Ashes Review: Australia (Player by Player)

8 01 2011

Simon Katich (97 runs @ 24.25)

Unfortunately for Australia, Katich’s injury robbed them of perhaps their most consistent player over the past 18 months and some much needed solidity at the top of the order. Got starts in both games before being found out by a combination of Shane Watson’s running and the moving ball. Doubtful perhaps whether he will ever play again although Phil Hughes travails at the top of the order had most Australian’s wishing Katich was still there.

Rating: 5.5/10

Shane Watson (435 runs @48.33, 3 wickets @ 74.33)

Watson must be a frustrating character to have in the team you support. Obviously hugely talented, a fine stroke player and someone who rarely fails. Unfortunately Watson inhabits that middle ground though of not failing but never quite succeeding which, if Australia are honest, is one of the major reasons why their batting never quite fired. Openers are there to score hundreds and on this basis, despite Watson being Australia’s second most successful batsman, he shouldn’t be at the top of the order.

Surprisingly underused as a bowling option although this was as much to do this Australia’s strange selection policies rather than his skippers apathy towards his bowling. Watson is a very decent fourth seamer so why play four front line fast bowlers?!

Rating: 6.5/10

Phil Hughes (97 runs @ 16.16)

Hughes is not currently a test match opener. Against attacks who don’t swing the ball perhaps he might succeed, but any bowler who moves it off the straight will always find him out. Clearly talented and possesses a reasonable temperament so the rudimentary elements are there and it is paramount that Australia work with him. Struggled against Tremlett in particular and is surely going to be returned to state cricket for the foreseeable future.

Rating: 3/10

Ricky Ponting (113 runs @16.14)

We never thought we would see Ricky Ponting struggle against England as much as he did in this series. The pressure, his middling form and perhaps his age all contributed to a series performance which has perhaps meant the end of his career. Possible that lack of other options will continue to ensure he is picked but unlike the other modern great, Sachin Tendulkar, his time appears to be up.

Didn’t look in bad touch entirely as a number of rasping pull shots indicated and he habitually got to 10 or 12 before nicking Anderson or one of the other England bowlers to slip. The catch by Collingwood to dismiss him at Perth will live long in the memory.

Captaincy is always difficult when you’re under the cosh and this was no exception. Often appeared to run out of ideas and could perhaps have stood up for a better balanced side the MCG.

Rating: 3/10

Usman Khawaja (58 runs @ 29.00)

To hear the Australian press you would think a modern Don Bradman had been discovered. Whilst this is clearly over the top and a testimony to the paucity of good news for any Aussie supporter, he did look the part and should be around for some time. Confident, composed and with a lovely pull shot was one bright spot in the Sydney thumping.

Rating: 5/10

Michael Clarke (193 runs @ 21.44)

When your captain and vice-captain average 16 and 21 you know you’re in for a tough series. A shadow of the player he has been in the past and it looks like the scorn the Aussie media and fans alike show for him is finally getting to him. His one major innings came in a losing cause at Adelaide although it tells you all you need to know about his series when you consider a part timer, Pietersen, dismissed him off practically the last ball of the day to set up and England win the following morning.

Showed some good signs captaining initially with some interesting field placings and willingness to do things his own way but was eventually simply overwhelmed by the English juggernaut.

Rating: 3/10

Michael Hussey (570 runs @ 63.33)

Brilliant for the first three tests, it was astonishing to think that Hussey was on the verge of being dropped at the beginning of the series. Almost singlehandedly kept Australia in it in the early stages of the Ashes and his partnership with Haddin at the Gabba was a once in a career performance whilst his hundred at Perth set up the win for the Aussies. The problem is that no one else supported him.

Rating: 8/10

Marcus North (49 runs @ 16.33)

Finally dropped despite scoring very few runs for some time. Probably not a test player on balance as despite his hundreds he scores too many innings below 10. Useful bowling and on that basis alone could have probably played instead of Xavier Doherty.

Rating: 2/10

Steven Smith (159 runs @ 51.80, 0 wickets)

Australia used to laugh at the English when they selected a bit part player but now the boot is on the other foot. Clearly not a number six player due to a technique with more holes in than your average sieve, he looked more comfortable when at seven. The fact that he then was hardly bowled suggest that Australia would have probably been better off without him in the team. Selecting a specialist batsmen at number 7 is something that not many sides do after all…

Rating: 2/10

Brad Haddin

The one player that would possibly get into England’s side on a form basis although even his contributions tailed off by the middle of the series. An excellent hundred at the Gabba and some uncomplicated wicket keeping mean that he, like Hussey, was one of the few who could put their hand up and say they contributed. Latterly, Australia’s vice captain as well.

Rating: 7/10

Mitchell Johnson (122 runs @ 17.42, 15 wickets @ 36.93)

If Johnson could reverse the averages achieved for batting and bowling he would be a devastating all rounder indeed. Chronically inconsistent he is undoubtedly the Australian version of Steve Harmison – someone who when on song is an incredibly dangerous player but, sadly, is rarely on song. His spell in Perth won the match and was reminiscent of Wasim Akram at his best and, even when bowling poorly, still has the habit of picking up the odd wicket here or there. Unfortunately this is negated by the fact he is going for over four an over.

Rating: 5.5/10

Peter Siddle (14 wickets @ 34.57)

Workmanlike, ever willing but only occasionally dangerous, Siddle was nevertheless probably Australia’s best bowler. A memorable hat trick at the Gabba followed by six wickets at the MCG, he only took two other wickets outside of these two venues. Solid lower order batting of the best annoying tail end variety his efforts were ultimately not nearly enough.

Rating: 6.5/10

Ryan Harris (11 wickets @ 25.54)

Harris is a bowler who appears to be without much about him yet was in his three games prior to injury, was undoubtedly Australia’s best and most consistent bowler. Hurried England’s batsman and moved it enough to be a threat. Will want to forget his King Pair in Adelaide though.

Rating: 7.5/10

Ben Hilfenhaus (7 wickets @ 59.28)

Despite taking a wicket with the third ball of the series, Hilfenhaus consistently struggled. Little swing and not a great deal of pace meant that in spite of his consistency (his economy rate was 2.62 in four games) he was ineffective all series long.

Rating: 2/10

Doug Bollinger (1 wicket @ 130.00)

Someone we feel who was a victim of the selectors ridiculous whims and was clearly unfit at Adelaide. When totally match fit someone we feel who is still amongst the best four bowlers Australia have.

Rating: 1/10

Xavier Doherty (3 wickets @ 102)

Remember him? It seems an age ago now, but Doherty was flawed pick right from the start. An appalling first class record was not belied by his performances and his time is unlikely to come again. Did get KP out – on 227.

Rating: 2/10

Michael Beer (1 wicket @ 112)

The man whose name inspired a thousand awful puns and was another ridiculous pick by the selectors. With only five first class games under his belt he did at least look better than Doherty, yet may quickly find himself on the scrap heap anyway. Still someone who is not going to run through a side.

Rating: 2/10





The Ashes Are On But It’s Not All Bad For England

19 12 2010

So much for almost having their fingers on the urn then!

England were outplayed in every department of this game, yet again finding the pacier, bouncier pitch of Perth not much to their liking. It is our considered opinion though that there is no reason to panic and that England remain, on balance, the finer of the two sides.

Before this test series started the general consensus was that it would be a close affair fought tooth and nail to the end. After the Adelaide induced hubris of the fans and pundits, if not the team themselves perhaps, and considering England’s track record of winning well only to follow up with a serious low soon afterwards, this result shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected.

The positive view point from England’s perspective is that it was a sharp, bitter taste of reality and a reminder that there is still much work to be done in this series. For Australia of course there were plenty of good things to take from this test. The astonishing return to form of Mitchell Johnson; the batting of Watson (not that he has ever failed exactly – just this time he scored more than his usual 50 odd) and of course the once again peerless batting of Michael Hussey. If Ricky Ponting is indeed out, there is no question as to who should replace him in the number three slot (and probably as captain) leaving a probable debutant at 5. Ryan Harris, too, bowled well in the second innings although scoreboard pressure and silly shots had ensured the fight had long gone out of England by the time he mopped up the tail.

The fact remains though that without Hussey and Johnson playing so extraordinarily well England would have likely been in this game still. The key for the rest of the series in Australia’s case is whether Johnson can maintain his form – something that his previous track record suggests might be tricky.

Hussey on the other hand appears to go on and on and at this rate will be in serious danger of breaking some longstanding records. England need a plan to him immediately and preferably one that doesn’t involve bowling a succession of short balls to feed his pull shot. They’ve proved he can pull like the best of them and, as England fans, we desperately don’t want to see anymore… In fact it’s a bit like Doherty’s dismissal of Pietersen in the Adelaide test – Hussey did get out to the short ball so, if it was a plan, it worked eventually – the problem was he had over a hundred by then.

Tremlett deserves praise albeit he was one of the main contributors to the short ball mania in the second innings and perhaps struggled a little at the left handers in the Australian side. Nevertheless it was still a hugely impressive comeback and one that is likely to have secured his place in the team for a while – potentially at the expense of Steve Finn.

Whilst he was inconsistent and expensive, Finn does have an uncanny knack for picking up wickets which is useful in any bowler. We would hesitate to drop him for Boxing Day at the MCG as some have suggested – he is after all the leading wicket taker on either side.

Looking ahead, there have been some calls by ex-players, Flintoff and Jonathan Agnew amongst them, to play five bowlers at the MCG as it is likely to be another bouncy result wicket. Considering the batting woes in this test we would hesitate to play a side along these lines as we think it could weaken what was already a major problem for England in this match. Despite the inconsistent performance of the bowlers in this test England still managed to take 20 wickets so we would suggest this isn’t really why England lost.

The possible swap, Bresnan for Collingwood is a non starter in our eyes. It is true that Collingwood contributed little with the bat, but I’m not sure who else would have taken that catch at slip off Ponting on the first day for one. As we saw someone describe him on Twitter, he is a cockroach of a cricketer and will surely score some runs at the MCG now that, once more, his place is under threat.

All things considered there is no need to panic, or indeed conversely get carried away on the Australian side. From England’s point of view the plan should be simple: Namely, get Hussey out early and bat better. If they can do this there is no reason why they shouldn’t wrap things up in Melbourne.





The Gabba, Day 5: More of the same please!

29 11 2010

England 260 & 517-1 drew with Australia 481 & 107-1

Well done Alistair Cook. Well done Andrew Strauss. Well done Jonathan Trott.

What a scorecard! (Just in case you have forgotten – here it is writ large…)

Perfection.

Through the dark days of the ‘90’s and early 2000’s we dreamt of waking up to see a scorecard along these lines and, whilst it wasn’t topped off with a win, it was worth the wait! That it came in Australia only serves to make it all the sweeter as deep down, behind most of the cautious and wildly optimistic, every Englishman would own up to a crawling, sneaking worry in their guts that things hadn’t changed. Now, with one of those draws that feels a bit like a win under their belts, and a clear demonstration of what our heads, if not our hearts, already knew those latent fears have been assuaged.

Yes it is true that it was Australia in a winning position on Saturday morning and, realistically, England never had much of a shot at it but, despite all this, it will be England who are feeling happiest. In our opinion, this Ashes will probably come down to a combination of belief and having a settled side that knows their roles exactly. England have this but Australia only have one of those necessary components. We have little doubt that the Australians still believe they can win but it would be unlikely if they were to do that in amongst so much potential chopping and changing. Not, of course, that it is a given they will change players for Adelaide but, if we were a betting syndicate, we’d lay a lot of money on them changing two or perhaps even three.

Firstly, Bollinger has to come in for Johnson. Hardly a revolutionary statement but one which is so full of validity that it’s practically over flowing. Siddle has taken six wickets so he’s safe at least, Hilfenhaus was one of the few bowlers to look reasonable in India so we feel that it would be a mistake to drop him. Doherty of course is a spinner (more on whom in a minute) which leaves old Mitchell. Probably the biggest insult I could give him, although if reversed it could also be conceivable that it is a compliment, is that he is definitely the Australian Steve Harmison. On a good day devastating but sadly ineffective and leaking runs the rest of the time.

Doherty is the other who will be concerned although it would be unfair in the extreme to drop him immediately. The Australian spin bowling revolving door was not wedged shut by his performance at the Gabba, something that was hardly unexpected as he simply looked exactly what he is – an average state bowler whose not going to let anyone down but equally not going  to run through a test side on a fifth day pitch. We have heard some people mention the possibility of two spinners at Adelaide in which case Hauritz might come back but all this would achieve is to make the Australian selectors look stupid. They got two of their selection calls right – Hussey and Siddle – but remain as confused as ever about the third.

Inevitably it is Marcus North who is the batsman (or bowling all rounder as someone wittily put it) under pressure but, with the squad for the second test already announced, and with only 6 front line batsman in it, it is safe to say he will play. There is a chance that Doherty could be dropped and North could provide the spin option (a suggestion that is not that foolish as North has a better first class record than Australia’s premier spinner…) but this would not satisfy most Australians who want to see him cast out forever, never to return.

From England’s point of view it is easy. Same side again and, providing England can deliver upfront a little better, it could well be happy days for English fans. With a bit more luck Anderson and company will be in business and if this happens – well, Australia are there for the taking.

Mind you – Australia will be saying they were the ones that were in the winning position and, therefore, it’s England who are there for the taking….

Thoughts please!

 





The Gabba, Day 4: Trials and Tribulations

28 11 2010

This test has, for many reasons, epitomised why it is we love test cricket over all other forms of this wonderful game. No single match of 20 or 50 over cricket would be able to bring us through the full gamut of emotions with such regularity and intensity of feeling.

In this test match England fans alone have been given a large dose of disappointment as England folded on the first day; a healthy dose of optimism as England fought back with some excellent bowling and were one dropped catch away from having Australia 143-6; a growing sense of pessimism which eventually turned to downright dismay as Haddin and Hussey ground England’s chances of winning into dust and ensured the spectre of defeat loomed large; and then, today, the sense of imminent defeat and the accompanying gloom gradually giving way, via a strong sense of disbelief, to optimism and a certain joie de vivre as Strauss and Cook piled on the runs. All of this liberally garnished to add spice with a potent mix of tension and passion.

In short – just another Ashes test…

Due to other commitments – namely catching up on sleep following three 4 am starts for the cricket – we didn’t write an update for day 3 yesterday, although, to tell the truth, this was also as much to do with the aforementioned ‘dismay’ we were also feeling as anything else. Today with the threat of immediate defeat removed and a later alarm clock time set, we are feeling much more eloquent.

Firstly though a quick mention for Haddin and Hussey who played two of the finest Ashes innings we have ever seen. Coming in under severe pressure both players were solid from the off with Hussey in particular looking in exceptional touch. As was the way with England today, the luck was with them from throughout their sojourn at the crease and, despite some brilliant bowling from Anderson in particular, they fought through and ensured that the game then on was out of England’s reach.

That the situation has been, if not reversed, certainly made a whole more palatable for England was down to some further excellent batting from Strauss and Cook plus able support from Trott. Both openers scored hundreds – apparently the first time in the same innings since before the war which seems like an amazing stat – on a pitch which is clearly getting easier for batting.

England are not out the woods yet by any means, but, providing they do not lose quick wickets in the morning, can even put Australia under pressure in the afternoon. A lead of 250 just after lunch for example with perhaps 50 overs for Australia to survive, would be a good way of reasserting themselves in this series. After all – take a couple of quick wickets and you never know what might happen in this game…





The Gabba, Day 2

26 11 2010

Score: England 260 Australia 220-5

Before the series started almost everyone, bar, perhaps, a few Aussies living in the past and predicting a whitewash, expected this series to be tight and particularly difficult to predict. After the first day during which a Peter Siddle inspired Aussie side blew England away for a below par 260, the old sense that perhaps things hadn’t actually changed down under had reasserted itself in some quarters.

That feeling grew for the first hour or so of the morning session as Watson and Katich accumulated in a relatively untroubled fashion. A couple or referrals later, both going the way of the Aussies and England were visibly getting frustrated. Anderson who was by now in the middle of an excellent spell and was regularly troubling both openers finally made the breakthrough, having Watson caught behind. For the next couple of hours it was all England.

Cricket, like any other sport, is a game where that unquantifiable but potent force called ‘momentum’ has a large say in proceedings. Suddenly England were bowling brilliantly – not giving the batsman chances to score whilst also regularly beating the bat. As is often the way when the force is with you England then enjoyed some luck with Ponting being caught behind down the leg side. Never a good way to go for any batsman being as it is a particularly unlucky and unlikely way to be dismissed but, as they say, its just cricket.

Since then some really quite exceptional batting from Hussey with dogged support from Haddin has got the Aussies back into the driving seat but the feeling remains that this test could still go either way. Here are our thoughts for the day in no particular order:

Hussey: A simply brilliant display from the under pressure veteran. He was clearly seeing the ball so early that he was managing to pull balls that weren’t even particularly short. Timed the ball so immaculately that the vast majority of his runs have come in boundaries and in some ways England won’t be displeased to have left the field knowing they have a new ball and he has to start again in the morning. This could be the decisive innings of the test and if he manages another 50-70 runs it could be enough to win the game for Australia.

Swann: His battle with Hussey was good to watch although it has to be said that the Australian got the better of him. Did well however to pull things back with his last 16 overs going for only 25 runs. Got North in classic off spinners dismissal of a left hander.

Anderson: It looks like the Lancastrian has truly finally grown up and learnt how to bowl when the balls not doing much. It is true his record has improved dramatically over the past couple of years but doubts remained in Australia. Today’s performance has gone a long way to answering his critics although another two or three wickets in quick time wouldn’t hurt tomorrow morning. Bowled more balls that went past the outside edge than almost anyone we have ever seen.

Clarke: Not a pretty display and was responsible for playing and missing at Anderson at least seven or eight times. Scratched around and was given a working over by Broad with some short pitched bowling. Forget Ponting being vulnerable to the short ball – it looks like this could be a profitable tactic against the vice captain as well.

Finn: Reasonable with some excellent balls and overs mixed in with the odd pressure relieving short and wide four ball. Two important wickets though and plenty more to come from the giant Middlesex man. Good pace and excellent athleticism.

North: It would be a joy to all English fans if Hilditch and company keep selecting Mr. North. Providing you don’t let him get past twenty odd – he’s not dangerous.

What About Tomorrow?

England need quick wickets but are far from out of this. Australia have half a head’s lead and all depends on Hussey, Haddin and Johnson. Get two of these three out quickly and it could be even once more.

Australia will be very happy with a lead of 100 plus you would think, as, despite what the commentators are saying about the decent nature of the pitch – the fragility of the respective batting line ups mean that 100 runs would have a huge amount of value in what is promising to be a tight game.





Dingo’s Rant: An Aussie’s Ashes Predictions

24 11 2010

More from our increasingly nervous resident Aussie:

“The aim of English cricket is, in fact, mainly to beat Australia.” Jim Laker.

So here we go again.

A confident, conquering English cricket team struts into town to pour misery on an already sorrowful Aussie cricket team.

Hang on… I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s meant to read! How did it come to this? We all knew Australian cricket was on the slide – but being the underdogs against the pommies on home soil? It’s all too much to bear.

The Australian selectors have decided to stick with generally the same team that’s been continually losing for the past couple of years – some close games mind you – but losses none the less.

One small change to be noted; the left arm slow bowler, Xavier Doherty, comes in for Hauritz – assumedly, perhaps, because Kevin Pietersen has a knack of getting out to bowlers of this type. Besides, Hauritz was neither taking wickets, nor holding up an end or even getting runs with the bat. Other than that, of course, he was not doing a whole lot wrong.

Hussey has retained his spot. In days of old, senior players were retained during bad form; doing so to enable them to retire gracefully or with a bang, but, with world class players liberally dotted about the team – this was easy to do. A team of Waughs, Haydens and Gilchrists could be counted on to carry an out of form player. Hussey has never really done enough for the baggy green to deserve this favour and there’s simply not enough in form players around him to cover.

Luckily for him, his understudies have also not done enough to state unequivocally their cause. With both Ferguson and  Khawaja failing quite miserably in the Australia A versus England warm up match. So Hussey stays and North also gets another shot – much to the chagrin of most supporters.

Ponting gets older and so his inability to play the short ball, or anything aimed at the stumps, leaves him looking a little fragile. The openers at least look settled and should provide a few runs before the ball becomes worn and all batsmen become clueless against the guile and skill of England’s trump card, Graeme Swann.

This is where we’re hoping Clarke, crook back and all, will hopefully dance his way around the crease and gather a few crucial runs. He may not be well liked by the Australian public with his carefully manicured image grating on most people’s nerves, but If he wins us back the urn through his batting – we’ll let it slide!

Bollinger will take wickets as long as his toupee stays secure. Hilfenhaus will bowl. A lot. And Johnson will try to aim the ball somewhere near the batsmen and, once every 4 overs, will bowl that unplayable delivery that will either take a wicket or knock someone’s teeth out. He, along with Siddle, have said they feel Strauss is the key wicket and will target getting his wicket with a barrage short deliveries.

Two things here: First; why are we targeting just one player? Perhaps targeting all 11 would seem a better plan… Second; with the short balls being feasted on recently by the visiting Sri Lankans, maybe bowling stump to stump would be a little more productive? Especially at tail-enders against whom we have struggled recently.

So, getting down to it, here’s how I see it:

Most Wickets

With the abundance of rain recently England will feel a little more at home; the ball will probably even swing a bit so Broad will be a definite handful. However, Swann be the man and will continue to bamboozle the Australians and most probably take about 89 wickets. For Australia, Johnson will knock out most of the top order (retired hurt counts as a wicket in my eyes) so we’ll go with him.

Most runs

According to the great Shane Warne, unless England stroke KP’s ego, he’ll sulk his way into mediocrity. Alistair Cook is still rubbish and Strauss apparently will be the only player Australia targets, but, I think It’ll be Bell who finally steps up and nurdles his way to be England’s top run gatherer. For Australia – boy that’s tough…  I’m going to go with Clarke as long as his back holds up – he does have the temperament to get things done in tough conditions.

Who will get the Urn?

As for the outcome…  Well England have powered through their warm up matches. Everyone looks in good nick and the camp is full of confidence.

But – it’s not going to be their year. I’ll back Australia to come through. Their build up has been lackluster; their recent record abysmal; and every second man is carrying a niggle – but they’re at home; their backs are against the wall and we love a good fight. (I predict also it’ll be a wonderful fight!)

Australia 2-1.





The Hussey Delusion

9 11 2010

Greg Chappell and Andrew Hilditch are quoted in this article in the Daily Telegraph as suggesting that Mike Hussey’s place in the Australian batting line-up is safe ‘for the time being’. What they really mean of course is that, providing he scores at least 50, in one of the first three test matches he will see out the Ashes series – and in all likelihood only be dropped when he himself retires.

As English supporters we are thoroughly pleased to see him given this reassurance.An average of 33 and only 2 hundreds in the last couple of years suggests that when Hilditch gave Hussey of being a ‘great player’ for Australia he is totally unaware of the facts or simply unwilling to risk youngsters for a key series. Hussey was a great player (for maybe three years) but definitely not is.

Australia are undoubtedly a weaker side with Hussey in it but due to innate conservatism from the Australian selectors, things are unlikely to change soon. In days gone by an all star Aussie team could afford to carry a player while they waited for them to find the last vestiges of form and class – Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh’s lean periods are testimony to that. Yet today in a weakened side this is not the case and, had we been an Australian website, we would be fuming at his (and Marcus North’s) continued protection.

A damning thought that might illustrate to the selectors just how far he has fallen is that most English fans now regard Hussey in the same way as Australians do Alistair Cook. The problem with this view is that during the same period Cook averages 42 and has scored 6 hundreds – a far better effort than Hussey’s so the comparison is scarcely deserved. In fact Hussey’s record over this two year spell is similar to players such as Musfiqur Rahim, Travis Dowlin, Junaid Sidiqque and Martin Guptill – hardly greats of the modern game – despite what Andrew Hilditch may tell you.








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