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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Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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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?

Posted by Si Baker on (January 8, 2007, 14:59 GMT)

Whoops: make that Rashid at 6, followed by Flintoff, Davies, et al.

Posted by Si Baker on (January 8, 2007, 14:56 GMT)

Very perceptive comments, Tadhg - but the only fly in the ointment re Pietersen learning the essential skills of captaincy from Warne at Hampshire is that Pietersen, as an ECB-contracted player, hardly ever turns out for Hampshire: last season, for example, he didn't play a single first-class game for them. However, yes, he could still absorb many of the lessons he'll need as a captain simply by attending as many county games as he reasonably can...

Time to start rebuilding! My team for the first Test against the Windies in May (I'm assuming that Vaughan's knee will have buckled from under him again & that he will finally have had to call it a day; oh, & also that Trescothick will still be unavailable):

Cook; Compton; Bell; Pietersen (captain); Collingwood; Flintoff; Davies; Rashid; Broad; Panesar; Hoggard. (With Collingwood & Bell being utilised as a composite fourth seamer.)

Posted by Jon on (January 8, 2007, 12:35 GMT)

I'm 100% with KP as captain for World Cup..... England could not do any worse at the moment especially in ODI's.... He has the right attitude and he inspires his teammates. He probaly should take the heat and bat at 3 (as the best batsmen should)

I will very suprised if Vaughan appointment as captain makes major a difference. You can talk about his fantastic series in Australia last time forever in a day. However, his ODI form before he got injured was at best spasmodic and his form in the couple of recent games in Perth was pathetic against Grade cricketers. Vaughan should concentrate on his batting after such a long layoff... otherwise the Aussie will get there target.

I also support KP's approach with the tailenders... Steve Waugh (who I'm not the biggest fan of anyway) was regarded as the best batment with tailenders and he took the single on offer everytime... You watch Australia take singles in the same situation. For me that critism of KP approach perfectly sums up the negative approach English cricket. If opposition are giving you runs, then you take them 99.9% of time.

Posted by Peter on (January 8, 2007, 11:48 GMT)

I wonder....if FF had been Fully Fit to bowl and threfore provided England with a proper, full strength four prong attack (no Mahmood/Anderson)....

This would have allowed Flintoff to bat at #7, bringing in a real batsmen at #6. I reckon that even an average performer would have added an average of 20 - 30 runs per innings and Flintoff may well have scored more lower down. Potential for 40 - 60 runs more per innings?

Therein lies the real problem. Selection compounded by fitness.

Posted by PTB Doc on (January 8, 2007, 11:39 GMT)

Sean, was one of those books "Asbestos House", or were they only cricket fare. I'm having a bugger of a time finding it for my Dad and will have to order it over the net. Serves me right for living in the backwater (although it's usually good for books, and I've picked up some crackers of antique cricket literature since I moved here) that is the Southern Highlands of NSW. I'm sure it'll be on the new release shelves here sometime in 2008. I digress. On the plus side, living here did mean I could have a rather interesting Ashes moment. Watched the Aussies on TV going ape-o with the champagne on the podium as the silly futbol confetti things went off as they did for Vaughan and Co. 15 months earlier. I then jumped in the car and drove five minutes away to have a quick squizz at the match that Vaughan himself was playing in, for the MCC Academy XI (or similar) against a Bradman Foundation XI at Bradman Oval, Bowral. Apparently he got 27 but I got there too late I think, unless he's put a lot of chub on, as I couldn't see him. Maybe he timed it so that he was at the crease and away from a telly when the crystal vase thing was handed over and back in in time for the midday movie. I hope the vase never saw the Aussie dressing room as I wouldn't have given it a life expectancy of more than half a case. If there was ever an argument for not handing over the Ashes or even a slightly less delicate replica then post match celebrations would be the defining one for me. Gideon, will miss the blog. Loved being able to read your OPINION (I thought that's what blogs were for) and the way that you kept it brief the majority of the time. Don't see that as a sign of laziness as you seem to sum things up in a few short paragraphs where other circle the point for a few pages before tripping over it. I thought your short tribute to Marto was a classic example. Your books are so thorough, balanced and extensively researched that while it's obvious you're a massive (Gideon would have thought of a better word) cricket fan, I almost forget that you also can be opinionated and biased like the rest of us. Of course you express your opinion much more elegantly, whereas I usually just swear at the TV and Channel 9 commentary team and make a general Duncan Fletcher of myself. On the bright side, I won't miss Mark Nicholas' constant swooning over Warne, although I reckon he'll now'll just focus all his attention, goodwill and love on Roy Symonds. On the even brighter side, I was given the 2006 reprint of The Summer Game by my life partner for Christmas, and have been feigning a major stomach upset ever since so I can sneak off to the bathroom to read it for 10 minutes without fear of being disturbed by an entertaining yet distracting act of toddler or baby or both. I think she's caught on to what I'm doing though, so the happy times may soon come to an end, but at least there's a feast of PJ cricket coming up to drown out real life.

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

Some very interesting comments, and all following off some excellent reading. Not that I've agreed with 100% of it! But that's the point of blogs - they're supposed to make you think!

I like the comparison of the 70's/80's/90's West Indies sides with the 90's/00's Australian sides. I'd like to think Australia would come away with a win, but I'm not sure! I don't think Ponting and Hayden would be as lame as some suggest (Hayden likes to pull), and I think Warne would've done better against the West Indies of the 80's than the current team. I still remember Melbourne, and that 7 wicket haul. It was still a team of fantastic batsmen, if lacking the genius of Viv Richards, but Warne had it over them. It was only their bowling - the brilliance of Ambrose, Walsh - that won that series. And, from my imperfect memory, the major difference between that series and 94/95 was extra experience in the Aussie batsmen. It would have been brilliant to see - the best of the 80's West Indies against the best of the current Australian team... Shame it can't happen! Except, in watered down form, as a beer advert on a beach.

I like the idea of Pietersen as England captain. He also has one major point, which I believe is an advantage which no one else has pointed out - although he hasn't captained his county, he's been under Warne's captaincy. I can't think of many better places to learn. If any. He’s also young enough to be a very long term option for the captaincy. And I’ve love to see him and Graeme Smith play each other as captains…

On the point that people need to take Justin Langer's attitude, it's valid. They need to take out what he did in the last 5 years. He had all the stodge and grit that Steve Waugh did, and that Collingwood, Bell, Cook, etc showed during this series. But he did the reverse of Waugh - Waugh started with all the shots and tightened his game. Langer started with the basics right - all the technical, defensive processes - and added attack, and an ability to read what was needed in each game. Bell, Collingwood, etc, they showed an ability to hold down an end. But they didn't know what to do with that end - as is also evidenced in England's One Day performances. If you're out there, you're out there to make some runs, and they just didn't seem to be able to do that. All the talk before the series seemed to be about the balance of the sides. Well, neither side was perfectly balanced in terms of batsmen to bowler ratios. Australia wanted 5 bowlers, at best they got close, but not quite there. But England had a different balance problem - they had a problem of attack vs defence. For most of the series, they had defence everywhere in their batting order, except at no. 5 + 6. They need to look at what kind of batsman they have where, as much as how many batsmen there are. They need to do the same with their bowling. Keep Hoggard, find another like him, and then pick your attacking bowler. Australia did that - they had two accurate quicks who could stem the runs, and one who was there to bowl the fast, unpredictable, unplayable delivery. And the 4th bowler, the all-rounder - which is what Flintoff should be, to avoid overloading him - then has more freedom. At least they picked an attacking spinner. Eventually.

The result is as it should be – Australia by a long way – and yes I say that as a very happy Australian! It’s just a shame it’s over… I would’ve enjoyed 10-0! And we lost 4 greats... Now a moment of silence...

Posted by sridhar on (January 8, 2007, 7:46 GMT)

Yes Gideon i shall miss your blogs.Now the Ashes is over, it seems a dull period for me personally.Fancy an Indian watching ashes cricket with such seriousness.Oh I can assure you I am not the only one.Actually the whole world wants Australia to lose, none more than the english commentators and sports writers, several of whom are still carrying scars from lost battles with the Aussies .So I was sickened by the one-sided coverage of last year"s ashes and the unnecessary jubilation.Consistency is key and that is the difference between Australia and England.And I consistently liked your writing Gideon.May you write more.

Posted by J on (January 8, 2007, 5:18 GMT)

Go Stuart MacGill!!!

Posted by Mushtaq on (January 7, 2007, 23:46 GMT)

The one about Mahmood thinking about the human genome project rather than running out Warne was a gem. You'd win the Ashes of Blogs just for that.

Posted by Sean on (January 7, 2007, 23:21 GMT)

Gideon, well done on an tough ask, expecially when it was clear that a one sided series was going to make it hard to come up with new articles each day. Only so many times you can go to the thesaraus and get a new word for pathetic or humiliated. You wrote well, with variety and humour and whilst criticism and comment is welcome, shame on those who sought to be deliberately cruel. I gave a mate of mine three of your recent books for his 40th recently, I should have bought them earlier and read them myself before passing on. Put your feet up and rest, you've earnt it

Posted by Sphagnum on (January 7, 2007, 17:44 GMT)

I agree with Si's sentiment that KP should be groomed as the next English Captain. All this talk that he is not a team player would quickly be dismissed if he was the one sitting down at the end of each day/match/series explaining to the press why England performed the way they did.

Nothing gives you more respect for your wicket, when selected as a batsmen, as having the added responsibility of captaining the team.

The best captains are those that are able to: make the tough decisions, let their players know when they aren't performing to expectations, stand up and be counted when the side has its back against the wall and have the respect and admiration of their team mates.

A few spring to mind. Waugh, Taylor, Fleming, Chappell, Akram. The list goes on.

Pieterson, in my opinion, is one of these guys.

A Steely resolve and a good cricketing brain? He has the perfect mentor in Michael Vaughan.

Can England finally provide the attacking captain that is required to unseat this Australian juggernaut permanently?

Only time will tell...

Posted by Imran ahmed on (January 7, 2007, 16:31 GMT)

Re: that Rudi Koertzen is one series closer to retirement.

How sad, blame it on the umpire when the team stinks and media types like yourself have "made" England #2 when they are not good enough to be #6!

Who would you have preferred?

Umpire Hair with his "no scratching the ball rule" or Umpire Daryl Harper who is equally bad.

Gone are the days when you could trust (yes trust and an Englishman at that) Dickie Bird to be fair and neutral on the field no matter who played England.

Posted by Mark on (January 7, 2007, 2:46 GMT)

Peter, thanks for responding. Its not just this series which has prompted these thoughts - and certainly not sour grapes. To heap laurels on winners without a closer examination of their performances ignores the merit of performing well in adversity and the psychological dimensions of sport. How frequently I have been exasperated by the tendency to assume a winner has necessarily played well and a loser less so. Assuredly England performed poorly as a team - not because they lost, but because of the manner of their losing. Yet this ought not detract from indivdual performances. To score 500 runs in a 5 test series has long been regarded as a mark of excellence; to do so in the midst of a team constantly under pressure and assailed by self doubt, and against a bowling attack which has been deservedly acclaimed for its excellence (Clark's performance was astonishing!) is a very considerable achievement. 7/10 does not do such an achievement justice. No doubt Hayden's 150 at Melbourne was all the more commendable because it was scored in the face of some adversity. Ought we esteem more Steve Waugh's 95 double century against Ambrose and co. in the midst of an intense struggle for dominance or Gillespie's against Bangladesh. Clearly the former because of the adversity over which it was a triumph. Those individuals who performed well for England were swimming against a very strong tide of failure and defeat - and for this they deserve credit. Triumphalism almost always compromises accuracy. Its too simplistic to give praise to winners and scorn to losers. It is a journalistic tendency to which many too easily succumb.

Posted by David on (January 6, 2007, 17:41 GMT)

100,000 words and not a false note. Denzil would have been proud and envious.

Posted by Andrew Keogh on (January 6, 2007, 15:57 GMT)

Gideon, your report for the Guardian was with an article by David Hopps suggesting Shane Warne as next England coach. It is interesting to note (a) that everyone treats Fletcher as toast after the World Cup (b) that English supporters care so little about the World Cup that nobody is very bothered about Fletcher taking England to it despite zero expectations of anything other than another shambles and (c) how all the names touted are Australian: Moody, Chappell, Marsh (okay, I keep touting that name on any blog that will put it up) and now - um - Warne.

After I had pebbledashed the kitchen table with morning spluttered out toast and coffee and fell about laughing, I had a think.

It's a bloody brilliant idea!!!!

Shame it will never happen!!!!

The ECB would have kittens every time he got up the morning.

Posted by Scooter on (January 6, 2007, 15:13 GMT)

Always articulate and insightful, great writing!!

Posted by Peter on (January 6, 2007, 11:54 GMT)

Mark, your "disgust" at the players ratings is hard to fathom, and your suggestion that players on winning sides be marked more harshly than the losers is laughable and illogical. Sour grapes doing the talking methinks.

How can you complain that Pietersen has been unfairly rated (7/10) while at the same time claim that Hayden has been rated too highly (7/10)? Their stats are very similar, both scoring over 400 runs, both averaging in the 50's, both scoring a 150 and a 92 etc. You can't have it both ways... And of the players rated higher than Pietersen (Ponting, Hussey, Clark, Warne, McGrath, Clarke), which ones shouldn't be? The batsmen all averaged way more than KP, and scored nearly as many runs (more in Ponting's case) despite not getting as many innings as he did. And Freddy's rating? He's a nice guy I know, but... 11 wickets at 44 and 250 runs at 28? And uninspiring captaincy - the rating is spot on. Brett Lee? You're disputing a 6.5/10? He got 20 wickets at 33, below the other Aussies, but way better than the best English bowler. Again, a fair rating...

Claiming that "it's much easier playing in a triumphant team" is non-sensical - these guys are in a triumphant team because of their match winning contributions, yet you think that should detract from their evaluation?

The Aussies won this series in a canter, the 5 wins were all big ones and the player ratings reflect that. Hard to swallow maybe, but swallow you must...

Posted by John C on (January 6, 2007, 11:48 GMT)

Taity I too love cricket- in fact I live not far from Sunbury and like a religious man going to the wailing wall, I just had to go to Rupertswood today after such a stunning 5-0 result. It just seemed appropriate although the bemused couple that were setting up for a wedding (it is now a reception venue)gave me some strange looks !! Anyway Gideon thank you for all you have done this summer - really looking forward to Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman et al next year.

Posted by Lee Partis on (January 6, 2007, 11:21 GMT)

Just like to say that your writing has brightened an otherwise dismal few weeks for me. Thanks for your informative and entertaining perspective. Lee

Posted by Taity on (January 6, 2007, 9:20 GMT)

Gideon, I just want to thank you for your great work. I have really enjoyed your insights and comments. As an Aussie I have to say that I have mixed feelings. I am very happy that we have regained the Ashes and in such a dominating way but also I am disappointed. In 2005 whilst recovering from surgery I was thrilled late at night with the cricket as I could not sleep. Even though Australia lost then I was immensely satisfied and looked forward to a similar series here. Not to be however. Not all Aussies want to see a bloodbath and hopefully 2009 will see the English Lion rise to the occasion. God I love cricket! Taity

Posted by PCT on (January 6, 2007, 8:50 GMT)

Thoroughly agree with Marcus. Every player that faced the Windies sides of the 70's & 80's talks about the relentless barrage of fast bowling and that it slowly wore you down. A hypothetical would have resulted in a points decision to Windies. Australia's recent success is largely based on an excellent bowling attack. Their batting success is due to the fact they play against poor quality and inconsistent bowling attacks that are unable to provide sustained pressure against them. This is supported by the fact that the batting averages of players in other test playing nations are also inflated because they also play against poor quality attacks. When they play against Australia, life becomes more difficult (with the exception of the last Indian tour to Australia where McGrath did not play). It would be interesting to reverse the roles and see how Australia's top six batted against McGrath, Clark, Lee and Warne. I suspect the results would be similiar to those experienced by batsmen who have toured Australia in recent years.

On another note, McGrath in my opinion is a superior bowler to Warne. I really think that his retirement will affect Australia more than Warnes. In terms of spin bowlers, its Warne and Murali with daylight second. No arguement there. However, with the exception of wickets taken, McGrath has far superior statistics than Warne across every measure. Charles Davis' analysis of test bowlers certainly supports this line of thought.

Posted by Mark on (January 6, 2007, 8:30 GMT)

You are a fine writer and a perceptive critic. Such eloquence, insight and perspective is sorely needed amongst the sport journalist community. Have just read, with some considerable disgust, the cricinfo 'ratings' of individual players for the series just concluded. Their conspicuous absence of proportion and perspective is more reprehensible than the unsatisfactory performance of the England team. Why this absurd notion that individual players must all be marked down for playing on a losing team. It is a travesty to be so unappreciative of Pieterson's 490 runs over 5 tests against one of the finest bowling attacks in cricket history is - and precisely because these runs were compiled in the midst of such a comprehensive thrashing. Assuredly Flintoff was far from his best - but a measley 4/10 for two handsome innings and bowling of a consistently good standard: spare me.

It is too easy to laud all the winners, and pan all the losers. I would suggest statistics somewhat flatter the respective performances of Lee and Hayden. After all, its much easier playing in a triumphant team. Arguably, we might instead be slightly harsher in our appraisal of players on the winning team, and slightly kinder to those who have managed to perform well among the losers. Much the same approach has been evident in the cricinfo appraisals of players in other series. From a website of this quality - and it is an excellent website, frequently posting refreshingly thoughtful and shrewd articles - I would have expected a more balanced evaluation.

Posted by Dan on (January 6, 2007, 8:16 GMT)

Re: Si Baker on English captaincy England has a very real dilemma here, especially if Vaughan's future is in doubt. Flintoff can't do it again, for both his sake and England's. Strauss had been a contender. He had a poor series and on the field looks like a bit of a dreamer. Pietersen has failed to demonstrate that he is a team player. I actually think he should reprimanded, perhaps even dropped, until he understands what playing a team sport is all about. Here I refer to his batting with the tail, his reckless and irresponsible strokeplay in situations where his team needed an example set. He has much to do before he can follow in Tony Greig's footsteps. Finally I hope that the apologists who contribute to this blog are in no way involved with English cricket. As well as Australia played in this series, the English side was simply pathetic and showed little intestinal fortitude. After they lost the "unloseable" in Adelaide they simply threw in the towel. Harmison should never play for England again. He epitomises all that is wrong with English cricket.

Posted by marcus on (January 6, 2007, 5:37 GMT)

Si, that's my point! Pakistan's attack is a good one when they click, but it's the ability to click often that's missing- consistency. Shoaib's always struggling with strains and injuries, Sami averages 48, Gul is always likely to go for a few, and we'll have to see about Asif. South Africa; well Steyn's just like Fidel Edwards if you ask me (dangerous but erratic), Ntini bowls like a scattergun (no two balls land in the same space EVER- still a good bowler though) Pollock's not taken a 5-fer in years and Nel's a copy of Pollock. England showed last year that if you bowl a sustained line and length to Ponting then you can get him cheaply (that front foots a problem); all you need is a bit of patience. And Hayden? He's a big guy, and no one his size could feel comfortable with fast rib-ticklers at him all the time.

At the very least, you certainly can't call any hypothetical match between these two excellent teams a drubbing.

Gideon, I hope you do another blog for CricInfo in the future.

Posted by gabbar on (January 6, 2007, 4:57 GMT)

Who said that rubbish about Aus beating England 5-0 will be bad for world cricket. Which of the current cricket playing nations are going to withdraw from international competition? That's right - none of them, they'll just try harder now to beat Australia so a 5-0 result to the Aussies is fantastic for world cricket. And to Carl, whilst I agree with what you said, there is a fine distinction between winning and losing. England didn't really "win" the ashes last time, Australia lost them and in this series England didn't "lose" the series, they got absolutely thrashed by the winners.

England need to focus on someone like Justin Langer and apply his mental approach (as well his all round approach) if they ever hope to lift themselves back into the upper half of world cricket. Yeah I know they're supposed to be rated second, but how is that possible when all they could manage was a distant fourth in this series?

Posted by Morgan on (January 6, 2007, 4:48 GMT)

Thanks for the insight. I do not always agree. But nothing would be fun if we all agreed. I can still admire the fine insight and opinions that you have brought to us.

On another point I believe that this Aussie dynasty that has stood since the famous win in the Carribbean (I remember getting up nearly every morning to watch those games as a REAL youngun') is the greatest dynasty of all. Is Waugh's or Ponting's team better? I go for Ponting's, especially considering the wins they recorded:

In South Africa in a few pressure situation (Kasper and Lee's retribution!), Ashes whitewash with the Adelaide miracle and the otherwise sheer ruthlessness that was displayed. Great stuff indeed.

Hope to see you writing more articles soon Gideon.

Posted by David Barry on (January 6, 2007, 2:55 GMT)

Thanks for making this blog, Gideon. You and Charles Davis are the only two people I know of who write about cricket and whose opinions are consistently well thought out, and stand up to historical and statistical scrutiny.

I'll have to find and read some of your books now.

Posted by Kathy on (January 6, 2007, 1:38 GMT)

I wonder if Marshall, Roberts, Holding, Garner et al would have been as effective if the two bouncer rule was in vogue in the late 70s-early 80s, and by extention, would the West Indies have experienced that teams dominance of world cricket at the time...?

Posted by Si Baker on (January 6, 2007, 1:33 GMT)

Marcus, point taken about the McGrath/Clark Axis of Metronomity being aided and abetted by the cavalier wafting and flailing outside the off stump of many of today's ostensibly international-class batsmen, but...I really cannot agree about Ponting, Hayden, et al being susceptible against pace (as opposed to reverse swing). The closest equivalents we have nowadays to the great Windies pace quartets of the late '70s to early '90s are the South African attack of Ntini, Pollock, Nel & Steyn and the Pakistani attack of Shoaib, Asif, Sami & Gul - and look what happened to THEM when they came up against this Aussie side (not sure, off the top of my head, about the outcomes of the last few Oz v Pak series - beyond the fact that the Aussies won them convincingly - but the Proteas were certainly hammered 5-0 (out of 6 Tests) last winter).

On another topic entirely: There's a very simple solution to England's captaincy dilemma - & one that I'm amazed I haven't heard from any other quarter: appoint Pietersen as captain with immediate effect. No doubt many will think this an outlandish suggestion, but he's by far the most competitive member of the team, he has a fine cricket brain (his post-Sydney interview on Sky provided ample evidence of this: unlike Fletcher, Flintoff et al, he didn't just spew platitudes: he offered a blueprint for winning back the Ashes in 2009), he fights to the last metaphorical and literal drop of blood, he'll be an automatic choice for years to come, his batting is the only other element of his game he has to focus on & - last but not least - his putative 'distance' from other members of the team can be used to England's advantage.

Our best leaders - Jardine, Illingworth & Brearley spring to mind - never allowed themselves to become part of any inner clique (contrast this with the current Flintoff/Harmison/Hoggard gang); nor - partly because of their comparative aloofness - were they ever afraid to make unpopular decisions re selection, tactics, etc. Let's not forget that before Hussain, the best of our post-Brearley captains, was given the job, he was - like Pietersen - regarded as an over-individualistic maverick.

Consider the three alternatives: Vaughan may never be fully fit again - & in any case lost his potency as a batsman several years ago; Flintoff has proved he can do no better than captain by numbers &, just as importantly, should be focusing purely on his batting & bowling; & Strauss, on current form, isn't worth his place in the side.

Posted by Tim on (January 6, 2007, 1:05 GMT)

Gideon,

Thanks for the blogs, they were very entertaining and well thought out. You kept your sense of humour through what would have been a tour full of taunts. Well done sir! Seldom do crickets fans have both your knowledge and sense of humour. Now excuse me while i go and sob a little about what Aussie cricket has lost (we won the urn but lost some of the all time great entertainers.) It is a strange feeling to have part of me wish that the urn stayed at the MCC (well the crystal one as obviously the real urn belongs there) so that we could have Warnie for a few more.

Such is life!

Posted by JAZZY on (January 6, 2007, 1:00 GMT)

Boycott for coach, Botham as selector and Gideon as spin doctor for the press. What a combination we may manage to draw a match with this combination in 2009. NOT BLOODY LIKELY!!! CHEERS GIDEON

Posted by marcus on (January 6, 2007, 0:34 GMT)

I have to say thanks as well, all your blogs have certainly been very entertaining and provoked a lot of rsponses.

I just have to respond to Si Baker though, in that a) Warne has a mediocre record against a distinctly mediocre West Indies team; b) McGrath's had to bowl to a lot of very flawed batsmen who just poke their bats out when they don't need to (witness 8-24 at Perth) and c) that in Ponting's era of dominance (post-2001) most of his runs are against bowlers who are at best inconsistent, at worst club bowlers. (this is reflected in the inflated averages of Md. Yousuf, Kallis and Younis Khan in the same period). I honestly believe that if Ponting and Hayden had to play against Marshall, Roberts, Holding and Garner they'd come a cropper. In my opinion, the Australian team of 10 years ago, with Taylor, Slater, the Waughs and Warne and McGrath at their peak was a far better team.

Fare Well!

Posted by Venu on (January 5, 2007, 23:47 GMT)

Thanks Gideon for your insights over the past few weeks. You should try and do this all-year round we would be richer. Langer's statement should definetely make into top 5 cricket quotes ever. I suppose he would've been more upset had he been upset about not being upset. Thankfully, he got upset and didn't have to get upset about not being upset. Look forward to hearing from you in the future. In the meantime please do convince some publishers in the US to publish your work, it is bloody expensive to ship them in here.

Ryan, You can legally watch cricket in the US - http://www.willow.tv It can be a bit expensive. Or If you are in New York, come down to Eight Mile Creek.

Posted by carl on (January 5, 2007, 23:18 GMT)

Note to England teams for future ashes series wins (whenenver that may be): when you manage to beat the Aussies by a measely 2 runs and again by 3 wickets (chasing a lowly 129) at home, put it into perspective. Now you know what a WIN realy is.

Not only did the aussies play ordinary cricket in the last tour, the level of 'over the top' celebration for what amounted to winning by the 'skin of your teeth' was just the thing to get up the aussies nose. Stop motivating the opposition and motivate your selves.

oh, and just in case you forget in 2009, the aussies wont be thinking about 2006/2007..........they'll be thinking about 2005. get ready !!

Posted by Paul Spencer on (January 5, 2007, 23:09 GMT)

Blimey Si, those words you just wrote...'never seeing Warney bat or bowl again in test match'. I agree. I would rather have put up with another Aussie win in England in '09 if it would mean he'd have carried on until then. Warney, thanks for the memories mate.

Posted by Si Baker on (January 5, 2007, 22:43 GMT)

I've been watching Test cricket on a regular basis since 1973 & this Aussie side are by far the best I've ever seen: frankly, I think they'd have blown the Windies team of the late '70s to early '90s out of the water, as the Windies would (a) have been turned inside out by Warne; (b) driven to distraction by McGrath & Clark & (c) not have been able to dominate expert players of pace such as Ponting, Hussey and Hayden. My father has seen every Test team to tour England since Compton's magical summer of 1947 & he reckons, too, that Ponting's side - if not their captain - were superior even to Bradman's invincibles of '48. More importantly, though, by their scintillating and winner-takes-all approach to the game they have ensured that a whole new generation of kids around the world have fallen in love with cricket all over again. I can't quite bring myself to say that it was a pleasure being whitewashed, but as masochistic thrills go, it was kind of hard to beat; - & the thought of never seeing Warne bat or bowl again in a Test match makes me a hell of a lot sadder than seeing my team thrashed out of sight.

Posted by Paul Spencer on (January 5, 2007, 22:25 GMT)

And another thing. Hope there will be a book out similar to the one you did on the 2005 series. Sure there won't be another glut of,largely, terrible books that came out post 2005 series: there must have been about 12 in total but yours ' put its hand up' as Warney might say! Perversely, I rather like reading about English drubbings than all that 'jerusalem' type stuff.

Posted by Paul Spencer on (January 5, 2007, 22:20 GMT)

Gideon, I can't for the life of me understand why you get rude or unplesant comments. You are 'the man' as far as I'm concerned and I have followed every Ashes Series with exactly the same amount of passion as this one since 1972. Unlike some other Poms with the 'sack the lot' type mentality that has been generated as a result of a load of 'bandwagon jumpers' post 2005, I have always been able to see the bigger picture and enjoy the game for what it is. The Aussies were great and a joy to watch. Keep up the fantastic work. Paul, Lancs.

Posted by Rajeev on (January 5, 2007, 22:04 GMT)

Top comments as usual. Thanks for the excellent reporting, and excellently amusing articles.

Posted by Jag on (January 5, 2007, 15:29 GMT)

Dear Gideon,

To be fair, I thought your blog was lazy at times. But I have nothing else bad to say. You write beautifully about the game, you're coverage has been perceptive and insightful. In particular, the personal touch you brought here is unmatched. It satisfied many a vouyer hanging out to find out what cricket journalists get up to after the game,. I will miss your writing, thank you and hope to watch your work on Offsiders later in the year. I can surely say now, I am a fan. ps loved your article: information idol.

Posted by Theena on (January 5, 2007, 15:08 GMT)

Gideon, brilliant blog, brilliantly written. I particularly enjoyed your brilliant dissection of Branson's silly rewriting of cricket history.

Posted by stu d'apples on (January 5, 2007, 14:09 GMT)

I've enjoyed reading your blogs and hopefully will get to enjoy many other things by you. I must say however that the best thing I have read from you is you putting Richard Branson in his place whenever he made up his own version of Ashes history. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Ryan on (January 5, 2007, 12:43 GMT)

Well done to you for a great series coverage. While very envious - we here in the USA have virtually no access - if have greatly enjoyed your reporting of the action!

Posted by Richard Hamilton on (January 5, 2007, 12:18 GMT)

I agree with Kieran above. Gideon's illuminating articles are always interesting and frequently amusing. Thankyou.

Posted by Gerard Gleeson on (January 5, 2007, 11:55 GMT)

There have been a thousand different analyses completed as to why the Poms have been mere passengers in this series over here in Australia, and from my vantage point, it seems that next to none of the flack is being directed at Duncan Fletcher. This bloke is a dead set pelican. How can you expect your side to perform when you blatently scorn them in the media. Such comments regarding the keeping job (Jones is a more consistent batsmen, Reid doesn't have the patience or temperament for this level etc. etc.), and similarly in the debate over Monty Panesar. Prior to this series, the Australian public hadn't been exposed to Monty's infectious enthusiasm for the game, and his unflinching determination to do well. All we heard about was his laughable batting and fielding skills. What an abomination. Monty captured the hearts of the Australian public (save for a drunken racist slur from some Sydney bogan in an early tour match), and was instantly taken in as one of our own, simply through his effort and character. In many ways, he plays the game the Australian way, Forever positive, and with enormous talent.

It's doubtful whether his, and Chris Ried's inclusion in the side from the start would have changed anything in the long run, however I feel they have the talent and tenacity to compete, and compete well at this level. The ECB has many questions to answer regarding team management, particularly the selection process. It is bizarre that there is no official selectors on tour with the side. In that respect I think the ECB can take a leaf out of Cricket Australia's book, and get the seletion process right or future series.

As for Pelican Fletcher, I hope his coaching days are numbered. His management of his team was disgraceful, and a new direction is needed. Perhaps yet another Australian coach is required at test level. Already there are 5 or so Australians coaching test nations, and with reasonable results. Tom Moody may be the man for England, and hopefully a more competitive 09 series.

Posted by Kathy on (January 5, 2007, 11:49 GMT)

While England played good cricket, I wonder if any team could have beaten this Australian team on their unrelenting quest for cricket's 'holy grail'; and by any team, I mean any other team in cricket history, including the West Indies team of the early 1980s.

England, be proud of your team, in spite of the result, for you were beaten by the best test cricket team there has ever been.. we may never see its like again.

A few days ago I made a joke that after all the OBEs after the last Ashes series there was one with this series (OBE = Obviously Beaten England), and I think Shane Warne told Paul Collingwood that his MBE stood for Must Be Embarrasing; I can't help wondering how the English players will feel when arriving home and seeing their 2005 award again..

One and a half years ago I was stunned by a great, close, and intense series; tonight I am just as stunned after seeing the greatest cricket team in the world, set the bar far higher than before. The last day in Adelaide will become cricket folklore.

Thank you Gideon for an interesting blog, though I may not have always agreed with your standpoint or approach, it has been a good read.

From today, world cricket has changed - what it will change to will be facinating to follow.

Posted by Mark Young on (January 5, 2007, 10:40 GMT)

The highlight of the series has been listening to Geoff Boycott effectively being interviewed each night on the BBC podcast by Jonathan Agnew for the position of England coach. He's the 'back to basics' Bob Simpson for their troubled times.

Posted by tony bracewell on (January 5, 2007, 10:30 GMT)

Gideon - your columns are the only thing I'll miss about this dreadful series. (Dreadful for an English supporter, that is.) Hugely enteraining, very perceptive, right on the money. And congrats on correcting Dick Branson and forcing a rare public admission of being wrong from him. Can you do the same with Fletcher next please?

Did Australia whitewash us in the press conferences too?

Posted by Kieran on (January 5, 2007, 9:49 GMT)

Gideon, I always really enjoy your thoughts. I am feeling glum this morning with nothing but a day in the office to cheer me up. It has been a pretty depressing time this last month, but your columns here, and elsewhere have been a consistent highlight. Cheers.

Posted by Jag on (January 5, 2007, 8:14 GMT)

I fear I'm going to have a miserable and painful death. But as long as Trumper the cat is OK, Im fine with that!

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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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