How I Won The Ashes 5th Newsletter 10 January 2010

The Ashes

The Ashes

10 January 2010

Hello and welcome to the fifth edition of How I Won The Ashes, the first of 2010.

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!

A belated Happy New Year to you all. I’m sorry that this week’s offering is later than usual, but it’s been a surprisingly busy week and there’s also been quite a bit on which to reflect.

On the advice of friends, I have also turned this into an online blog. If you click on

 https://howiwontheashes.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/how-i-won-the-ashes-5th-newsletter-10-january-2010/

you can go to different parts of the content by way of a simple click on the relevant bullet point. I had some feedback that, for example, some people weren’t that interested in New Zealand v Pakistan.  Fair enough, but you would be missing reflections on some enthralling cricket.

The last time I wrote was 18 December 2009 and a fair bit has happened since then, as all you cricket lovers know.  It’s going to be hard for me to offer more than the high quality coverage of the events in South Africa.  The test match in Sydney between Australia and Pakistan deserves a mention, too.  I will do my best. There’s quite a bit to comment on, so this will be longer than usual.

I see that after the great escape of Cape Town, the media are waxing lyrical about the joys of test cricket.  They are entirely right to do so.  Some commentators have urged the Indian Cricket Board to take heed of what happened at Pretoria, Sydney and Cape Town and ask them to compare the excitement and intrigue generated in those matches compared to yet another 20:20 or one day international.  I would equally urge them, and the nincompoops who run the game of cricket in the UK, to think again about scheduling so much one day cricket.  The best article on this subject was by Simon Barnes, who gave test cricket a wonderfully eloquent write-up, showing it as the one its followers appreciate the most.  Unfortunately, he gloomily concludes that the money-grasping administrators couldn’t give a monkeys about keeping the game’s followers happy.  Too true, I fear.

Test cricket is the lifeblood of the game.  I can feel somewhat smug, after reading the coverage following England’s escape in Cape Town,  that I wrote about this before such a gripping test series, that I predicted that it would be a very closely fought contest and that it would not be decided until the final match in Johannesburg.  See the first edition of How I Won The Ashes on 27 November 2009 and the second edition on 4 December 2009. But I could not have known how dramatic this series would actually have turned out.
 
Below is what I will be covering this week:

• Click meAftermath of Pretoria and thoughts on South Africans playing for England

• Click meDurban

• Click meMichael Vaughan as a commentator

• Click meThe best English bowling attacks

• Click meCape Town

• Click meAustralia v Pakistan, Melbourne 2009 / Sydney 2010

• Click meOn this day – 10 January 1973, Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Sydney

See?Aftermath of Pretoria and thoughts on South Africans playing for England

As I’ve said previously, drawn Test matches can be as interesting as dramatic wins.  The final session at Pretoria proved that conclusively, as did Cape Town.  Pretoria was an absorbing match from the start, with neither side able to land the killer blow. There were different stages throughout the match when this might have happened, not least in the last few minutes when South Africa found themselves one wicket from a win that had seemed unlikely a couple of hours earlier.  However, on the previous day, South Africa were leading by less than 100 in their second innings, with Smith, Kallis and Prince all back in the hutch. If they could have got either Amla or de Villiers early, England might have found themselves chasing a target rather than batting to escape with a draw on the last day. The final over being taken by a No. 11 was wonderful drama, the understated clenched fist from Graham Onions as he blocked the final ball demonstrating the confidence that appears to be growing in this England team.

That seems strange when a certain draw almost turned into defeat, the collapse catalysed by Kevin Pietersen’s suicidal run when it was neither on nor necessary.  Then Trott, having been so solid, edged one to slip and the floodgates were wide open. To be fair to Trott, the new ball had always been a threat throughout the match. Mark Boucher’s aggressive innings late on the 4th day had given Smith the luxury of declaring with enough time to have a meaningful number of overs with it late on the last day. So there was always a danger that South African would get a last chance, which they almost grasped.

Having been at the Oval for the last day of the 2005 Ashes series, I am prepared to forgive Kevin Pietersen anything, such was his astounding batting.  He does, though, have a demon in him that causes him to do the most stupid things at the unlikeliest moments, and they often breathe life back into opponents’ flagging ambitions (think Edgbaston 2008, Kingston 2009, Cardiff 2009).  Great batsmen are encouraged to play their natural game, as Pietersen did to such effect in 2005. A timid approach on the final day at the Oval in 2005 could well have seen Australia do what they managed in Adelaide 15 months later.  Adelaide was awful enough, but a loss on the final day at the Oval would have broken the entire nation. Sometimes, though, Pietersen seems oblivious to the match situation and fails to recognise that another two hours of sensible, risk free batting could put the match out of his opponents’ reach.  He is clearly a good enough player to dominate all bowlers.

Rushes of blood are not an issue with Jonathan Trott, who looks well suited to the number 3 slot but still owes us a really big innings in this series.  He didn’t contribute much in Durban, except that Morne Morkel was on fire on the evening of the second day and he survived that ordeal when many others might have wilted. His batting on the last day in Pretoria was exemplary and there was a great photo taken of him playing an off drive which showed technique, solidity and style in equal measure.

Which brings up the boring debate of South Africans playing for England.  I say “boring” because it really is a non-issue.  The system allows these guys to play for England, so let them play.  They are good enough, so let them play. People can complain all they like; but if there is no-one born and bred within these shores who is better, maybe they should start worrying instead about why that is the case.  If more people took this seriously and did something about it (see previous editions, especially How I Won The Ashes 11 December 2009), players such as Trott and Pietersen would find it harder to get selected for our national team. 

What is ironic is that, of all England’s batsmen, it is Pietersen and Trott who have contributed the least in the current series in the country of their birth, apart from their partnership on the last day in Pretoria. Therefore, a long term goal would be to see domestically born and bred players not good enough to get into the England team trying their luck abroad and being selected for other countries.  Maybe in my grandchildren’s lifetime…top

See?Durban

Not much to say on this because England were simply awesome.  Durban test matches have a habit of changing character, especially on the third day.  Last time England played South Africa at Kingsmead in 2004, the game looked like it would finish as a low scoring affair inside four days, when 15 wickets had fallen before lunch on the second day.  Jacques Kallis then guided South Africa to a massive lead and things looked bleak for England. However, Marcus Trescothick (if only he could still be an England opener) and Andrew Strauss batted throughout the third day and in the end it was South Africa clinging on for the draw, with Durban’s notorious early darkness ultimately robbing England of a famous victory.

This time around, the wickets tumbled at the end of the match. England proved once again that the best time to instigate a collapse is late in the day when the batting team are under pressure, especially when they have no chance of winning. When the clock works in your favour in this situation, you usually win.  When you can bully a fielding side on a hot day and then send them in to bat with a draw the best that they can hope for; when your bowlers are well rested and fired up, that alone is worth several wickets before the innings even begins. In 2004, England ran out of time. On this occasion, the sheer pressure they applied on the third and fourth days produced one of those fantasy sessions where  a wicket looked like falling every ball, Swann and Broad were simply irresistible and only the fading light and some typical Mark Boucher grit prevented Strauss from taking the extra half hour and finishing the game off inside four days.top

See?Michael Vaughan as a commentator

I have always loved Test Match Special and there a few stories below from the current series which show that they are as good as ever.  I followed a lot of the action in South Africa on the radio (no Sky at my in-laws) and I think Michael Vaughan is an excellent addition to the team.  He is both articulate and humorous; and he brings with him recent knowledge of the highest level of the game as well as the experience of being one of the great captains of our time. I have found his thoughts on both the immediate action and the broader issues of the game incisive, interesting and engaging. He has the ability to make all of us who would have loved to have played for England, but weren’t nearly good enough, feel what it is like to have done so; but not in the same patronising way as Geoff Boycott.

Boycott is an excellent pundit, but he seems to think that no-one who listens knows as much as he does about playing test cricket. He even adopts this view on his co-commentators, notably Jonathan Agnew, whom he constantly teases for his lack of ability as a batsman.  Aggers retaliates with sly digs.  A corker came during the Durban test, when Boycott remarked that he was looking forward to rubbing in Kevin Pietersen’s England status with a South African friend over a round of golf. “Ah’ll be shooer to meyke the point on every ‘ole, and over a glass of wine afterwards,” said Boycott. “Unlike you to go on about something, Geoffrey,” Agnew commented drily. 

At Cape Town, Boycott was complaining that for a forthcoming golf match, Tony Greig’s sister had insisted on not only playing to her full handicap but also on an additional two “courtesy” shots.  Boycott was indignant: “Coom on, that isn’t what they ‘ad in mind at St. Andrews.”  Agnew did him like a kipper: “But Geoffrey, you’d offer your seat to a lady on a bus, wouldn’t you?  This is no different.” “Course it’s different.  Ah’d offer me seat to a lady on a bus; but two extra shots in a round o’golf?  T’isn’t t’rules, they can get knotted.” Then Aggers delivered the coup de grace: “You’re still losing to Rachel [Boycott’s wife], aren’t you, Geoffrey?” Boycott at least acknowledged that he’d been done good and proper.

Another lovely moment during the Durban test was when Vic Marks said he had seen Steve James in the press box, looking very rough and feeling very sorry for himself.  When asked what he’d been up to the previous evening, he could only whisper: “Botham.” Enough said.

I must say, I was initially surprised about Michael Vaughan as a commentator, because while I admire him enormously as a player and as a captain, I found his own written account of the 2005 Ashes slightly disappointing.  Two things in particular seriously grated. The first was his reaction when Glenn McGrath trod on a cricket ball while playing touch rugby the morning before the 2nd Test at Edgbaston, sprained his ankle and missed the match. It was probably one of the most significant events of the summer. But in Vaughan’s words: “I didn’t think too much about it…” I find this faintly disingenuous.  In fact, I don’t believe it. The fact was that McGrath is almost certainly the greatest fast bowler ever to have played the game.  He had ripped England’s batting to shreds in the previous Test at Lords (apart from Pietersen); and it was no coincidence that the two games which England won in that series were the two games which McGrath missed.

Perhaps Vaughan himself didn’t want to make it appear significant, but it must have been a huge psychological boost for the rest of his team to see McGrath being carted off to hospital on the morning of the match, possibly unable to play for the rest of the summer. Ashley Giles is probably more truthful when he describes the England batsmen, who had been practicing on the other side of the ground, craning their necks and all staring in the same direction “like meerkats” at the sight of the stretcher carrying the stricken bowler away.  It’s a wonderful image and graphically conveys the significance of McGrath’s absence.

The other was his account of his 166 at Old Trafford in the 3rd Test at Old Trafford, a wonderful innings.  He talks about the motivation he got from seeing a disabled boy on the morning of the match. And he says that his innings helped England compile a commanding score. But he says nothing about the way he gout out.  The reality was that he was pasting all the bowling around the park and had 200 or more for the taking; but he went and hit a full toss off Simon Katich – a part time bowler, if ever there was one – down long-off’s throat.  He doesn’t even mention this in the book; and he then claims that Ricky Ponting, of all people, was wobbling the ball around and was the most difficult Australian bowler to face that first afternoon at Trent Bridge when he edged another part time bowler to the keeper when well set for another big score! No hint of embarrassment or regret at either dismissal.

Now that I have heard him speak on the radio, I will put this down to a very poor ghost writer, since there is no way Vaughan would think in those terms.  There was a particular passage of play when one of his comments was especially interesting.  It was late on the fourth day at Pretoria when there was speculation on the timing of the declaration.  Vaughan correctly predicted that Graeme Smith would want a healthy number of overs with the second new ball, which in the end almost won him the game. He also remarked that when he had been in a position to declare, he had done so in the knowledge that he usually had a formidable bowling attack at his disposal.top

See?The best English bowling attacks

This got me wondering that the English bowling attack in 2004 and 2005 might lay claim to being the best ever to play for England IN THE SAME TEAM. Hoggard, Harmison, Flintoff and Jones were, for those 18 months, as menacing a bowling unit as England can ever have fielded.  They must have been to scare that Australian team. In that company, Ashley Giles needed to do no more than tie up an end, although he actually did quite a bit more, especially when you remember that every Australian from nos. 1 to 8 got out to him at least once in the 2005 series. In terms of total combined wickets, though, they are not the winners (see below), although that is partly attributable to all of them ending their careers prematurely, especially the perennially injured Simon Jones, who only managed 17 test matches

I considered the competition and came up with four others.  I thought about the team that beat the West Indies in 2000: Caddick and Gough were at their peak, with Dominic Cork and Craig White (and, for one match, Matthew Hoggard) in support.  They did have the distinction of bowling the West Indies out for 54 at Lords and 61 at Leeds (not a great West Indies team, it has to be said, apart from Brian Lara.) But the best spinner at the time, Phil Tufnell, did not play, and neither Cork nor White were consistently successful as bowlers. In terms of combined career wickets, they total 902.

One which has serious claims was an attack of John Snow, a young Bob Willis, Peter Lever, Derek Underwood and Ray Illingworth (with Basil d’Oliveira also in the side), which murdered Australia in Sydney in early 1971, bundling them out for 116 in the 2nd innings to win the match by 299 runs. They went on to take the series 2-0, although Willis was not yet the great bowler he was later to become and Lever only took 41 wickets for England. 

For two matches in 1977, again against Australia, England had a fully fit Bob Willis approaching his peak, the measly Mike Hendrick, Ian Botham making his debut and swinging the ball like a magician, “Deadly” Derek Underwood and Tony Greig, who was both seamer and off spinner. England won both matches, and the series, comfortably. In the first of those matches (the 3rd Test at Trent Bridge), they also had Geoff Miller. In terms of combined test wickets over their careers, this attack wins the contest hands down, with 1,233 wickets (1,293 if you include Miller), compared with the 1971 vintage which boasts 1,034 wickets, but which probably offered more options to the captain.

The only other attack that came close was the 1955 team which took on South Africa at Lords: Statham, Trueman, Bailey, Titmus and Wardle, a combined career tally of 946 wickets. It was evidently quite a match, with England conceding a 1st innings lead of 171 but then setting South Africa 182 to win and bowling them out for 111, Statham taking 7 for 39. However, this particular combination of bowlers only ever played as a unit in that single match.  Statham, Trueman, Bailey, Wardle and Jim Laker did play together at Lords the following year against Australia, but England lost by 185 runs. It’s an interesting conundrum.  If you can do better than 1971, 1977 or 1955, let me know.top

See?Cape Town

An amazing game, yet another fabulous advertisement for test cricket.  It didn’t matter that the final session was a repeat of Centurion. Somehow it was far more emotional, not least because by avoiding defeat, England not only ensured they could not lose the series; but they also broke a trend that was threatening to become tedious by not losing at Newlands, as they had done in each of their previous tests matches there. Had South Africa taken the final wicket, they would have become only the ninth team to win a test after having lost by an innings in the previous one.  The eighth team to do so, of course, was England at the Oval last summer.

Graham Onions’ quiet clenched fist at Centurion as he saw out Makaya Ntini contrasted with his punching the air in delight against the backdrop of Table Mountain as Morne Morkel’s final ball of the match whistled harmlessly by. I will save the discussion on the review system, which came into play on the penultimate ball, until next week. But to repeat the point, any American who says that cricket is dull because you can go 5 days and still not get a result need only have watched the last hour of that match, or the one at Centurion, or Cardiff, to know that he is talking utter shit.

It would have been nice for England to have won in Cape Town and got another monkey off their backs, having finally won last summer at Lords against Australia for the first time since 1934.  It’s ironic that Graham Onions was the man who blocked out the final over to avoid defeat, because we would all have preferred him to have been a hero with the ball and take a 5-for.  It might well have turned out that way. In another example of how the game of cricket can love you one minute and then hate you the next, Graeme Swann, man of the matches at Centurion and Durban, dropped a dolly when Graeme Smith edged Onions’ first ball to him on the first morning.  Graham to Graeme, edged to Graeme, and dropped. 3G. So now they’re all endorsing mobiles, but the signal wasn’t there.

Had Swann taken that catch, Jacques Kallis, at his most vulnerable against a deviating new ball, would have been at the crease for eighth ball of the match rather than in the 26th over.  Those sorts of chances need to be taken, and though it was quickly forgotten when England bundled South Africa out for under 300 early on the second day, it could have been so much better had they been 1 for 2 with Smith dismissed cheaply.  As it was, Kallis kept South Africa in the game and England once again proved that their batsmen, even when there are six of them, can be brittle.  After that, they were always fighting to stay in the game and that they did so was down to some determined batting from Collingwood, Bell and, at the very end, Onions.

I’ll return to the whole issue of the six batsmen – five bowler conundrum next week.  It seems clear that England will stick with the six specialist batsmen for the time being.  Since Stuart Broad’s potential to be a proper No. 7 batsman remains unfulfilled, especially when under pressure, I guess they have to.  So I got that one wrong, just as I got it wrong about Bell. However, I’d really like Bell to play a proper match- turning innings.  He’s definitely got the game for it. He had a chance in the first innings at Cape Town. If only he could have seen it through to the end in the second.  If we had lost, that poke to slip when the finishing line was looming would have haunted him forever. And the long hop slapped to cover point when he was batting beautifully in the first innings did not help his cause either.top

See?Australia v Pakistan, Melbourne 2009 / Sydney 2010

A quick word on what has been going on in Australia.  It’s worth reading, because it’s been another great advertisement for test cricket. Pakistan, having competed strongly in New Zealand, were always going to find Australia a tougher proposition.  So it proved.  They need to get themselves a proper fielding coach, or do something to rectify this problem, because by my calculations, they have cost themselves close to a whole first innings score during this series through dropped catches. They also need some gumption in their tail end, because they keep losing matches by small margins and their lower order could make all the difference if only they could stand up to pressure the way the England lower order have been able to do.

At Melbourne Pakistan were always playing catch up against a strong Australian batting line up which posted 454 for 5, yet no batsman was able to get past 100. Shane Watson, in particular, seems addicted to the nineties.  In the first innings, it needed the third umpire to decide not whether a batsman was out, because they were both at one end when the bails were removed at the other; but WHICH batsman should depart. In the end, Watson was the one who was told to go and he wasn’t too happy, since he was on 93 and closing in on his first test century. In the second innings, he spent an age in the nineties and played out the last over before lunch on the fourth day on 98 not out without scoring. I don’t imagine he ate much.  After lunch, he took a similar eternity to score a single.  The nerves were clearly showing and on 99 he rasped a drive to cover point which should have been held, except that the fielder was true to form and spilled it.  Watson was able to take a single to take him to the magic 3 figures at last. It must have been high drama for those watching.

In the end Pakistan were beaten by 170 runs.  On the evening of the fourth day, Mohammed Yousuf and Umar Akmal were looking composed and solid and they might even have harboured hopes of chasing down a slightly arrogant declaration target of 422 set by Ricky Ponting.  But they were dashed by Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Hauritz, who both two wickets in two balls, Johnson’s in the first over of the last day.

It was Sydney 2010 which all Pakisatnis will think of in the same way as we English think of Adelaide 2006.  At Adelaide, England scored 551 in the first innings, had Australia over 150 behind at the start of the 4th day, yet found a way of losing. At Sydney last week, Pakistan bowled Australia out for 127, compiled a lead of over 200, had Australia only 80 ahead with 8 wickets down in the second innings at the start of the 4th day, yet allowed them to double the target into an awkward 176.  At 103 for 5, they were still favourites, yet they managed to collapse to 139 all out, 36 runs short: a famous victory for Australia, only the 6th time in the history of the game that a side had won after being more than 200 behind on the first innings

Pakistan cricket is in a dire state. Security in the country is so poor that their cricketers have to play all their matches abroad.  There is no structure, no organisation and no discipline.  It shows on the pitch.  They have some class players, and can win the 20:20 World Cup; yet some , like Shoaib Malik and Younis Kahn, are not even  in the current team. The defensive tactics adopted by Mohammed Yousuf on the 4th day at Sydney betrayed a lack of confidence.  He was playing as if he almost knew that Australia were capable of winning, even though they were effectively 80 for 8.  The Australians, on the other hand, approached it as if they believed they could win, even from such a hopeless position.  They were helped by the wicket-keeper, Kamran Akmal, dropping Mike Hussey no less than 4 times during his match wining century.  Some of those chances were quite straightforward.  Either Kamran Akmal is seriously incompetent behind the stumps, or there is something more sinister going on…top

See?On this day – 10 January 1973, Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Sydney

First, I’ll give you the answer to the two pieces of trivia asked last time relating to the test match played immediately before Christmas 1976 between England and India in Delhi. The two England players making their debuts were Graham Barlow, who scored a duck, unable to stop the great Bishen Bedi spinning a ball off his bat via his pad and into the hands of short leg. The other was John Lever, the Essex left armer, who scored 53 as a lower order batsman; and then swung the ball like a boomerang to take 7 wickets in India’s first innings and 3 in the second to finish the match – a unique introduction to test cricket.

This week, we go back to early January 1973, and to a match very similar to the one which just finished in Sydney.  History doesn’t often repeat itself, but it comes close in this case. Just like last week, Pakistan managed to lose a game at the SCG that was theirs for the taking.  They were never as far ahead as the current vintage were last week, but having gained a first innings lead of 26, they had Australia 101 for 8, only 75 ahead.  However, Australian tails often wag, and the last two wickets were able to muster another 83 runs. Even then, Pakistan still only needed 159 to win the match.  At 83 for 3, they were cruising.  But a collapse ensued, so often with a fourth innings target of under 200, and they ended up being bowled out for 106, losing by 52 runs.

Can you tell me who was the great Australian batsman who took 5 wickets in Pakistan’s first innings, the only time he achieved this? And which Australian bowler took 6 for 15 in 16 overs in the final innings to win the match?

Let’s look forward to an equally absorbing conclusion to a pulsating series in Johannesburg later this week.  Perhaps if test matches continue to be so exciting, the message will get through that it has to be preserved and promoted, regardless of the cost.

All the best.

Delenda est ECB.top

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