December 27, 2006

Action: fourth Test

Not the same old story

Tim de Lisle
He ain’t heavy: Andrew Symonds jumps for joy with his partner Matthew Hayden after scoring his first Test century, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, December 27, 2006
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There’s a headline on the BBC site today saying “Same old story”. It’s true that England are once again in a losing position, two sessions after being in a promising one. But as soon as you look at how it happened, there’s nothing same old about it. The way the game turned was new: a different and rather unlikely story.

Twelve wickets fell yesterday, followed by another three this morning. And it could easily have been more: Australia dropped a few catches, probably because of the vile weather, and England had those excellent lbw shouts against Matthew Hayden which Rudi Koertzen, perhaps subliminally influenced by the huge crowd, couldn’t quite bring himself to give. So in the first four sessions, the bowlers created at least 20 chances, and the two teams together scraped 270 for 15. Since then, it has been 261 for two.

What changed? Some of the bowlers got tired – Andrew Flintoff had given his all. The ball got older, and there was no Shane Warne to weave a little hair-replacement magic on it. The fielding was ordinary: somehow, Steve Harmison found himself in the covers early on, where he played the part of a record-company PR man – handing out free singles.

Hayden was well set, and unlike Andrew Strauss, he was able to turn his 50 into something immense. Andrew Symonds blossomed under Hayden’s wing: the Queensland fishing-mates connection visibly helped, and made you rue the fact that England have had no two batsmen from the same county playing in the series. Symonds went from scratchy to domineering in double-quick time, as if he was playing for one of his many counties. England have suffered most forms of violence at Australian hands in the past decade and a half, but here was a new one: being hammered by an Aussie allrounder, a species that had been thought to be mythical, like the Aussie metrosexual. The different story turned out to be a lurid tale of horror: Attack of the Bright Pink Bat Handles.

The pitch had something to do with it too. Drop-in pitches aren’t bad exactly, but they are eccentric. Five years ago in Christchurch, New Zealand, England benefited from this. The pitch started as a minefield and a hundred by Nasser Hussain, a bad-pitch master, was the only score above 45 in either side’s first innings. Going in again with a lead of 80, England slumped to 106 for five, before Graham Thorpe and Flintoff put on 281. Flintoff, just like Symonds, made his first Test hundred. England declared when the lead reached 550 – and very nearly lost the match, as Nathan Astle produced one of the great do-or-die performances, walloping 222 off 168 balls.

This pitch hasn’t flattened out as much as that one did, and the MCG boundaries are not as short, and there was nobody in that scenario like Warne or his scriptwriter. But funny things can happen on drop-in pitches. Poor old England are going to need some tomorrow.

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

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Posted by Jarrod on (January 2, 2007, 15:14 GMT)

While you all bicker about umpiring decisions (which were consistently frigid) and the English side (which has issues), I'm going to reminisce proudly of the day Haydos and Symmo put on that blinding and massive pink-handled partnership.

Power, brutality, courage. These men both have. I would like to see them as an opening partnership. Ridiculous? Nope. Hayden is Symmo's rock, and so Symmo should be with him as early as possible.

It could be an opening partnership which, for a short time at least, could be even more efficient and far more devastating than that of Haydos/Langer.

Of course, when Hayden retires, Symmo should drop back again.

To the man who doubted Symmo, you, my dear friend, are underestimating someone you can't control. Be very, very wary.

Posted by Bilal Tariq on (December 29, 2006, 14:47 GMT)

I beleieve that in game of Cricket Captians have a very important role to play . We must remeber that England were without their Captian of Last Ashes that is Michael Vaughan . It has also weekened their batting strength. There is nothing to take away from the ruthless approach o Australians but absence of Michael Vaugh had its impact. Therefore

Posted by Mark on (December 29, 2006, 1:28 GMT)

I'd have to agree with what Dan said above. England have not played anywhere close to their ability in this series. Why? Probably poor preperation, but you would think if that was the case they would at least be getting better as the series went on and not worse.

Australia did bowl superbly yesterday, but there is absolutely no way England should have been bowled out for 159 in the first innings. They were 2/100 on a pitch doing a lot then got knocked over with hardly a fight.

I must be the only person who thinks that Warne didn't bowl superbly on Boxing day. Apart from the Strauss dismissal (which was a good ball) the Englishman just hit catches from balls they did not get to the pitch of (No they weren't bad balls. Yes, the batsmen were beaten in flight. But, they weren't balls that you would expect to get batsmen out).

In contrast Australia were 5/84 on a no worse wicket, and managed to score over 400. Sure England copped a few bad umpiring decisions, but that is no excuse for taking the foot off the throat (something Australia would never do). Taking nothing away from Hayden and Symo, but setting the field back at 5/100... what is that all about?

I don't think there is as much difference in ability between the two teams as 4-0 indicates. But, with just about everything else to do with cricket 4-0 probably does justice to where the two teams stand.

Posted by Guido on (December 29, 2006, 1:11 GMT)

No no no you have got it all wrong Dan, not Bangladesh, Kenya are more deserving then England to play against us in a test series

Posted by David on (December 29, 2006, 1:09 GMT)

In reply to Gareth Wilson. How many English batsmen made centuries at the MCG? You can bag Symonds all you like but at least he has some heart and looks like he wants to play for his country

Posted by Ed Eccles on (December 28, 2006, 23:46 GMT)

So will it be five nil? You bet, and that result will be precisely what many England followers felt prior to the series. Australia were determined to crush the England team after 2005, and therefore had the motivation. Two great bowlers about to retire have added to that motivation. The question has to be asked why England management refuse to let the England players play four day games; permanent net practice is no substitute. Why were Giles and Jones chosen? With a strike rate in excess of 83 before the series, Giles was never going to trouble Australia. Similarly, Jones had a test batting average of under 26, five more than Read, who is an infinitely better keeper, yet Jones is chosen for his batting!! Most of the bowlers had been injured and had bowled only slightly more than the unlucky and talented Simon Jones. Then to cap it all, the warm up matches are almost non-existent, unless you count fourteen a side, etc. Perhaps the England management should have askes Alec Stewart and Adam Hollioake what they were doing for the remainder of the series. All of the above are down to bad management of an England team, that, one or two players aside, do not deserve to be on the same pitch as Australia. Have Trescothick, Vaughan and Simon Jones made SUCH a difference?

Posted by Stephen Clarke on (December 28, 2006, 19:36 GMT)

Dearest Abhishek,

I'm not saying it's right that umpires make mistakes, just that in this instance I'm glad. There were as many howlers denied Australia as there were England. Do you know how many times Javed Miandad was given out LBW in tests in Pakistan? Perhaps Hawkeye's time has come. He (she? it?) makes mistakes too, but at least he's stateless.

Dan,

I thought it was odd when the Poms got gongs for winning in 2005. If the Australians were recognised in this way for winning Ashes series, they'd surely all be the Duke of Portland by now.

Posted by Jason on (December 28, 2006, 17:46 GMT)

"a lurid tale of horror: Attack of the Bright Pink Bat Handles."

Dying of laughter. Good one, Tim.

Posted by Andrew Keogh on (December 28, 2006, 16:51 GMT)

Can we stop this now? It's no fun. Fifth Test? Can't bear the idea.

Posted by Allistair on (December 28, 2006, 16:17 GMT)

Tim,

Not only has this test not been 'not the same old story', this entire series has been 'not the same old story'. It has been mystifying. This tour, and its build up, has been characterised by a complete collapse of the clear, lucid management, that has seen England make fantastic progress since the Hussein/Fletcher partnership. I can't fathom it. At best this tour hints at the worst of the Atherton era, at worst, we have witnessed something very new. Bad picks, bad decisions, low morale, witlessness, nanchalance, some good play, but mainly timourousness bordering on the total abdication of decent cricket that this team, and set up, can perform. And that's the rub. This is still a good team. They are still a good unit, but largely through self-immolation England have regressed to somehere hitherto no England team has been.

This series has been uniquely different to others past, because for once, we were the Ashes holders, for once, we had a decent team (with areas of concern for sure), and for once, we had a decent set-up. All of which has exploded in our face in the space of a month.

I do not advocate any change in our set up though. It's proven, it works and works exceptional well. However, in view of this unique series, it needs re-tuning. Fletcher and the EWCB have done well for years, and will continue to do so, but lessons from this tour must be learned.

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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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