Wednesday, December 27, 2006

England's bowling plan

So supposedly, this was England's bowling plan for the MCG. It just got me thinking about bowling in general. You could read the document, consider that Hussey was out to a swinging delivery, Ponting to skied pull in front of square, Clarke to a catch behind the wicket, and so on and so forth. Evidence, no doubt, that the plans were spot on, and the bowlers executed on them perfectly.

Or, if you're a bowler, and a realist, you could accept that stuff just happens. More often than you realise. Matthew Hoggard pointed out today that he just runs up and "whangs it" with his eyes shut. The point being that as a bowler, you can do everything the same, 6 times in succession, and still bowl six different deliveries. It just isn't that simple. If it was, teams, other than just England, would be all out for 150 every week.

All that planning, and yet Andrew Flintoff was setting fields as if he was playing a one-day international. I understand that the Test series is all but over, but if your mind is already on the post-New Year bashabout, then don't bother showing up. How can you bring your attacking spinner on to bowl with everyone in the deep? Did nobody notice Symonds and Hayden milking the singles when this happened?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Red Carpet

I was at my brother's place a few weeks ago and noticed this sitting on the bookshelf. It's been at the back of my mind for a year and a half, ever since the author's brother mentioned it to me, and I figured I now had no excuse. Ironic, I suppose, that despite not being a short story aficionado, I wound up with two collections to while away the early mornings at the WACA!

I have to say that I infinitely preferred this lot to the Munro collection I read immediately prior.

At first glance, one would think that the stories would be best appreciated by someone who could directly identify - that is to say, a member of the modern-day South Asian Diaspora (with a nod to all you SSAMD members out there!). However, despite the fact that I've never lived in India myself, and couldn't directly identify with all the specific experiences, the underlying themes never failed to resonate.

The characters and stories were all lively and vibrant. I enjoyed the cross-pollination, with different aspects of individual characters being drawn out in different stories, sometimes as the central protagonist, and othertimes as the comedic side-kick. I doubt it was the author's intent, but for me this served to satisfy my innate need for trite endings and resolution in a short story, without actually reverting to either.

It could be said that the stories themselves are cliches - but against that, I would counter that that's precisely the point. It's the stark realities of those cliches that gets us reflecting and questioning, and any writer that can make us do that is onto something.

Several of the stories could easily be transformed into a novel in their own right. An exploration of the relationship and parallels between the Indian and American worker (I forget which short this was in) certainly would provide plenty of fodder. I'm looking forward to seeing what Sankaran comes out with to follow-up, given that it's often the second and third works that tell us where a writer is really going to go.

Next on my reading list: Iain Aitch's "A Fete Worse than Death" in which he reputedly sees Bill Bryson, and raises him some.


Apart from my collection of cryptic crosswords, I had some time whilst waiting in the queue at the Test match to read a couple of books that I recently acquired.

The first of these was Alice Munro's collection of short stories - Runaway. Fans of Munro swear by her work, and she came to me highly recommended. I've never worked out what I think of short stories. The ones that come with resolution, all neatly wrapped up, tend to be cliched, almost formulaic. The ones that are creative and well-written, tend to leave me unsatisfied. I suppose different styles work at different times.

Runaway definitely fell into the latter category for me. Much like the fast bowler who beats the outside edge half a dozen times, but never actually picks up a wicket, this collection of stories repeatedly introduced me to intriguing characters, but left me wondering what exactly happened to them. I suppose that's the inherent strength of the work. Munro certainly is a master of her craft.

I won't say no if another Munro crosses my path, but if truth be told, I won't be seeking them out either. There's plenty of reading material out there, and this just isn't at the top of my list.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

England vs Australia: T3 summary

All in all, a superb test match. I was seated for the last 3 days near a gentleman who has been watching Test matches for 50 years around the world, right back from when Len Hutton was given out obstructing the field (he showed me his own scorebook with that and other games in it). In his opinion, this was the finest Test match ever played.

It's difficult to come to conclusions like that. A lot of people confuse an exciting finish for a great Test match. Just look at Adelaide a fortnight ago for example. To my mind, what set this Perth Test apart from others I have seen was the all round quality that was on display. Put that together with a fabulous crowd, and a pitch that had something in it for everyone, and perfect weather, and I don't know that I'll ever see a better Test in my lifetime.

We had consistent top class pace bowling from start to finish by Stuart Clark, and some shows of real quality from McGrath, Harmison and Hoggard at various times. Monty Panesar provided an object lesson in finger spin, and Shane Warne went on to one-up him with one of his best spells in years. Michael Hussey played a classic test match knock in the first innings, Michael Clarke made a century that oozed class, and Adam Gilchrist was just one ball short of the fastest century in history. Add to that the simply sensational fielding of Andy Symonds, and some tremendous work by Hussey and Clarke as well, and Ponting's run-out of Jones on the final day, and there's really not a lot left to say. And remember, all of this was in the context of Australia wanting to reclaim the Ashes, and England trying desperately to keep a grip on them.

I loved every minute of it, and I was privileged to be there, and proud to say that I didn't miss a second of the action.

England vs Australia T3D5

And so onto the final day's play. I debated long and hard whether to wake up early once more and stand in the queue with the other die hards? Actually, I call them die-hards, but it's absolutely shocking to see the number of members who queue up from early in the morning, snag a great seat behind the bowler's arm on the second level, and then either spend the entire day sleeping, reading a book, or knitting. A few of them even leave halfway through the second session. The only explanation I can come up with is that these are very old people, and they have nothing better to do at 5am.

Back to the story though - I'd been reaching the ground at about 5:15am each morning, and my position in the queue had improved from about 1000th on the first day, to 500th on the fourth. I had a feeling that the fifth day queue would be a lot shorter, but when it came to the crunch, I wasn't willing to risk it. Great cricket has to be watched from a great seat - if you're not on the second level behind the bowler's arm, you may as well go home and watch it on TV.

The other challenge was the threat of rain. I'm staying 20 minutes north of the ground, and we had a couple of light showers the previous night, but when I got up at 4:15am, the roads didn't look too wet, so I figured that it made sense to head on down.

I got there at about 5:30 in the end, and I was about 100th in the queue. No chance of getting a poor seat from there, although you always have to take into account the loyalty members. Those who have been members of the WACA for 40 continuous years, those who have a life membership, and anybody with a disability, are able to enter via a priority queue. Unsurprisingly, most of the people in that queue want the prime seats. It's not so much of a problem with the main queue - there's an alarming number of people who would prefer to sit in the sun, at ground level, at a 45 degree angle, and my life has been all the better for it this week.

There was a little bit of spitting from the light grey clouds above as we waited in the queue. As always, the conversation was fascinating. Today I met a gentleman who retired a couple of years ago, but was tempted back to work by an offer of A$3500 per week. The job? "Toolbox Guardian." For the un-initiated (which included myself, of course), that's the person who sits by a big container of tools, with a book in one hand and beer in the other, and logs the workers checking tools in and out during the day. Why does he get paid so much? That's the economic boom that Western Australia is undergoing right now, on the back of phenomenal demand from China, and to a lesser extent India. You can earn $150K for driving the trucks that transport iron ore from the bottom of a mining pit to the top. Needless to say, enrollment in Universities is dropping.

Right, back to the cricket now, I promise. Once in the ground, it was apparent that the groundsman was concerned about the weather. The covers were out, and we watched as first the hessian, and then the full cover, was pulled over the wicket. And then removed. And then replaced, this time with a third layer in between. And then removed again. The games went on for nearly an hour, before they finally accepted that the blue and white stuff in the skies above was not a threat.

Flintoff's little slog-fest apart, the day's play was dominated by that man Warne. His presence was felt as early as 10am, when Ian Healy was spotted talking to an unidentified individual near the sightscreen in front of the Lillee-Marsh stand. Healy did a quick little imitation of a Warne delivery, followed by a squealed "oooooh" and then an about turn and a couple of jumps with arms aloft, mimicing Warne's incessant appealing. Healy appeared to find it rather amusing, as did those in the crowd who noticed.

The Barmy Army had picked up on this as well, and throughout the morning, everytime Flintoff and Pietersen pushed Warne into the covers or mid-wicket off the full face of the bat, all thousand of them went up in mock appeal. It didn't stop there either. There were several renditions of the least printable of all the Warney songs - the one ending with "and he also loves his wife!", Billy Cooper launched into the theme from Dad's Army when Glenn McGrath came on to bowl, and most impressively of all, as soon as the England total reached 279, the Army launched into "Oh, we're half way there, oh oh, livin' on a prayer!" My first test match with the Barmy Army in attendance, and I was truly impressed. They bring a colour to the game that you typically only see at grounds in India and the Caribbean.

The man of the match award went to Hussey, but I'm not sure that the choice was an easy one. Warne's bowling in both innings was quality, and his contribution to the victory should not be underestimated. I suppose in the end the consideration would have been that Australia would have eventually won without Warne, but Hussey's knock in the first innings was as crucial as it gets. The other contender would have had to be Geraint Jones. With a pair batting at number 7, a missed stumping off Michael Clarke that cost over 100 runs, and something like 5 dropped catches, no single person can have done more to hand the Ashes back to Australia. Salim Malik and Wasim Akram would have been taken to court for such a performance.

Also mentioned in the dispatches would have been Adam Gilchrist. Not just for his unbelievable century, which was a privilege to have watched, but for one of the most informed sledges I have heard in my cricketing career. When Sajjid Mahmood came into bat at #9 in the second innings, Gilly knew that he had only bowled 17 overs, and commented audibly, but ostensibly to Hayden at first slip, that he must be playing as a batsman since he only bowled 17 overs. Now it'd be one thing to have said 15, or 20 - anything that implied a low over count, but the fact that they knew the precise number of overs Mahmood had bowled in the match simply blew me away.

One final point to note - when Flintoff was dismissed and Jones came to the wicket, there were 12 Australians, 2 South Africans and a Pakistani on the field. No wonder England had a hard time winning the game :-)

Monday, December 18, 2006

England vs Australia T3D4: The Tease

Okay, so I admit it. Against my own better judgement, I dared to hope for a while. For half a day, England toyed with those of us who were supporting them. And then they reverted to type. We gave up hope, only to be brought right back to the brink, this time Pietersen being Cook's ally. Of course, the moment we dared to hope once more, we were let down with a resounding crash. You know the feeling - the guy or girl you've been eyeing flashes you a flirtatious smile. You hesitate, before concluding that it can be only you she is looking at. You settle your nerves, rehearse your best line, and just as you are all set to go, Brad Pitt steps forward from right behind you and steals your thunder. Suddenly, you know that it was never meant to be.

The cricket itself continued the trend of the game - intensity and quality were to be found from various corners. Cook and Bell had a great morning session. Bell, known to Warne as the Shermantor (from the movie American Pie), came out with positive intent against his tormentor, and delighted the crowd by coming down the track several times. He was far from dominant however - Warne bowled superbly, and the contest teetered and wobbled in every direction.

Cook had a lot more trouble with the leggie, and in fact was not especially fluent in general. However, even more so than Bell, he appeared absolutely determined to knuckle down and bat until the match was over. He might have been dismissed just before lunch, when he pulled carelessly and McGrath completely misjudged at deep square leg, allowing the ball to drop over his head, but inside the boundary rope. It doesn't get more embarrassing than that, and coupled with his drop in the first innings which resulted in a humiliating change of position with Michael Clarke, it capped a poor match in the outfield for McGrath.

The highlight of the bowling was Stuart Clark's spell of 6 overs for 9 runs. Clark is often referred to as a McGrath clone, but I'm starting to think that's a little unfair. He gets sharper bounce than McGrath does, and moves the ball more. He's more the next generation than an exact replica, and I see no reason that he won't lead the Australian attack (as he already is) for the next three or four years.

The lunch break, as usual, was devoted to the inflation of a huge blow-up can of Milo, which always takes about 20 minutes to raise, for a 5 minute showing as the young kids wind down their kanga cricket knockabout. It's actually been quite entertaining to watch, as have the interviews with the young cricketer of the day, who is invariably a five year old whose vocabulary is limited to the word "Yes!" I also used this time to learn that Billy Birmingham has some recordings that pre-date the Twelfth Man, so that's something I'll be hunting for over the next few days.

The post lunch session was dominated by Shane Warne. His bowling was nothing short of superb and his display made you realise that bowling is not just about the ball you deliver. Warne has raised it to a psychological art form, appealing to make a batsman see demons that aren't there in the pitch, staring, muttering, delaying the game, and using every ploy available to exert pressure on Bell and Cook. And it worked in the end - late in the session, Bell tamely patted one to short cover, and you knew from the Aussies' celebration that they now had one hand firmly on the little urn. Warney even bowled a rare googly at Alistair Cook during this period, surprising everyone, including Adam Gilchrist, who could only deflect it to an equally stunned Hayden at first slip.

Paul Collingwood once again looked out of his depth, as he has done intermittently during his Test career. I haven't got a lock on him, but my best guess is that he's the quintessential utility player, only he has sufficient determination and grit to occasionally punch above his weight class. He'll be found wanting at times - here he was brutally exposed yet again by Stuart Clark - but he may have a few more Adelaides, though I'd expect more 50s than 200s.

Pietersen and Cook looked good together after tea, but just when it looked like England might make the game last well into the fifth day, the skies started clouding over. As the darkness set in, the floodlights came on, and Cook nicked one through to Gilchrist, probably not for the last time in this series.

Hoggard had been waiting nervously in the dressing room, and walked out looking like he didn't really want to be out there. Fortunately for him, McGrath didn't want him there either, and a rare yorker had him back in the hutch faster than Geoffrey Boycott could say back in the hutch. The dream over finished with two leg cutters that had Flintoff completely flummoxed, and the day ended with the series all but over.

England have just one big hope for tomorrow - that the dark clouds of tonight turn into a massive thundershower. It would be nice to think that Flintoff and Pietersen can hang around for a couple of sessions, but quite frankly, I don't remotely believe that they can. I expect a finish in the morning session tomorrow, although I will be putting a few extra dollars in the parking meter just in case. The bottom line is that Shane Warne is just bowling far too well, on a pitch that is offering him (and the pacemen) turn and bounce.

A couple of other observations on the day's play:
  • The crowd, even in the members section, can be really annoying. What ever happened to not moving around or getting out of your seat while an over is in progress? Why can't the event staff control this behaviour?
  • What is it with short mid ons and mid offs standing next to the non-striker alongside the pitch? Do they serve any purpose at all? Has anyone ever seen a catch taken there? Actually, I think I have, once, but I simply don't understand it. Batsmen at this level should be too good to be distracted by such a presence.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

England vs Australia T3D3: A Santa Barbara Yankee in Gilly's Court

Wow. What an innings. You've read all about it by now, and all I can see is that Gilly was magnificent, as was the crowd as they enjoyed a spectacular and brutal assault by one of their favourite sons. I think it's appropriate that Viv's record is intact, but I have to admit, I badly wanted to be able to say "I was there". I was.

Australia were crusing when Gilly came in, probably planning to declare at lunch on Day 4, and then bowl England out by lunch on Day 5. 20 overs and 162 runs later, the declaration arrived. Not one person saw that blitzkrieg coming, especially when Gilchrist was fortunate not to see an edge fly straight to the fielder before he got off the mark.

It's late, so brief highlights of my day:
  • In the queue at 5am, I heard a strong American accent. I was stunned. And that was just the beginning. The American in question was upset because he had overslept, and would not be the first person in the ground today. He's from Santa Barbara. He's been attending Tests at the WACA for a few years. He thinks ODI's and 20/20 are a joke, and Test cricket is the real thing. He must sit behind the bowler's arm. He can't understand how he enjoyed baseball as a youngster in America, when cricket is where it's at. I'm not making any of this up.
  • I don't know why Flintoff started the proceedings with Kevin Pietersen. On the radio, they suggested it was to get an early wicket so that the regular bowlers could come on. I won't even dignify that suggestion with a comment.
  • Hussey's century was the worst knock I've ever seen him play. Just goes to show what a batsman he is. He was patchy, he was lucky to escape when Monty had him caught close in, he was smacked on the helmet by Harmison, and he top edged a few hook shots.
  • One of those was spilled by, you guesst it, Geraint Jones, who called for what was clearly Pietersen's catch, and then made a complete hash of it. This was in addition to missing a regulation stumping when Michael Clarke had just a few runs to his name.
  • When Flintoff took the new ball at 3 for 300, he used it with just one slip. I simply don't understand captains who refuse to attack even for a few overs with a new ball. What can you be scared of at 3 for 300? Conceding a boundary? Sure enough, Strauss dropped Hussey on 78, diving across from 2nd slip to the vacant first slip. Pathetic
  • Monty was the man again. he should have had Clarke early on - the stumping missed by Jones, and it was eventually he who found Hussey's edge, and then followed that up with Symonds wicket.
  • Collingwood is credited with catching Symonds, but what the scoreboard doesn't show is that Jones dropped that catch first. What must Chris Read (and James Foster) be thinking?
  • Why did England bother to play Sajid Mahmood when the captain has no confidence in him? It's a vicious cycle for a bowler - you know your captain doesn't rate you, so when you finally get the ball (once the game is all but gone), you don't run in with the confidence you would otherwise have. You therefore bowl poorly, and the cycle intensifies.
  • Michael Clarke is here to stay. He batted superbly, and as always played Panesar with aplomb for the most part. He's seized his chance, and I'll go out on a limb and say that when Ponting retires, Clarke may well be the one to take the reins. He's pure class, and with Ponting, Hussey and him around for the next few years, the Australian middle order is in good hands.
  • You've got to hand it to Matty Hayden - every time the critics get on his case, he answers them. Not his most fluent knock, but he stood up to be counted.
  • The value of having a 20 minute bowling session before the close was highlighted today. The Aussie bowlers had had a wonderful day's rest, and could bowl with freedom. Little wonder that Brett Lee could therefore send down 95mph outswingers. Strauss got his third bad decision in a row, but as a batsman, you will pay the price for padding up without offering a shot.
And so to day 4. I don't see how England can do it. If Cook and Bell can put on 300 and take it to 350-1 at the close, then there might be a contest. If not, then I see England getting out for between 200-300 depending on just how intent Australia are on delivering a humiliation.

England vs Australia T3D2: Monty and Harmy Take Two

Well, who would have thought that after taking 9 wickets between them on the first day, it would be Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison who provided England their best partnership with the bat as well!

My overnight prediction appeared to be bang on target until these two somehow contrived to add 40 in 10 overs for the tenth wicket. I say contrived, but they deserve credit for some great cricketing shots, most notably Monty's cracking straight drive for four.

Unfortunately for England supporters, although the day had it's twists, the end result was that Australia cemented their position of control, and set themselves up for a terrifyingly big day tomorrow. Hayden and Ponting had a couple of close shaves each, but with both unbeaten on 57 at the close, you wouldn't bet against Australia racking up a lead of 500 tomorrow, and possibly even batting into day 4. England's struggle now is that only Monty Panesar looks likely to take a wicket, and he can't do it single handedly in his first Ashes Test!

I managed to snag a great seat again this morning, having shown up a little earlier to get in the queue. My neighbour for the day was a fascinating gentleman who was a 60 year WACA veteran, with awesome stories to tell in great detail about cricket and cricketers on and off the pitch. The two highlights of his viewing career appeared to be Barry Richards scoring 300 in a day, and Sunny GasGiver (his words, not mine) getting out twice in the same session one morning.

The other non-cricketing highlight of the day would have been seeing Tony Greig get sledged in the toilet by a patron, after the commentator had kindly helped out another man who was having some toilet paper problems. Got to say, Tony appeared to take it very well.

The cricket itself wasn't quite the perfect day of Test cricket of the previous day, perhaps because England didn't have a Mike Hussey to impress me. Sure, Kevin Pietersen doggedly made his way to 70, but it didn't have the same stamp of class over it at all.

What did come out was that my contention that England really need to play 6+1+4 was proven out once again. In fact, the ABC Grandstand commentators suggested the same thing at the end of the day - perhaps they've been reading the blog in the spare time!

Andrew Strauss certainly got a poor decision, but none of the batsmen looked interested in sticking around or gritting it out as Hussey had done, and the Australian bowling juggernaut was relentless, with every ball pitched in the right spot and causing problems. Even Andy Symonds got in on the act, taking two cheap wickets, including that of the quite pathetic Geraint Jones.

While I'm mentioning Symonds, I have to call out his stupendous performance in the field. His batting is not temperamentally up to scratch, but the man has got to be saving 20-30 runs per innings in the field, and given his ability as a bowling option, it may well be worth giving him a bit of a run in the side.

The atmosphere in the ground was much improved today. The Aussies in the crowd tend to get going when their men are steaming in, and the Barmy Army used the Panesar-Harmison partnership as an opportunity to get their own in.

England did much the same, taking some of that momentum and sending Justin Langer back to the pavilion as a contributor to the Primary Club, but they simply couldn't carry on from there. Frankly, I lay some of that blame at the feet (and hands) of an iffy keeper. The pressure is clearly writ over Jones' face, and if Fletcher likes him as much as he apparently does, he needs to get him out of there as soon as possible.

Panesar looks the only bowler worth a wicket. He had Hayden missed by Jones (and Collingwood off the same delivery), and had Ponting edging inches short of first slip. If England are to salvage anything from this game, they need to make the half chances count, and someone other than Panesar needs to step up and create opportunities. Frankly, I don't see who it could be, and I think Australia have every chance of establishing a 500 run lead and batting till lunch on day 4.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

England vs Australia T3D1: Monty and Harmy

Now that's what I call Test Cricket. This was exactly what it should be all about. And it started with the pitch - which offered a touch of pace and bounce for the bowlers, along with some non-extravagant turn. A capacity crowd, on a near-perfect day weather wise, enjoyed some class batsmanship, quality spin bowling, and even some good seam bowling under blue skies and a light breeze.

Contrary to popular belief, I think Australia actually ended the day on top. My rationale is simple - England don't have a lot of batting at all, given that the tail really starts with Flintoff in his current form. The wickets of Cook and Bell have set them back a long way, and I suspect it will take something special for them to get near Australia's score, given the way the Aussies have bowled thus far.

I was at the ground at 5:20am, thinking that I'd be near the front of the member's queue to get in. No such luck. The crowds had started coming in at 4am as it turned out, and I was probably about a thousand people back, and that's not counting the priority queue for loyal (40 consecutive years) members and others.

Once I got into the ground at 7:45am, I was lucky enough to find a single seat in a perfect position, right behind the bowlers arm on the second level of the Lillee-Marsh stand, just in front of the press box and below the TV/Radio box.

The day started with the singing of the national anthems, the most interesting part of which was the 'special appearance' of Graham Mackenzie and Geoff Boycott, who bowled and faced the first Test match delivery at the WACA 36 years ago. The outfield looked fantastic, and the binoculars revealed that the pitch was apparently a hard one, but clearly with some moisture in it to help the bowlers.

Australia won the toss and batted, and Langer and Hayden, both having quiet series' thus far, looked as if they were going to take control, despite a typically impressive opening spell from Hoggard. Harmison was as wayward as ever to begin with, but the complexion of the game changed completely when Hoggard had Hayden caught behind, and then out of the blue, Harmison trapped Ricky Ponting bang in front.

You could see the realisation suddenly dawn on England that they truly were in this contest. Harmison was a man transformed - not near his best, but the radar switched on, then length shortened up, and he reverted to type, doing his Curtly Ambrose impressions.

The story of the day, of course, was Monty Panesar. He showed himself to be a top quality spinner, and the only batsmen to play him confidently, Symonds little assault notwithstanding, were Clarke, and to a lesser extent, Hussey. Panesar's 5 wickets were well deserved, his dismissal of Symonds being particularly impressive given that he had been hit for two massive sixes in the previous over. The entire crowd enjoyed his boyish enthusiasm - in an age of automaton cricketers, it is lovely to see someone who genuinely relishes every moment out there on the field.

Other bits of interest during the day:
  • Flintoff looked lost at times, unsure how or where to place his field. It was interesting to note that Geraint Jones often made decisions with regard to field placing, adding credence to the strong rumour that Jones is an advisor to the team selection committee on tour! One wag in the members politely enquired, to the amusement of all around him, whether he should call Michael Vaughan to get an opinion on what to do next.
  • The over-rate was terrible, even with the spinner on. It'll be interesting to see what fines, if any, are imposed.
  • Apparently daylight saving time, recently introduced in Western Australia, is a terrible thing, because it causes curtains and carpets to fade. Okay, that's not cricket related, but I overheard someone complaining about this, and thought it was worth a mention :-)
  • Geraint Jones' keeping was shoddy, at best. He dropped a couple of catches, fumbled a few non-catches, and nearly dropped Symonds before holding on at the second attempt. It is beyond comprehension how he manages to retain his place ahead of Chris Read, particularly given that his batting is a disaster these days as well.
  • Australia's dismissal of Cook was brilliantly engineered - Ponting and McGrath had a long discussion, moved Justin Langer to a very carefully positioned second gully, and he dutifully took the catch which went straight to him 2 balls later. That spoke volumes about just how good a bowler Glenn McGrath really is.
  • And he's not even Australia's best bowler. Stewart Clark quite simply blew me away with his over to Collingwood, in which he beat and found the outside edge about 10 times in six deliveries, or so it seemed.
  • How good is Mike Hussey? I posted about Dravid and Ponting the other day. Hussey is making a damn good case to be added to that list.

At the end of the day, as I said, Australia are on top, having taken two key wickets, and I think England will struggle to make 200 tomorrow, if Australia bowl as well as they did tonight.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Legends 20/20 - England vs Australia

Just some quick notes/observations:
  • I was stunned to see 18 thousand people crammed into the WACA for this game.
  • Even more amazed to hear a kid over the PA system announce that the only two players he had heard of were Kim Hughes and Rodney Hogg. Not Lillee, Botham, Marsh, Alderman, Merv Hughes, Gatting or any of the others
  • For the most part, the cricket was decidedly mediocre, with a couple of notable exceptions
  • Lillee getting Gatting caught behind for a duck with a little outswinger was brilliant
  • Bruce Reid illustrated just what a great bowler he was - and if he'd had this physique when he played, he'd have got 400 Test wickets and been an all-time great.
  • Dean Jones is still a great fielder - every one of his throws from 70 yards was right over the bails... very few players currently playing could manage that

Some notes for the future:

  • The pitch being prepared for the Test (which was covered for protection today) looked, from a great distance, to be a good 2005/2006 style WACA batting track.
  • Tomorrow night, I've finagled my way into a dinner with Merv Hughes - what more could someone ask for in life?
  • That late night is going to be followed by a 4:30am start to get near the front of the member's queue and snag a good seat with a view of pitch #4 from behind the right-arm-over bowlers arm.

Monday, December 11, 2006

England vs Western Australia: Day Two

This one will be brief, since I'm still stuck with dial-up Internet access, and frankly, there wasn't an awful lot worth saying about the second day of this practice match.

Most of the entertainment was provided by the radio commentators, including Kim Hughes and Terry Alderman. When Strauss was finally dismissed, Geraint Jones walked in, a right-hander, only to be identified on the radio as Ed Joyce. When Joyce, a left-hander, walked in to face the hat-trick delivery, he was identified as Chris Read, who of course, is a right-hander. Superb preparation that.

Read did his cause no harm with a positive half-century, quite a contrast to Jones' golden duck. Not clear to me, however, that it was enough - sending Jones out at number 3 seemed to suggest that he was inked in for the 3rd Test.

The crowd were disappointed that Michael Vaughan didn't come out to bat, but this really wasn't surprising, given that he was never going to play in the Test. I suspect he only got a run out because England wanted to rest a few key players.

On the Australian side, it is really a question of whether Adam Voges or Andrew Symonds will replace the now-retired Damien Martyn. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Symonds will get the nod. However, a very reliably placed source indicates that Voges is a serious chance to make his debut on Thursday. His elevation to the Test squad ahead of his own compatriots Rogers and North owes much to his right-handedness. His chances of making the final XI rest on whether the selectors take the like-for-like approach the full distance.

More than I intended to say already - I'm off to the Legends 20-20 game tomorrow, hoping to see the legend that is Merv Hughes in the flesh one last time!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

England vs Western Australia: Day One

I woke this morning to the news that Damien Martyn had announced his retirement with immediate effect. His time had probably come, but you had to think he would have retained his place for the remainder of this series. One can only wonder what went on behind the scenes.

In any case, it was off bright and early to the WACA to see England take on the Retrovision Warriors, also known as Western Australia, in a 2-day, non-first-class fixture. I had a few goals in mind for the day:

1. To cast my discerning eye over the batting of Adam Voges, whom I know next to nothing about.

2. To watch Monty Panesar and Chris Read demonstrate why they should be playing in the Test next week.

3. To see the allegedly flat Perth track first hand

4. To pick my seats for the Test, and figure out what the competition for them from other WACA members would be like.

The day started well enough, despite an unintended detour as a result of a bad navigational decision on the way to the Members entrance. Gates were due to open at 10am, and I was there with well over a minute to spare. Surprisingly, there were only about 200 members (and/or guests) waiting to be admitted into the ground.

I made my way to the top of the Lillee-Marsh stand, and picked a spot two seats to the left of middle stump - about as good a view of a game of cricket as one can get. It soon emerged that WA had won the toss and elected to bat, which suited my objectives perfectly.

As I listened to a gentleman behind me agonize over whether to take his MCC tie out of his pocket and put it on, I realized that my presence in the stand was a statistical anomaly in more ways than one. I was both lowering the average age from about 60 to somewhere nearer 59.8 (I can only do so much as one out of 200), and I was darkening the average skin tone a few shades. To be fair, I did get some help from some youngsters later in the afternoon with the former, but the only thing redressing the balance on the pigmentation front was the sun.

England's bowling attack suggested that a bowl-off was on the cards. With Hoggard and Flintoff rested, it was a battle between Giles and Panesar, and another between Mahmood, Harmison and Anderson. If you ask me, there were clear winners and losers in both cases, but as we all know, the England management may not see it the same way.

Jimmy Anderson started off very nicely, swinging the ball into left-hander Chris Rogers, and then turning him inside out with one that went the other way. Harmison at the other end was not getting the ball to deviate at all, and appeared to be bowling everywhere but straight. It was no surprise when Anderson eventually got Dave Bandy to edge one behind to Chris Read, and it was perhaps even less of a surprise in the next over when Harmison found Rogers' edge, only for Ashley Giles to spill an absolute sitter at 2nd slip. The members certainly had a good little titter at that one - at least, those who were able to draw their gaze away from their knitting did.

The remainder of the morning session was quite dull. Anderson had bowled impressively, but Harmison was poor, and Mahmood, struggling with his length, was only slightly better. At least, I thought it was Sajid Mahmood bowling from one end, but the know-it-all to my left didn't agree - he was quite insistent that it was in fact Michael Vaughan on the comeback trail. Perhaps there should be a qualification examination for cricket association membership.

The entertainment level picked up after the lunch break, thanks largely to the steward at the player's gate, whose attempt to underarm the ball back to the fielder at third-man nearly knocked out a napping spectator some 15 rows back. I shouldn't laugh though - many years ago I was umpiring at square leg, wearing a good old-fashioned umpire's coat, when the spare ball in my pocket was required. I attempted to underarm it to the bowler, and instead sent it over my head to the boundary behind me. It can happen to the best and worst of us.

The rest of the day hammered home a few hard truths. Steve Harmison finished with 1-99, and was deliberately taken off after just 3 overs with the new ball to avoid conceding a century. Sajjid Mahmood came back to bowl an excellent second spell, and picked up two wickets, one of them courtesy a tremendous low diving catch by Chris Read. I suspect Mahmood may pick up an England cap to go with it next week, should England want to field four pacemen.

Monty Panesar proved himself to be a class above Ashley Giles, not just with the ball, but in the field. Giles ended the day with a dropped catch; Panesar with a dramatic direct hit run out after swooping down from mid-wicket. Both were also a little bruised after they collided with each other in the field on one occasion - you can speculate ad nauseum as to which was trying to take the other out of contention.

But what of my objectives for the day?

1. Adam Voges looked like a solid, compact batsman, who like all WA players, enjoys the short stuff. He was outshone on the day though, by Luke Pomersbach (aka Luke Pommiesbasher), whose unbeaten 90-odd included one breathtaking pull for six off Anderson.

2a. Monty Panesar surely bowled himself into the Test match, unless he gets banned for dissent after snatching his sweater from the umpire when an edge to slip was turned down. He only got one wicket, but created numerous chances, and on another day would have had 3 or 4. Flintoff, Hoggard and Anderson will certainly play, and I think it will be Panesar and one of Mahmood or Giles for the final bowling spots.

2b. Chris Read continues to look a class above Geraint Jones, but you have to wonder if his missed stumping off Panesar will cost him a return to the side.

3. This is not quite a flat-track, but it's not the Perth of the 1980s and even 1990s either.

4. It transpires that the keenest members will be queuing up at 5:30am on the Test match days in order to secure their preferred seats. The gates open at 7:30am, and the Test starts at 11:30am. If you have any suggestions as to what I can do for those 6 hours, please let me know.