December 15, 2006

Action: third Test

England get Perthed

Tim de Lisle
Andrew Strauss rips off his gloves after being given out, Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, December 15, 2006
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It’s pretty flat in western Australia, but England can turn most surfaces into a rollercoaster. After soaring yesterday, they slumped today. Perth is a very particular place to bat. Whenever Australia have had a decent attack, it has been a graveyard for English batsmen, because the bounce and carry turns the typical English ploy of propping forward on off stump into catching practice for the cordon.

Some distinguished players have made hardly any Test runs at the WACA. Graham Gooch managed 116 (spread over 17 years), Alec Stewart 120, Mike Atherton 100, Ian Botham 92, Mike Gatting 92, Nasser Hussain 76, Michael Vaughan 43, Marcus Trescothick 38, Keith Fletcher 26. In modern times, only three types of Englishman have consistently been able to cope: left-handers (David Gower 471, Chris Broad 178), extreme technicians (Geoff Boycott 319, Mark Ramprakash 187), and South African exports (Allan Lamb 200, Robin Smith 101 in one match) – men who grew up an ocean away, rather than a whole world. The present England team don’t have any technicians, so today was all about representatives of the other two breeds: Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen.

Strauss has had a weird series – always in form, never in the runs, thanks to a combination of bad hooking and bad luck with decisions. He has made runs almost every time in the warm-ups, as if he was a dead-match bully, which he very definitely isn’t. This is not a man who wilts under pressure, or who worries when he starts a series poorly, as he did in the 2005 Ashes. Today he controlled his temptation to hook, and looked like getting his first major score on Australian soil.

The square drives were pinging through extra cover, which is quite an achievement at the WACA. The mood music was upbeat. He made a quick start, then consolidated, then came out of his shell again. He spanked a cover drive off Stuart Clark, only to fall for the obvious follow-up, the one pushed wider. But he missed it. There was no edge, and he was still given out by Rudi Koertzen, a man whose mode of dismissal is so stylish – a gunslinger’s glare and the left arm coming up in super slo-mo – that he likes to give it plenty of airings.

On past form, England wouldn’t have got many more than Australia’s 244, but Strauss was the man most likely to make a hundred. Pietersen was kept quiet by tight bowling, then by super-defensive fields and the stifling presence of Matthew Hoggard, the deadest deadbat in world cricket. Pietersen showed glimmers of his genius and an ability to adapt, but that does not as yet include the ability to marshal a tail like Steve Waugh or Mike Hussey. He is too much the showman to be a good shepherd.

England lost the first Test because they only had half a bowling attack. Having finally fixed that problem, they now find they only have half a batting line-up. Everybody except Strauss, Pietersen and arguably Collingwood, is at least one place too high. Alastair Cook, as predicted, has become this year’s Ian Bell. At number three, Bell is confirming that he is a gifted number six.

At six and seven, the overstretched Flintoff and the out-of-form Jones have become an awfully soft underbelly. They are fine in those slots when they are at the top of their game, as at Trent Bridge 2005, but that’s a long time ago now. They find themselves so high up because of England’s dogged belief in the fifth bowler, and as one of them is captain and the other is on the management committee, they are partly responsible. So it was cruelly ironic that the man they handed their wickets to, like a couple of Christmas presents, should be Australia’s fifth bowler, Andrew Symonds.

Flintoff, who started the series as the leader of the pack, trying to be captain on the side, is now more of a captain who bowls a bit and bats hardly at all. He hasn’t even held a catch. The widespread assumption has been that if he gets injured, England are sunk. As it is, he has just about stayed fit, and they are sinking fast. If he were to miss a Test, it might not be the worst thing, for him or for them.

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

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Posted by Nicholas on (December 18, 2006, 13:35 GMT)

Enough about this..."oh, I'm sure England would be better if we had Vaughn, Simon Jones, etc", the fact is that we do not live in a world of 'if's.' I'm sure had Glenn McGrath not rolled his ankle in 2005, Australia would have retained the urn, but no one complained about that. The fact remained that England beat Australia, because they played better. It is a two way street, this time around, Australia beat England because Australia played better, much better. It remains obvious that the world champions are still very much the top of the world.

Posted by DFC on (December 18, 2006, 0:11 GMT)

To be honest all you silly poms deserve all you get! Your lot, JUST won the ashes with EVERYTHING going your way last time. And to whinge about some decisions going the wrong way, well BOO WHO!! Do you really believe you really had a chance in hell in Australia!? You had buckleys! All the ifs or maybes cant save you lot now. All i read is you lot whingeing about selection and IF your supposely matchwinners had toured it would have been different, yeah right! Please give credit where credit is due, the Aussies are kicking your ass! Fair and square!

Posted by Hamza on (December 16, 2006, 19:40 GMT)

I am sure England would completely be a different side if Simmon Jones and Michael Vaughn were not injured. England really missed the fourth seamer. Anderson and Mahmood couldn't do the same job what Simmon Jones had done in 2005. And then not picking up the Panesar in the first two tests was also a big mistake. Panesar is much better than Giles.

Posted by Don on (December 16, 2006, 2:56 GMT)

I tend to agree with Peter, Cricket is a game where there is human error with players and umpiring, this year England has got a couple go against them and I'm sure Australia has too, in 2005, Australia (esp Martyn) had some shockers - I'm refering to Martyn smashing the ball into his pads and still being given LBW. Whilst we as supporters get frustrated and annoyed with these decisions we have to live with them. Look in todays paper: Strauss ct Gilchrist b Clark...

Posted by Yogesh on (December 16, 2006, 1:46 GMT)

Peter

Not to get into a slanging match but thinking that a wrong decision to Strauss is balanced by one for Mcgrarth is a very "Aussie" wasy of looking at things. With neutral umpires, at least nowdays all the Aussies victories are more or less clean. More power to the team then and the supporters should rejoice instead of cribbing.

Posted by KevininChina on (December 16, 2006, 1:27 GMT)

I can accept that England are getting beat by a much better team in Australia. I accept that selecting a team is often difficult, albeit I find some of England's selections so far "strange". But one of the biggest questions to come out of this Ashes series so far is how a man who has questionable wicketkeeping ability, is at best an average batsmen, is not considered worthy of a central contract and continually gets out to irresponsible shots at crucial moments is put on a so called management committee with some input into team selection.

When the inevitable post mortems begin, we should ask why, if Duncan Fletcher is the autocratic, single minded coach that is claimed, such a clique mentality has been allowed to form within the England camp.

Posted by Ralph on (December 16, 2006, 0:41 GMT)

As you suggest, it is patently obvious that England should not be playing 5 bowlers. Firstly, there is absolutely no case for Jones to be playing ahead of Read. None at all.

Secondly, Flintoff is no longer realistically a matchwinner with the bat - Pieterson has taken over the role of prime aggressor with greater aplomb than Flintoff ever could. That's not to denigrate Flintoff - Pieterson I think will turn out to be one of the absolute batting greats, on a par with say Viv Richards for pure character. But the England selectors need to face up to the fact that Flintoff's role has changed - when fully fit, he is a world-class bowler, pure and simple, and should be treated as such. His batting should be regarded as a bonus, an ideal number 7.

We have talented young batsmen in abundance - if Joyce is the best of the lot, better than Shah and Key, then the selectors should have plenty of confidence in him - stick him in at 6.

Posted by John on (December 15, 2006, 23:59 GMT)

England is overrated, Flintoff is overrated and so too Pieterson. The entire set of players today are just wallowing in money and nothing else. Give me a Gavaskar instead of a Tendulkar, a Richards instead of a Lara, a Border instead of a Ponting. None of the so called top three batsman would have survived against Roberts, Holding, Imran, McDermott, Kapil, Botham, Hadlee not to mention some of the great spinners. Its a joke when every test match ends by some captain spouting about it being the greatest test match he played in not to mention cricket sites and magazines talking about the greatest series that has just been played including the "great" (I don't think so or in current AOL language, NOT) Richie Benaud. Money changes everything.

Posted by Ron on (December 15, 2006, 23:08 GMT)

It's always curious to hear a team bleating about an incorrect decision by the umpire as in Andrew Strauss yet they never mention the plumb LBW not given against Harmison.Harmison's partnership was the best as well !

Posted by Paul Clarke on (December 15, 2006, 22:38 GMT)

Your summization seems fine, but you aren't really giving the whole picture.

Englands win in 2005 was more about the support bowling and the support batting than it was about the first three in either department.

Simon Jones bowling was absolutely vital in 2005 - his ability to come on and take a wicket or two quickly time-after-time was the reason Australia posted so few big partnerships - yet he was the 4th bowler.

Giles bowled a good containing role, and the Aussies had talked him down so much that they effectively jinxed themselves ("Can't get out to this bloke now we've said how poor he is - better not risk it at all then")

Batting the same - you mention Flintoff and Jones, and they were the reason more than once that England stayed in matches.

Jones is now DEFINATELY Welsh - his name seems to have changed to Jones0 (or so it has been on so many scorecards this tour).

Fletchers folly is to try and copy this formula no-matter-what.

He didn't have the same tools (No Vaughan, no Jones and Giles had not bowling a ball in anger for months)

Add to that the insistence on fielding a second woefully undercooked bowler in Anderson (A skidder - like Jones in an attempt to make the old plan work I think) - well England never stood a chance.

New tools in the box should have meant a new plan, using the best tools available in the best way.

No way has Fletcher done that - and that's his folly.

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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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