January 2, 2007

Action: fifth Test

Thx Fred

Tim de Lisle
Andrew Flintoff sweeps hard for four, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, January 2, 2007
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The pattern of a long series is seldom uniform – men who make double hundreds at the start often find ducks waiting for them at the end. But long series are not as long as they used to be, so fragments of pattern are apt to survive. England’s openers stuttered yet again; they may be just too alike. Yet another Aussie retired. Hunter S Thomspon may have got it wrong: when the going gets soft, the tough get going.

Ian Bell compiled another of his fighting fifties, rather than one of the hundreds he reels off when he is in his rightful place at number six. Kevin Pietersen again mixed genius with rushes of blood. England made another baffling selection, opting to field all three of their seaming liabilities (Harmison, Anderson, Mahmood) rather than a second spinner (Dalrymple) who might have provided the missing cement at number seven. For the second Test running, they missed Jon Lewis, who could have been their best bowler on the Melbourne Christmas pudding, and the most natural understudy for Matthew Hoggard here.

They had as good a day as their long-singing fans could have asked for, yet they stand only a couple of nicks away from another insipid total. The difference is likely to depend, as so much has in this series, on Andrew Flintoff. “New year, new you,” the newspapers are all saying, but Flintoff prospered by finding his old self today, for the first time in nine months.

Lately he had regressed to his callow younger self, hanging out half a bat at stock deliveries. Today, even though he arrived in a mini-crisis, he was instantly decisive. He looked busy, ran freely and hit out selectively, using more of the face (and therefore saving a little of it). Off Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, he made 26 at a run a ball. Finally someone has worked out that just because Clark is a commercial lawyer is no reason to be silenced by him. This was the Flintoff of Edgbaston 2005, and the scorecard half-resembles that one. Ricky Ponting, sensing trouble, lurched on to the defensive.

It’s often a good sign when Flintoff is not out overnight. Last time it happened was in Perth, when he at least managed a semi-defiant fifty, and the time before was Mumbai in March, when he and Collingwood were at the crease as England finished the first day on 272 for three. Flintoff made 50 twice, sang Ring Of Fire, and led the way to his only overseas victory as captain. Today, he made sure that a mass leaving party was also an even contest.

It was a great idea for the adverts on the grass, usually so charmless, to say a big thank you to Warne, McGrath and Langer. But let’s also, in a smaller way, salute a man who managed to be carefree when the cares of the world were on his shoulders. Thx Fred.

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

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Posted by David on (January 4, 2007, 10:56 GMT)

In response to Jez's negative comment about Chris Read: Six Australian victims for the second test running, and once again no byes conceded. At least the guy is a world-class wicket-keeper! Give him more than one and a half test matches and he might make some runs too.

Posted by David McDaniel on (January 4, 2007, 1:16 GMT)

The problem is, Jones and Giles didn't do anything with the bat anyway.

Posted by macca on (January 3, 2007, 18:03 GMT)

thank god its nearly over and we can all stop snapping at each other and searching for the holy grail of why we lost.fletch was right after all,our tail is huge(you only have to get england 5 down and its all over)no wonder he took a gamble on jones and giles,read is class behind the stumps but looks out of his depth batting.flintoff was clearly rusty and is not fit and so we couldnt bat him 7 and have just 3 other bowlers,we cant rely on harmy to get wickets.another batsmen at six is a luxury we needed but couldnt afford.mahmood is one for the future,get colly or strauss to become keepers, how hard is it?,get harmy to work on his batting at eight,get the captaincy away from flintoff and let one of the worlds top fast bowlers(who is a solid batsman)bowl his arse off when fit.also nice bit of rug pulling spin from england to be saying how their ashes09 prep starts here,with warneys poor bowling and langers 3 drops the whole ashes finale seems to be fizzling out as england shrug and act not too bothered and slope off ,they might even get away with it in the press.also loved boycott moaning about ponting killing the game (literally)by putting everyone on the boundry while flintoff turned down singles,even bradman would have struggled he moaned.priceless.what a bizarre dull game of chess it sometimes is.

Posted by Jonathan Evans on (January 3, 2007, 11:35 GMT)

Re selection, this Test has demonstrated how ludicrous it is to have a bottom 5 of Read, Mahmood, Harmison, Panesar and Anderson/Hoggard. Whatever you think of the Jones/Giles selections, it's very clear what motivated them.

Posted by stevelbw on (January 3, 2007, 8:26 GMT)

Your analysis is flawed, England were simply not ready day one in Brisbane, they needed a couple more matches. Under that scenario, England would have been combative and performed, Flintoff would quite possibly had more options and had been less shackled in his own performance.

Although I will add, that he is poor at setting fields for spinners.

Posted by Sean on (January 3, 2007, 8:03 GMT)

It seems like that England were hedging their bets by picking both Mahmood and Anderson, and while it may not be an attacking move I think the Hoggard sickness may have forced their hand. I thought that Dalrymple would come into the team, but with Hoggard out I feel that England didn't trust an out of sorts Harmison, an injury restricted Flintoff, and one of Anderson/Mahmood to carry the seam bowling.

As for Bell at six, that's fine - but who bats at three? Are Key or Shaw brought into the team? Surely bringing in the relatively inexperienced Joyce at number three against Australia is not such a better move? I'm an Australian, so I'm interested in hearing thoughts on the team balance.

As for Flintoff, I do like him as a cricketer. However, I don't think he deserves a position as a bastman and if he cannot bowl the overs required for a frontline player it really hurts the balance of your team.

Posted by Pete on (January 3, 2007, 7:15 GMT)

It was good to see Flintoff go on to make a decent score, but he got out doing something really stupid. Still, imagine if that knock came at number 7 with an extra batsman making a start at the top of the order. England would be 350 instead of 291. Why Mahmood is there is beyond me. I live in Australia so I don't see any county cricket, but he just seems out of his depth in Australia, and the captain rarely bowls him too. Why not have Joyce in there to give the batting some extra depth, and it will also help those lower order collapses cos Flintoff will be at 7. Joyce to bat at 3, Bell then back at 6 to churn out those 100s apparantly, and Freddie counter-attacking at 7 Gilchrist style. Anyways, the test is going fairly evenly at the moment, so I'm going to get back to watching it.

Posted by Si on (January 3, 2007, 4:42 GMT)

Playing Dalrymple - who has two first-class centuries and a first-class batting average of 36 to his name - at No. 6 at Sydney would have (a) provided valuable middle-order runs; (b) released the all-too-manifest pressure on both Flintoff and Read to make significant contributions with the bat as well as with, respectively, the ball and the gloves; and (c) provided England with a genuine second spinner with whom to help Panesar bowl Australia out on the fourth and/or fifth days on a wicket which ALWAYS turns sharply on the final two days. Instead - as, nowadays, is his wont - Fletcher elected to go for the most risible selectorial options open to him: the two non-batting pie-throwers Mahmood and Anderson (combined figures during this series: 7 wickets at 75 each - at 4.7 an over).

Still, at least we've learned a few valuable lessons during the last few weeks:

1. Fletcher is no longer a viable international coach. Anyone who - against the advice of every pundit, coach and player in the game who is not clinically moronic - has not only erred so badly in almost every selectorial decision he's had to make, but has managed to compound this by publicly undermining the confidence and credibility of young players such as Panesar, Read and Broad with asinine comments about 'the need for multidimensional cricketers'(never mind that he then neglected to pick the very players - i.e. Broad and Dalrymple - who fitted most neatly into this category) and 'lack of big-match nerves'(a barb aimed at Read), deserves to be put out to pasture at the earliest convenient opportunity. Thank you, Mr. Fletcher: quieter, less taxing days await you at Sophia Gardens.

2. Flintoff is not a viable international captain. His field placings and bowling changes during this series have made even Ponting's look cavalier, he has shown no evidence whatsoever of any tactical nous and his own game has clearly suffered as a result of the extra load he has - albeit nobly - taken upon himself. It has been a curious experience indeed to contrast his plodding, captaincy-by-numbers approach to the job with the derring-do he displayed in his best days among the ranks. Thanks, Freddie, but no thanks - can we have the real you back now, please?

3. It has now been adequately proven that neither Giles nor Jones are Test-class cricketers. With spinners such as Panesar, Rashid and Doshi (and, if you're looking for spinning all-rounders, Dalrymple and Loudon)in the wings - as well as young keeper-batsmen like Davies, Foster and Prior twiddling their thumbs in county and England Academy and A sides, now is the time to bid both Giles and Jones farewell. Yeoman cricketers, both: but in the final analysis simply not good enough.

4. Poor Marcus Trescothick is, sadly, finished - at least for the foreseeable future. It would be unfair to expect someone in his current lamentable state of mind to provide five days of sustained intensity and focus at the highest sporting level. The best thing the ECB can do for him now is to give him as much time as he needs out of the game and - for as long as ne needs to reconstruct his fractured psyche - neither to put any pressure on him to return to professional cricket nor to impose (or even suggest)any deadline for his return.

5. The positives: Cook, Bell and Pietersen - i.e. the nucleus of the England batting line-up for at least the next six or seven years - have come through their trial by fire relatively unscathed and with their reputations largely intact; Flintoff showed at Sydney that the real Freddie is dormant rather than irrevocably lost; and Panesar again demonstrated that he is a spinner of rare talent.

Let's hope that the new English coach - whoever it is (my money's on Tom Moody) has the vision and courage to blood Broad, Davies and Rashid over the next 12 months or so, so that we can rebuild meaningfully for a 2009 Ashes contest with a side shorn of its finest and most experienced players - and therefore more vulnerable than at any time in the last decade.

Posted by Nath on (January 3, 2007, 3:46 GMT)

Thx Fred.

Your captaincy and poor on field performances were more than Australia could have hoped for. I'm sure Symonds is more than thankful for the field placings after lunch day 2 in Melbourne as well.

Great job Fred!

Posted by glen on (January 3, 2007, 3:08 GMT)

If you are going to take 5 sessions to score 420+ runs and be competitive well your on the back foot from the start.Monty should have been in the side from Brizzy im convinced he is one of the better spinners around only given the chance.Being belted for 22 in an over well there was a chap from oz that got belted .But alas we had border who kept throwing him the ball didnt he warnie.

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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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