December 14, 2006

Action: third Test

Fletcher and Flintoff own up

Tim de Lisle
Monty Panesar leads his team-mates from the field after taking five wickets, Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, December 14, 2006
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Today two proud men finally admitted that they had made a mistake. England’s team sheet had 11 names on it, but it boiled down to two words: mea culpa. By picking Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood, Messrs Fletcher and Flintoff conceded that they were wrong, and the rest of us were right.

Monty then went out and proved it, with a large helping of luck. He didn’t bowl as well as he can, but after all the brouhaha, he did well to bowl as well as he did. And he has earned some good fortune after handling the frustrations of the past few weeks with amazing good humour. Even after today’s triumph, he was still saying: “The selectors know what’s best for the team. I trust their judgment.” Which was highly magnanimous. And showed why he, among others, would have been a better pick for BBC Sports Personality of the Year than the talented, but not as yet very colourful, Zara Phillips.

Fletcher and Flintoff may have blundered in the faith they showed in Ashley Giles, but they were vindicated today in their decision to stick by Steve Harmison. One of the best things about Fletcher’s England is that, unlike some of their predecessors, they usually rise to the challenge of fast pitches. This wasn’t an absolute Perth trampoline, but it was yards quicker than the Adelaide dustbowl.

The last time England saw anything like it was at Old Trafford five months ago, when Panesar and Steve Harmison destroyed Pakistan. Then, they took nine for 40 between them; here, nine for 140, with Harmison – helped by the umpires – collecting his first overseas four-for since West Indies 2004. In the second innings at Old Trafford, Panesar and Harmison went one better and took all ten. It’s early days, but Panesar has shown a glimpse of something Shane Warne has in spades: the ability to team up, lethally, with a fast bowler, using bounce more than turn, and thus impose himself on a Test match from the start.

The pitch was sporting. The central figure was sporting. The underdogs barked, but the favourites fought back. The Aussies are still favourites, and it will be no surprise if they reassert themselves tomorrow. But this was just the sort of day the series needed.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden

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Posted by geoff m on (December 18, 2006, 6:02 GMT)

I still cannot believe that someone in the English selectors thought that crowds in Australia would not take to Monty. Poms just don't get it. Its not the down to earth hard working English cricketers like Monty that Oz crowds like to see smashed, it's those pompous old school types that we really like to see get thrashed. As has happened, Monty has been warmly accepted by the crowds and he has helped England survive for longer than they probably deserve. As happens, Monty was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, same as me. Only difference is that I came to Aust 40 years ago and have seen the light. Good on'ya Monty. I agree with Teo Treloar that Duncan Fletcher's time should be up as there is no excuse nor logic for not playing Monty in the first two.

Posted by Ben Shenton - Ballarat Victoria on (December 15, 2006, 1:11 GMT)

Couldn't agree more. As an Australian fan I enjoy seeing Australia win but seeing competion finally arrive is good for the series. It's wonderful that the Fletcher and Freddie Show have picked the cast well all wanted to see.

Posted by Saumil on (December 15, 2006, 0:47 GMT)

I agree with the comments in the last paragraph. Australia are still the favourites and from what we saw on late second day, Lee will be a difficult prospect for the batsmen. I will not be surprised if Australia take a lead despite being bowled out for 244.

Posted by Nathan on (December 14, 2006, 23:39 GMT)

Monty is England's Mr Cricket. The enthusiasm he shows and determination to improve (most evident in his fielding) coupled with the genuine respect he has for the game, the England cap and the England camp means he has the potential to become a very fine player. It is refreshing to see such reverence, something that had been lacking in the England camp during their long stint on the losing end of the ashes series. It is unlikely that England will retain the ashes this series but the fact that I can't say "won't" retain the ashes is a measure of the quality of this England side. Given a preparation that included the full fitness of Flintoff, Jones, Harmison, Vaughan and Trescothik and the inclusion of Panesar from the start and this series may have been very different. Either way the future looks bright for English cricket. Oh yeah, and lets not forget Flintoff and Fletcher's faith to stand by their keeper. Jones may have done his best to drop Symonds but keeper's catches off spinners are never easy and he ended up holding that chance and several others and seems to have done a lot less wrong with the gloves than the weight of criticism would suggest.

Posted by Teo Treloar on (December 14, 2006, 20:51 GMT)

It was good to see Monty take flight and get a bag of five. I knew the Australian's would find it difficult to play him as he is an unknown quantity to them and a bowler of quality and great talent. He was on the money and you could see him thinking about the ball he should bowl before each delivery, he is confident and enjoy's his game so much that it's infectious. Duncan Fletcher's time is up, there is no excuse nor logic for not playing him in the first two, infact it's confounding......

Posted by Jusin B on (December 14, 2006, 19:17 GMT)

I think everyone feels both excited about the state of this game and also deflated that Monty didn't play earlier...still, no use looking backwards. I think the batsmen now need to look to bat all day tomorrow and to not focus on the Aussie 1st innings score at all - let's get way beyond it and put them under the cosh when we bowl again.

My questions now are: (1) whether Jones would get replaced if he fails again with the bat? (2) Did Freddie have ankle trouble today?...if so, it's worrying because the captaincy has affected his batting. (3) Did Mahmood get the nod because of his potential to fill some sort of batting role at number 8, given Jimmy Anderson's success in the warm up game? I thought Saj looked good today, but I wonder what Anderson's role will shape up to be in the future - is pace is below Saj, so does he aim to be the next Hoggy?

Posted by jinn on (December 14, 2006, 17:35 GMT)

had monty played a test match earlier we wouldnt be 2-0 down! the selectors have one set of rules for one player and another for a different player. If Giles was over Monty for being a better bat then sajid should have been over anderson for the same reason!! sajid bowled well as well and should what anderson was lacking...aggression. upto the batters now to win us this test match

Posted by Schuster on (December 14, 2006, 16:20 GMT)

I dont understand how England havnt played Panesar for the first 2 tests and how Aus can keep trying Symonds?!!!!!!

Posted by Marty on (December 14, 2006, 14:05 GMT)

Damn straight. Fantastic bowling by the English; I loved the way our Aussie batsmen kept getting out to arrogant shots, getting outdone by swing, spin and bounce, losing Ponting for 2; but we still made a semi-respectable score. Just how respectable it actually is remains to be seen, but, should be a pretty interesting match the way it's shaping up.

Posted by KevininChina on (December 14, 2006, 13:16 GMT)

I have been one of the biggest critics of England's selection policy recently but I hope that today's events don't reflect too badly on Ashley Giles.

Monty's performance may be the beginning of the end of Ashley's career. With his limited ability, over the years he has been a great England servant who, I am sure, has always given no less than 100%. He has had a poor series in Australia but he does not pick himself, others pick the team. He will be villified from pillar to post but it is unfair.

Fletcher and Flintoff should carry the can for failed selection policies.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim de Lisle
Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. He fell in love with newspapers at the age of seven and with cricket at the age of 10. He started in journalism at 16, reviewing records for the London Australian Magazine, before reading classics at Oxford and writing for Smash Hits, Harpers & Queen and the Observer. He has been a feature writer on the Daily Telegraph, arts editor of the Times and the Independent on Sunday, and editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, where he won an Editor of the Year award. Since 1999, Tim has been the rock critic of the Mail on Sunday. He is deputy editor of Intelligent Life, the new general-interest magazine from the Economist. He writes for the Guardian and makes frequent appearances as a cricket pundit on the BBC and Sky News.

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