January 5, 2007

Fifth Test, Sydney

Goodbye to all that

Gideon Haigh

Several times today the Barmy Army bugler Billy Cooper showed off a new addition to his repertoire: the Last Post. This is mine at Eye on the Ashes. I have filed a report for Guardian Unlimited, and a series round up for the newspaper, so here are just a few passing observations.

Andrew Flintoff spoke well at his press conference – as well as he has, at least. He wore his England cap, as he usually does: a statement of allegiance now that the statement of intent is irrelevant. He was asked some good questions, and gave no excuses. Christopher Martin-Jenkins asked him about England’s circumscribed preparation. Flintoff declined to use it as a prop for England’s meekness at Brisbane: ‘I was ready to play a Test match.’ The question remains, I think, whether he was ready to play a Test match against Australia in Australia.

Justin Langer, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath bounced beautifully off one another. Langer, as ever, spoke in tongues, saying that he was upset on the eve of the match, although this did not upset him: ‘I’d be upset if I wasn’t upset about it.’ Unimproveable. Asked about what he would do with his cap, he said he thought it deserved the protection of thick glass, not the cap from the outside world, but the outside world from the cap, which stank to high heaven. ‘He’ll have to find something else to wear to bed now,’ said McGrath. In fact, I’ll miss Warne and McGrath for their comic timing as well as their cricket. ‘5-0,’ said McGrath, a propos of nothing, as he sat down ‘It’s nice that Pigeon got one right,’ said Warne. ‘I only got one wrong,’ retorted McGrath. Pure gold. Ponting himself looked slightly flushed, maybe even a little teary. He admitted, in fact, to avoiding TV cameras on the field, as he had been feeling quite emotional.

Me, I'm beat. I’ve written more than 100,000 words in the last six weeks for various outlets, so I must confess to feeling a selfish pleasure at the last day of the series. The Australians have been scintillating to watch, like the Harlem Globetrotters in their skill; England have looked, not surprisingly, like the Washington Generals. I’m delighted for Warne, McGrath and Langer that they should have gone out under circumstances that became them. There is a sneaking satisfaction, too, that Rudi Koertzen is one series closer to retirement.

Thanks to those who corresponded, except to those who were deliberately or gratuitously unpleasant, who I hope suffer miserable lives and painful deaths. Comments to blogs are evidently as graffiti to the toilet door: inevitable but greatly varying in quality. My favourite comment was Crullers’ timely recollection of the Wonder Twins. Thanks to those who were so solicitous of Trumper the Cat: alive, well, and probably asleep at home in Melbourne, in my girlfriend’s tender care.

As I compose this last post in the SCG press box, far beneath me on the outfield there continues a long, sprawling, noisy and cheerful game of cricket using bins, plastic bats and tennis balls. Over the last three or so hours, it has involved about a hundred people, from children of six to men of sixty, plus a score of girls, all either groundstaff, caterers, or bar staff. That must be almost as reassuring a sight for Australian cricket as what we saw this morning. Now, it’s back to the studio.

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Posted by Freya on (January 11, 2007, 10:42 GMT)

The last day in Adelaide was my 29th birthday. As I walked to the ground with my obviously cricket-mad boyfriend, I distinctly remember saying "it'll be such a boring draw. Maybe we can go and do some sight-seeing in the afternoon, or drive out to the Barossa". 30 years of cricket-watching experience had of course taught my Yorkshireman a thing or two, and he was having none of it. "Let's just wait and see", he said.

And what a way it was to spend one's birthday. Still, it wasn't as bad as the match we travelled all the way to Pakistan to watch. It's curious that people don't mention the Multan match more often; it was the first Test of the 2005 Pakistan series, and looked if anything more set in stone than Adelaide. England were batting on the last day, and were chasing a score of 197, which they had all day to achieve, but were bowled out for 165.

That, in my view, is where the self-doubt set in.

Posted by arjun chhabra allemand on (January 11, 2007, 0:29 GMT)

yo mama

Posted by Rob on (January 10, 2007, 23:16 GMT)

Gideon, please stop writing! You have cost me too many working hours reading your blogs and far too much money buying your books. Unfortunately they make really good Christmas presents. I've lost count of the number of copies of the Vincibles I've bought. And I'm in the closing overs of Ashes Anecdotes which quotes from a number of your previous books which I now have to go out and buy... What, you think I'm made of money?!

On a more serious note, thanks for your wonderful work.

Posted by 89notout on (January 10, 2007, 15:03 GMT)

I'd just like to add my own tribute to Warney.

I'm a club cricketer who was, in the early 90s, a dour opening bat who bowled a little right arm medium swing. Upon watching Warney take England apart in '93 (and me and putting on a bit of weight), I soon attempted to bowl leggies, firstly in the nets, and a couple of years later in games. I never really became an accomplished leggie, but a few topspinners with a bit of away-drift and a bit of flight and changes of pace changed my world. I then became a lower order slogger and a reasonably successful slow bowler, albeit at a low level, and got wickets mainly because many batters had no idea how to play spin (not in the 5th Division of the Wetherby league, anyway).

Thanks Warney. Where once I was one of the only leggies to be seen in the lower reaches of my league, now every team seems to have a younger, keener, more skilful legspinner than me, and my effectiveness as a bowler has been reduced as players have learned how to play slow bowling. That's the true measure of Warne's greatness...and boy will we miss him.

Posted by el poroto Dean on (January 10, 2007, 10:49 GMT)

OK Mr Wisden, McGrath took 8/24 against Pakistan. He took 10 wickets in a match against the West Indies, also at Perth, a few years before. But the point is, McGrath too 563 wickets, and made lots of very good batsmen look like chumps. And this in what many consider a golden era for batting.

Posted by Vishnu on (January 10, 2007, 0:27 GMT)

Mark: I agree with Peter. You are talking nonsense mate. Those ratings are fair & reasonable summation of the series. Like Peter rightly pointed out, which players' ratings would you raise or lower? Pietersen's rating is just. He played well early, then after Adelaide his selfishness came to the fore. Flintoff was woeful, make no mistake...much was expected, little was delivered. The two innings he made half centuries in were streaky & ungainly at best (& also late in the series).

Get over it. England were comprehensively outplayed & the ratings rightly reflect that. Which England players played better than an Australian counterpart?

Posted by marcus on (January 9, 2007, 8:23 GMT)

el Poronto Dean

Do some homework yourself mate. That 8-24 was against Pakistan in 2005, and most of the batsmen did actually hang their bats out to dry- from memory only 2 of those wickets fell to genuine wicket-taking deliveries. And no, I'm most certainly NOT Marcus Trescothick. I'm by no means saying that McGrath isn't an outstanding bowler, I'm just saying that some batsmen absolutely gift their wickets away needlessly.

Posted by Mick on (January 9, 2007, 2:42 GMT)

Well done Gideon. I have enjoyed your writing immensely and whilst my comments to your articles have not been included I have enjoyed reading the views of others also. I undersatnd that you have or are writing a book on Warwick Armstrong - I look forward to purchasing a copy in the near future and reading your take on a man and a cricketer who appears to have both his supporters and detractors for a variety of reasons.

Cheers for now Mick

Posted by el poroto Dean on (January 9, 2007, 2:23 GMT)

Comparing teams from different eras will always be difficult, maybe impossible, even when they are comparatively close in time, as are the great Windies teams of the 80's and the great Australian side of the 95-07 period. I think Kathy's comment on the effect that the two-bouncer per over rule would have on the Windies' "tactics" (for want of a better word) is very insightful (the law was changed because of the way the Windies played). They would certainly have to change their game plan. Batsmen today, particularly tailenders, are much more adept at handling such bowling.

Windies never had a spinner worthy of the name, but they still managed to win wherever they went (except New Zealand, funnily enough), but their real asset was their fielding. They saved so many runs and almost never dropped catches. Ditto the great Aussie teams under Taylor, not so much though the present era, although with some young blood, this aspect may improve.

Some guy called marcus (Trescothick?) questioned McGrath's record, saying he got so many wickets against technically flawed batsmen who hung the bat out to dry, and cited his 8/23 (at Perth) as an example. Do some homework mate. That analysis included perhaps the finest hat-trick of all time of three top-order batsmen, including Lara and Adams. No bunnies there. In fact, McGrath's most common scalps were the best batsmen of their generation: Atherton (an astonishing 19 times), Lara, Stewart, Tendulkar et al. When you take 560 test wickets, you're bound to pick up a few bad batsmen, but please, don't cheapen such a great effort and career by carping about poor techniques. Also, while McGrath never bowled against Australia, for obvious reasons, he also rarely bowled against the test minnows Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, where many players, particularly from the sub-continent and NZ, like to fill their boots.

Posted by Mike on (January 8, 2007, 15:18 GMT)

What have you got against Rudi Koertzen. Is it because you believe he gave a couple of unfair dismissals against Strauss, or is it just that you poms don't like South Africans very much?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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