing short of abysmal. He attempted to play the same shot to a ball well outside off. He was set and England desperately needed him to go on to make a big hundred. The shot was petulant, immature and just plain stupid, something which we’ve come to see far too much of over his career. The maligned Hauritz, on the other hand deserves some credit for the dismissal. He saw KP shuffling across and adjusted his line to increase the risk in the shot. It was a prudent and clever piece of bowling by the offie, who wasn’t Australia’s worst on the day.
So going into day two, the match is evenly poised. 350-400 is probably par for the first innings, if England can push on through the help of able batsmen such as Broad and Swann, they’ll seize control, if Australia run through the order early in the morning, Australia will have their noses on top.
I leave you with one thought. Ponting has such an imposing record in the first innings of a series. Don’t be surprised if he comes up tomorrow and sets the tone for the rest of the series. If he makes a ton, the monkey of 2005 will be off his back and it will set the Aussies up for the series.
Predictions are always a fool’s game, but I’m going to have a crack at what I think some of the outcomes will be.
Australian XI: England XI:
- Katich 1. Strauss*
- Hughes 2. Cook
- Ponting* 3. Bopara
- Clarke 4. Pietersen
- Hussey 5. Collingwood
- North 6. Prior†
- Haddin† 7. Flintoff
- Johnson 8. Broad
- Hauritz 9. Swann
- Siddle 10. Anderson
- Clark 11. Panesar
Result: Australia by 120 runs.
- Simon Katich to score a first innings hundred
- Ravi Bopara score a hundred
- Monty Panesar to score a pair
- Anderson to take eight wickets for the match
- Stuart Clark to take five first innings wickets
- Hughes to make a 50 in the second innings
- Pietersen to get less than 50 in both innings