November 25, 2006

First Test, Brisbane

Leading Exponents

Gideon Haigh
Glenn McGrath roars a successful appeal for Kevin Pietersen's wicket, Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, November 25, 2006
 © Getty Images


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

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Posted by Phil 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.

Posted by Jessica 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.

Posted by SCC 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).

Posted by bloke 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.

Posted by Ralph 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.

Posted by Kenny Israni 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%)

Posted by Adrian 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.

Posted by Sanjeev 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?

Posted by Jayantha 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.

Posted by Imran Ahmed 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.

Posted by Ross on (November 25, 2006, 13:40 GMT)

Ponting is right to bat again I reckon. After coming off after batting, the England boys would've been forgiven for thinking they'd gotten the raw prawn given the way the ball was behaving off the pitch with our guys bowling. 1/181 says otherwise. Two words from a forer captain are apr here: Mental and Disintegration.....

Posted by Imran Ahmed on (November 25, 2006, 13:38 GMT)

What happened in 2005 was an aberration with no pigeon to "pigeon hole" the English batsmen and two very close wins that could have gone the other way for a 3-0 Aussie series win.

As for Ponting, no amount of explaining will convince me the only factor he did not consider was lost revenue from the game ending on day III or early on Sunday day IV.

If necessary he could have had Warne bowl from one end and the pacemen from the other. The game may, repeat may, well have ended an hour before play was scheduled to end on day III.

However for those who don't under the glorious uncertainties of the game (Headingly 1981), there are 4 more test matches to go....and Harmison may still figure out the three perpendicular poles are actually the stumps and not three anorexic models that should not be knocked over!

Posted by R Ashwin on (November 25, 2006, 13:32 GMT)

It will be interesting to find out how many times Australian captains did not choose to enforce the follow-on after Steve Waugh's blunder in the Eden Gardens Test in 2001. Laxman and Dravid took the game away from the Australians when they were poised for the 'kill' and India went on to win a humdinger later in Chennai to wrap up the series 2-1. Once bitten ever shy, as far as Australia are concerned.

Posted by A happy aussie in pommy-land on (November 25, 2006, 12:44 GMT)

Some great comments made already, but surely Ponting's (and most likely the coaching staffs') decission is based more on what's best for Australia - and not what causes the most mental disintergration of the poms. Although the fact they suffer a bit more is a nice extra!!

A wonder what Punter decission might have been if this were the Melbourne test & we were 3 nil up in the series - "send em back in, and book a 1pm tee-off time for Royal Melbourne on Sunday!!"

Go you good things.

Posted by Anthony on (November 25, 2006, 12:41 GMT)

Chris and Rod, You may like to check the forecast on the "Weather site", storm Monday arvo! That's if the poms can bat that long which is highly unlikely I suppose.

Posted by Paul M on (November 25, 2006, 12:01 GMT)

While I'm enjoying the style and perceptive observation of Gideon's writing, it seems as though this column is fast becoming a regularly updated list of excuses for England's performance. The tour is too short, the players are too ill-prepared, the grounds are too diverse, the best players are too injured, the selectors are too defensive, the crowds...

While I agree that these factors all contribute to the game, the bottom line is that the match is being won by Australia, not lost by England. The performances of Ponting, McGrath and co must have contributed something to the result. Whenever they lose it is a 'glorious exception', when they win the list of their outrageously unfair advantages comes out.

I'm going to go right out on a limb here and say that if England are 2-0 down 'before it can draw a breath' it might just be because they deserve the result.

Posted by Greg on (November 25, 2006, 11:43 GMT)

I get amused at all the second guessing and doubting over one man's decisions. Ricky Ponting copped more than he deserved over the loss of the Ashes last year - he was't the only Australian player on the field, yet it was hard to believe it from the press coverage. That pain has festered, and now Ponting has the opportunity to restore the 'wrongs' of the Ashes tour. So the guy wants to make them suffer. So what ... just about every Australian wants them to suffer to. And now Ponting has the perfect chance (and I hope there is four more tests like this!). But give the guy some credit ... eighteen months ago he was charged with not being hard enough. Now he's too hard? Remember he's not the only one enjoying watching the Poms squirm!

Those in Brisbane know how little risk there is in Ponting's move. Having had about a weeks worth of wet days this year, there is no chance of the Poms being saved by rain. Ponting is savouring his chance to twist the knife ... to make the old enemy suffer. Australian fans, at least, will appreciate this. There is none more hated than the Mother Country, even if it is in fun most of the time.

So the Poms suffer. So they suffer bad. I'm just pleased Sir Ricky has given me something to listen to for an extra day. And I'll be smiling the whole time.

Posted by Dazza on (November 25, 2006, 11:27 GMT)

Each day I am surprised more and more by the brilliant and psychological nature of Ricky Ponting's Captaincy of Australia. Along with runs by the 1000's he deals in mind games by the dozen. As a Captain he is determined to confuse, infuriate and bewilder his opponents and consequently the media. To Ponting his opponents mental state is just as important and the physical, and that's what makes him such a great captain. If the media can't understand why he does something, all the better in my mind. The decision not to enforce the follow-on reminds me of the Adelaide Test of 2004-5 where he also refused to send the opposition in, with quick runs expected from the Australian Team the next day. Instead they took the field for an hour and prodded and poked the ball around - much to the confusion of their New Zealand foes. Bravo Punter.

Posted by chris on (November 25, 2006, 11:27 GMT)

a good decision for all the above points made.

I question Sanjeev's knowledge of the Brisbane climate and current weather conditions in Eastern Australia. I don't see any rain coming soon to Brisbane mate.

Posted by Russell Palmer on (November 25, 2006, 11:25 GMT)

I have to agree with Terry Alderman that an easy win by Australia at Lords probably had our boys relaxing a bit much for the next couple of tests. All four remaining tests in the last Ashes series were close enough to have gone either way. Is turning down the follow-on clear evidence of Ponting and his team learning to really focus on proving they are the best? Let's not allow complacency and a couple of lucky flukes to say otherwise!

Posted by Palcho on (November 25, 2006, 11:20 GMT)

Ricky Ponting has learnt a lot in his time as Captain. It is not enough to be the best batsman in the world when you are Captain. You need to win the war not just the battle. When you have an ageing attack you need to nurse it a bit more than usual. Providing McGrath and Co. a good overnight break while the pitch deteriorates is not bad thinking. Add to this the comments on certain British websites that the pitch was far worse for Flintoff's group than for the Aussies 1st innings was put to the sword with the Aussies 2nd innings start and so showed the difference in the teams. Psychologically this cannot be good and will surely ensure that the British media will bring down Flintoff's group almost as effectively as the Australian's cricket.

Posted by Rod Peart on (November 25, 2006, 11:20 GMT)

Being someone who lives in Brisbane I can say there is basically NO chance of rain or storms. The decision by Ponting is a brave move, but one that could well demoralise the Englishmen for the rest of the series. There could well even be some payback for having lost the ashes in 2005. Well said Sean, for Australians and Englishmen, the Ashes IS cricket. That little urn has been fought over for 120 years now and yet the interest from the public is just as strong as ever!

Posted by Deanox on (November 25, 2006, 11:15 GMT)

make freddie bowl some more. he will not last 5 tests...they want to wear him out now, and embarrass harmison again...we really cant lose either way, and a draw is unlikely if the pitch moves and shakes like it was for mcgrath

Posted by Russell Palmer on (November 25, 2006, 11:06 GMT)

You are right. Like Ponting, I want to see Australia win this series by the widest possible margin, matches, runs and wickets. This tactic will prolong the Aussie endurance while grinding the poms into the dust! Australia = undeniable cricket champions of the world. Amen.

Posted by Pete from Perth on (November 25, 2006, 10:52 GMT)

Just as much as I'm sure Ponting does want to give his bowlers a rest, and increase England's humiliation, I'm sure the ACB will be especially happy to have every match stretch out to 4-5 days with so many of them having days sold out last year.

Posted by Sean on (November 25, 2006, 10:46 GMT)

The other thing Ponting has to consider is how to cause maximum damage to the English (lack of)?confidence. Changes to the team will have to be made for England to become even remotely competitive and grinding them down will only make the newcomers that little bit more wary of who and what they're about to face.

Posted by Jamie Dowling on (November 25, 2006, 10:42 GMT)

Ricky Ponting is out to make a very very clear point here. England may have the Ashes at the moment but the Australians aren't just going to take them back nicely, they are going to hammer England and snatch them back. Sometimes the slowest tortures are the most debilitating, the most effective. If Australia win by 400 or 500 runs that will take something Lazarus-like for England to recover.

Posted by chiyo on (November 25, 2006, 10:37 GMT)

This makes good cricketing sense when thinking long term (when you play four strike bowlers). It also puts pressure on England when batting in the last innings of the match on a wearing pitch. The manner in which Langer, Hayden (till he ran himself out!) and Ponting have batted in the 2nd innings so far; even a novice to this game would realise that there are no 'demons' in this pitch; however a lot of that is dependent on the class of bowling dished up by the opposition. Good players and great teams perform consistently well in any kind of situation. The English were over the moon when they won the Ashes; if they look at the results closely they will see that the two matches they won were very close contests. These were played without the spearhead of the bowling attack. In the last test; the man who bailed them out with a century (Pietersen) was dropped early on in his innings. At Edgbaston, Ponting's mind must have 'switched off' for a brief moment in time as he chose to field soon after England's 'destroyer-in-chief' McGrath injured himself in a freakish accident. When all is done and dusted, the results are what remain as 'black and white' records. There is a lot of 'grey' that English followers may not have bothered to check up on. Harping on and on about the age factor does not make these guys bad players overnight, not with the type of opposition the English are putting on the pitch!!! Remember Michael Clarke can bowl a bit too on the last day of a Test, think back to Mumbai on a dusty pitch against the world's best players of spin bowling!!! Remember Mumbai.....

Posted by Ramesh on (November 25, 2006, 10:27 GMT)

Whatever Ponting's reasons, it is a masterstroke at least at a psychological level. England are not only sure to lose now, they are also condemned to fester in that knowledge for another 2 days. Its sure to impact them for the rest of the tour. They will do better to reflect just how a little bit more of attritional cricket - of the likes Bell played - would not only have bought them time, it would have worn out the rather thin Aussie attack.

Posted by Sean on (November 25, 2006, 10:25 GMT)

No matter how much the game of cricket 'evolves' the original version is simply the ultimate in team sport. The twists and turns: To follow on or not? Experience or youthful exuberence? Put trust in your teammates or do it yourself? All these questions and more will be answered over 5 days. Let the ICC take ODI's and 20/20 to the USA and China. Let the sub-continental associations run a potentially corrupt series of meaningless one day tournaments that sometimes even their own players barely consider worthy of the time and effort. In the end it all comes down to the history and traditions of the 5 day game. I remember the teams that toured Australia in the 1970's & 80's and long for the day when the West Indies are once again a force in the Test arena. But nothing will ever match the feeling of watching the oldest foes going toe-to-toe, no matter the eventual result (although i am quite partial to seeing the poms getting absolutely slaughtered every now and then).

Posted by mamboman on (November 25, 2006, 10:18 GMT)

Ponting was absolutley right to bat agin. He's going to beat the Englishmen anyway - what he has an opportunity to do here is break them, especially Flintoff, the captain. A cruel and excellent decision.

Posted by Sanjeev on (November 25, 2006, 10:17 GMT)

Will the knives be out if there is a thunderstorm/deluge? This decision by Ponting to bat on smacks of arrogance and stupidity. For the latter reason, I hope this match ends in a draw.

Posted by Dhananjay Mhatre on (November 25, 2006, 10:16 GMT)

I think this is a good move by Ponting. England would have wanted a quick result in this match. However the thrashing they have recieved the second time around would have destroyed what may have remained of their confidence and resolve. A follow on would have been quick death...this is like death by cancer...slow and painful. P.S.: The Aussie second inning is also a God gift for them in that the few remaining batsmen in the squad who still retain those 2005 scars can regain thei confidence. Hayden was at his bullying best after a whole year.

Posted by insomniac in USA on (November 25, 2006, 9:25 GMT)

Although what you say is true about the four bowler approach, I feel Ponting needs to understand the difference between bowling 100 overs in an innings and hardly 60 overs over 2 days. Australia should not have batted. They should have reduced England to 150/4 by today

Posted by partha on (November 25, 2006, 8:48 GMT)

australians dont make experience tell, they make experience hell Rubbing salts in the gaping wounds of Englishmen, now it is time for poms to wake up. They have to regroup quickly, otherwise ashes will slip away like the fish in a river

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Gideon Haigh
Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

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