First Test, Brisbane November 25, 2006

Leading Exponents

The Ashes embodies cricket's most traditional format: five five-day Tests played in white by daylight

The Ashes embodies cricket’s most traditional format: five five-day Tests played in white by daylight. Yet this has been fitted into a decidedly untraditional tour, the most anticipated series of modern times being shoehorned into six weeks, beginning with an unprecedented double header.

For the most part, this has been England’s problem, with only three second-class practice matches to prepare for back-to-back Tests - rather like trying to soup up a Go Kart to compete at the drag racing strip with the addition of some GT stripes. At the Gabba today, it became Australia’s, blessed with a first-innings lead of 445, but burdened with the choice of whether to enforce the follow-on.

Twelve years ago I was at the Gabba when Mark Taylor, with a lead of 259, and England’s openers Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart reaching for their pads, decided to bat again. Not quite the combination of Rommel and Mandela he later became, having not yet captained Australia to a Test victory, Taylor was roundly criticised for removing the Aussie boot from the pommie throat. In fact, he was probably ahead of the game. Not so long before he had enforced the follow-on against Pakistan at Rawalpindi and seen them bat Australia out of the game, Salim Malik putting his bat where his money had been with a masterful 237. Taylor reasoned that the eclipse of the rest day militated against bowling in consecutive innings, and also that his primo bowler, Warne, was advantaged by bowling on an older pitch – the whiz kid proved him right with his Test best 8-71. I remember Taylor confronted by one of his critics at the press conference afterwards, who insisted that England would have been psychologically destroyed by the follow-on. ‘Yeah,’ said the Tubmeister drolly. ‘I read that.’

What applied then applied trebly so in this Test. Reduced to four bowlers by the inclusion of Michael Clarke for the injured Shane Watson, Ponting would in choosing to bat again have been thinking ahead to the Adelaide Test that follows hot on this one’s heels. His four-man attack have a lot of hard yakka ahead – well, some anyway.

England would have been thinking ahead too. The first team to win a Test has been the team to take the Ashes in twenty-four of the thirty-one post-war series, and most of the seven comebacks were in an era when tours allowed space and scope to regroup after an initial defeat, 2005 being the glorious exception proving the rule. Even then the itinerary allowed nine days for England to regain its savoire faire. No such luck this time. Test cricket might be the longest of games, but England could be 2-0 down before it can draw a breath.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on November 28, 2006, 23:15 GMT

    Only just looked at this today, hence the late reply, but how Steve Waugh's decision to enforce the follow-on in Kolkata could be construed as a 'blunder' is beyond me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and that's exactly what saying it was a Steve Waugh blunder to enforce the follow-on stems from, as I don't believe anyone would reasonably have expected Laxman and Dravid to do that!! Rather than blame Steve Waugh how about a little accolade for a brilliant Indian partnership - Dravid repeated the performance in Adelaide a few years later.

    I also think too much is being made of the psychological impact of not enforcing the follow-on, but I am saying this with the advantage to the earlier posters having seen how it panned out. Surely if the Aussies had rolled through England for a second time would be a greater blow than some of their players salvaging some pride, Collingwood, Pietersen and to some extent Cook. Mind you they may have done that following-on we will never know.

    For all the gibberish about we're not too old, the decision of Ponting's smacks of him taking the age factor of his bowling attack (well McGrath really as Warne hardly bowled in the first innings) into account, given there's a test in Adelaide starting Friday. Pragmatism governed his decision more than psycho-babble as far as I'm concerned. I do agree that Ponting took far too much flack for the Ashes loss in 2005, how about some credit for the opposition.

  • testli5504537 on November 26, 2006, 18:16 GMT

    Lies, damned lies and statistics. Only two of the last five Ashes series have gone to the first Test winner. 98/99 was a draw and in 97 and 05 Australia and England came back from defeat in the first Test.

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 21:38 GMT

    The weather pattern here is perfect and there is absolutely NO chance of rain in the next 2 days. Ponting would never have made this decision if we had the frequent 'stormy' weather pattern of a Brisbane November (that has helped the English escape with a draw several times in the past). But he has proved to the Poms that there is nothing wrong with the batting pitch...yet.... This was an even stronger blow to their batsmen who now have to prove that they can bat like the Aussie top order did yesterday afternoon (and that winning the toss wasn't the luck Oz needed). Maybe he will let Langer score the English total on his own (given that Ponting beat it himself).

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 21:27 GMT

    Ian Chappell says he can't understand the decision to bat again. For that reason alone I applaud it and recognise it to be the correct one.

    Good work Aussies. Keep them out there as long as possible. Shame Shame Shame on you Poms.

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 20:27 GMT

    Do I sense a bit of outdated anti-colonial bitterness in the comments here?! I see it persistently in comments on these blogs, especially from Asian readers - the views of Jayantha above are actually not particulaly untypical, despite being completely ridiculous. Get in the twentieth century! On the follow on issue, as Ian Chappell observed in his column on the main Cricinfo site, it wouldn't take England to get a draw for Ponting's decision to backfire: England have absolutely nothing to lose now, and if they just bat for a good length of time, and then happen to win the toss in Adelaide, things will quickly start to look much rosier. Also, all this talk about McGrath being back is premature: only one wicket, that of Cook, could be said to really have been down to a good ball.

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 19:29 GMT

    Ponting, by not enforcing the follow-on made sure the final nail got hammered into the (English confidence) coffin. As mentioned in the comments before, English batsmen blamed the pitch for their lack of runs, but with the Aussie second innings standing the way it is, all those English cribs seem like feeble baby cries. Interestingly I found a comment posted somewhere:

    "Ponting & Co. will declare at 157/1 in their second innings, just to show England how easy it is"

    Some might argue about Ponting's no follow-on attitude & that it could backfire later in the match, but I guess thats the risk he can afford to take with such a quality team at hand.

    Here are some probable outcomes: 1. Aussies win the match by 400 odd runs on the 5th day (75%) 2. Aussies win the match by 500 odd runs on the 4th day (20%) 3. England manage a draw (5%) 4. England win the match by 'N' wickets (0%) (ohh! why did I list this anyway) 5. Bad weather for the next 2 days at Brisbane (0%)

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 18:20 GMT

    My view summary:

    cons: a draw makes ponting look like an idiot

    pros: mentla disintegration. It sets up the wrong mindset to play aus for the whole series. If defense is the modus operandi from test 1, (as they ahve shown by not choosing read and panesar), this further reinforces their negativity, since they ahve to bat negatively as well.

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 16:49 GMT

    So, having Giles and Jones in the side has given England an extra 40 odd runs this innings. Would Panesar with a duck and 3-100 possibly would have been worse?

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 16:21 GMT

    The English look terrible... again. Mental destruction is at the root of this, as much as a puny English cricketing pool, which only has managed to survive by importing players from abroad.

    It will take a KP or Harmison re-birth to make this game worthy of the label "test." I cannot see how we can continue to justify 5 games between Australia and England. It would have been more interesting to watch India, the Saffers or Sri Lanka against Australia over five games. Sri Lanka in particular have the attitude to get under the Aussie skins and these games are always full of intrigue.

    While "tradition" is being used as cover for this sham of a five game series, in terms of cricketing merit there is only enough for a two test series.

    It is time to stop England from using overseas players to shore up its team and force it under the threat of total humiliation to re-invest in a cricketing culture.

  • testli5504537 on November 25, 2006, 14:12 GMT

    Re: If Australia win by 400 or 500 runs that will take something Lazarus-like for England to recover.

    Will it really matter as the result will still mean Aust 1-0 England, with 4 to go!

    And losing by an innings has always been considered to be worst humiliation for a team.

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