January 11, 2007

Reflection

Raking over these Ashes

Tim de Lisle
Mike Hussey celebrates his century, Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, December 16, 2006
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BEST PLAYER Ricky Ponting. The world’s best batsman and a much improved captain.

BEST NON-PLAYER Troy Cooley. The only man to finish on the winning side in both the last two Ashes series. Australia's seamers did this time what England's did last time, working as a team and offering no respite, even with the old ball.

WORST BALL The first, bowled by Steve Harmison. It went straight to second slip – and into Ashes mythology.

BEST INNINGS Ponting’s 196 at Brisbane, which grabbed the series by the scruff of the neck.

BEST TEAM PLAYER Mike Hussey. Australia’s least spectacular batsman, but the one most likely to steer them out of trouble. He forged partnerships that shaped the business end of the series. He added 209 with Ponting at Brisbane, to snuff out England’s first hint of a decent bowling performance; he added 192, also with Ponting, at Adelaide, to see off the follow-on; and he made 74 not out to hold Australia together at Perth when England finally did bowl well. Also chased like a lunatic in the deep, caught Strauss brilliantly at Brisbane, and served his time at boot hill. Every team should have a Hussey. England’s best bet could be Owais Shah.

BEST MATCH The third Test at Perth. Brisbane was one-way traffic; Adelaide was a bore until the last day, when that savage twist arrived; Melbourne went flat after the excellent Hayden-Symonds partnership; Sydney promised much but petered out when England’s top order flopped. Perth became one-sided too, but only late on. The first day, when Harmison was himself and Monty made his entrance, was riveting. Then Australia fought back: after the bloated scores of the first two Tests, it was great to see the bowlers in charge. Then, out of nowhere, came hurricane Gilchrist. Finally England’s young players batted with just enough steel to salvage some honour.

BEST FIELDER Andrew Symonds, prowling the covers in the last three Tests. His strength, reach and pace put him in the select club of fielders who can turn a dot ball into an event.

BEST HITTER Adam Gilchrist. Had a bizarre time, making either 0, 1, 60 or Australia’s fastest-ever hundred, but to finish the series with a strike rate of more than a run a ball was staggering. Managed to make a difference and put his feet up at the same time: in the whole series, he faced only 225 balls.

Chris Read stands up to the stumps during England's net session ahead of the third Test, Perth, December 13, 2006
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BEST CATCHER Chris Read. With 11 catches and one stumping out of only 20 wickets to fall while he was out there, he was pure silk behind the stumps. Pure jelly in front of them, but then so was the man he replaced, Geraint Jones.

BEST SELECTION Stuart Clark, the quiet man who ended up not just as the most economical bowler on either side, but the most incisive (26 wickets at 17). When the series began, some good judges were advocating dropping him for Mitchell Johnson, and plenty of fans were clamouring for the raw pace of Shaun Tait. Either could have done well – but not, realistically, as well as Clark.

WORST SELECTION England at Brisbane, making three unforced changes (G Jones for Read, Giles for Panesar, Anderson for Mahmood) which all had to be rescinded later. None of the beneficiaries had significant form, and two of them were less than match-fit. All the selectors needed to do was bring in Flintoff for Mahmood, plus a battle-hardened top-order batsman for Trescothick. The extra changes smacked of panic.

WORST STRATEGY England’s insistence on playing five bowlers throughout, even when it had become clear that this left them with only five batsmen.

MOST UNLIKELY BLOCKER Kevin Pietersen. Bit by bit, Australia’s pinpoint accuracy reduced England’s buccaneer to a barnacle. In the first Test he faced 199 balls and made 108 runs; in the last, it was 199 balls again, but only 70 runs. He batted longer than anyone on either side in the series, yet didn’t score the most runs.

WORST CASE OF SHELLSHOCK Paul Collingwood. His double hundred at Adelaide was a career peak, but afterwards the only way was down, starting in the second innings, when he made 22, hopelessly slowly, as his team mates turned to lemmings at the other end. Didn’t pass 30 again.

Shane Warne roars an appeal against Paul Collingwood which is turned down, Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, December 5, 2006
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BEST BOWLING The Australians bowled so well as a pack that they took 92 wickets with only two five-fors. Their best performance was probably Warne’s 4 for 49 in the second innings at Adelaide, a chilling piece of psychological cricket; he asphyxiated his opponents with a piece of cord woven from their own fears. Best by an Englishman: Hoggard’s 7 for 109 at Adelaide, a masterly display of patience, variation and sheer bloodymindedness.

WORST BOWLING Harmison at Brisbane (one for 177): not so much a spearhead, more a boomerang. Worst by a slow bowler: Warne in the first innings at Adelaide (one for 167), because he stopped being Shane Warne and turned into Ashey Giles on a bad day, aiming outside leg stump.

BEST COMMENTATOR Nasser Hussain. Thinks like a captain, talks like a journalist.

BEST OBSERVATION On the final day of the series, I bumped into Alastair McLellan, a business journalist who once edited an interesting book called Nothing Sacred: The New Cricket Culture. He pointed out that Peter English, Cricinfo’s Australian editor, had done a piece on the Adelaide debacle entitled “Insipid England ruin series”. Written in haste, proved right at leisure.

WORST SLEDGE Most ineffectual: Collingwood laying into Warne at Sydney and keeping him pumped after his standing ovation had faded. Most graceless: Warne to Collingwood at the same time. It’s your final appearance of a glittering career – why spend it descending to the level of a playground bully?

BEST RIPOSTE Ian Bell, when Warne labelled him the Shermanator. He said: “I’ve been called worse.” His bat did the rest of the talking: after floundering against Warne in 2005, he made 121 off him this time for only twice out, using his feet to come out of his shell.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ENGLISHMAN Mark Ramprakash, scoring a perfect 40 with his salsa in the final of Strictly Come Dancing.

SILLIEST FOOL Me, for assuming Adelaide would be a draw when I went to bed that night. I forgot the lesson that is rammed home early on in The Silence of the Lambs, when Jodie Foster is doing her FBI training…

Scott Glenn: How do you spell assume? Foster: Er, A-S-S-U-M-E, why? Glenn: Because when you assume something, you make an ASS out of U and ME.

MOST ACCURATE PREDICTION Glenn sodding McGrath. He finally got one right.

BEST BLOG COMMENTER Kathy from New Zealand – thoughtful, soulful and able to rise above the sometimes toxic banter of more interested parties. Runner-up: the delightful gentleman who remembered seeing Len Hutton. Many thanks to everyone who contributed, and the silent majority who didn’t; to Sambit Bal for bringing the blog over from my site, and to everyone at Cricinfo for their help, especially Will Luke.

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

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Posted by Pete on (January 19, 2007, 3:53 GMT)

There needs to be a number of changes to the England team in both forms of the game.

Firstly in regards to keeping, Chris Read should be the one and only keeper. Sure take a back up on tours for the injury, but the best gloveman in the country should be the national keeper. Sure, Gilchrist is an exceptional batsman, but he sets the standard for wicketkeeping in Australia, thus he gets his place in the team. If Read gets a chance to be exposed to international attacks then he will improve his batting, and his glove work will always save runs because there will hardly be any byes conceeded and he will only drop the really really difficult catches. I really feel sorry for the guy, because he doesn't really know how he's meant to go about his cricket. He gets dropped when in form, recalled into a lost cause, then gets dropped again for a 36 year old which clearly isn't showing signs of looking to the future.

Secondly, Monty never to be dropped from either team, until a spinner of better quality comes along. He'll get spanked for sure, but he'll always be trying to take wickets and his energy surely would be infectious if everyone in the team embraces it. Warne got hit around the park on occasions but, because he was the best spinner in the country, was kept and look at what he did. I'm not saying Monty will be as good as Warne, but he is England's best spinner so he must always be a part of the team.

Third, they need to find some big hitters in county cricket. They have too many conventional players at the top of the innings. Strauss, Vaughan, Bell won't tear you apart, and put so much pressure on Pieterson and Flintoff to up the tempo and if they don't and get out cheaply then a slow, low total is on the cards. Also, it shows in the fact that Pieterson injured only leaves one hitter, who just happens to be some sort of captain and their strike bowler. Look at the Aussies, blasters at the top of the innings, middle order accumulators who hit sixes in Ponting, Clarke and Hussey, then huge hitters in Symonds and White, meaning they get big totals easily. That's what England need to find, one or two more big hitters who can help tear apart the attacks and have one of those come in the top 3.

Fourth, they have to not be rigid in the 5 bowler policy. They need to be able to realise if their batting is not up to scratch and pick an extra batsman, which will also release a bit of pressure on Flintoff. The policy works if everyone is in form, but if not, well you will lose series 5-0.

Next, don't give guys in their mid 30s debuts if you're apparantly building for the future and looking to the next Ashes and trying to win World Cups. It also gives mixed messages to the talented youngsters.

No more Harmison, unless they're playing at home. Sure, everyone says he's a great bowler, which he shows at glimpses. But when your spearhead says that he doesn't like to tour overseas it doesn't put a lot of confidence in the team. He's a player who now has close to 50 tests, so he's experienced, and he now has to step up to the mark otherwise they should just get rid of him.

There are probably so many more, but these are the ones that come to mind. And another point, I think it's fairly well known that Warnes sledge showed the views that pretty much every non-English person has around the cricketing worlds. Great words Warney.

Posted by Somu on (January 17, 2007, 10:50 GMT)

Tim tht was a wonderful work by you throughout the ashes. Why not include Warne's comments on McGrath whn he told after tht SCG match tht "McGrath gets it right atleast once if he keeps on telling". Tht was a gud comment too.

Posted by swaugh on (January 16, 2007, 23:45 GMT)

Chris makes a good point (Australia in fact had a tickertape parade after the 1989 series, and that was after losing just two Ashes series) - but surely awarding everyone MBEs was overdoing it (great sledge, Warney). In fact, I see England have finally won a game on tour - all things being relative, perhaps more gongs are now in order?

Posted by Pete on (January 16, 2007, 20:25 GMT)

yeah, I agree with asuka, was just wondering what tim's thoughts would be.

As an Aussie, I'd just like to point out that after 1989 we gave AB's side a street parade. so in answer to the question of how triumphant we'd have been... especially with the cricket tragic and popularist John Howard in power...

Posted by James W on (January 16, 2007, 14:37 GMT)

It's pretty evident to most of us that Tim has a bais against Warne. He takes jibes at him even after he's retired. Very unprofessional coming from a form editor of Wisden.

Posted by Cameron flint on (January 16, 2007, 11:52 GMT)

OK here we go....

Firstly, suggestions that Steve Harmison is your best bowler are verging on the insane. Great sportsmen rise to the great occasions and what could be greater than touring Oz as the reigning Ashes holders? Sadly Harmy's contributions to the series amounted to very little. We Aussies know that he is better than that, but we also fear Matthew Hoggard more than any of your bowlers. He is sublime.

Secondly, to suggest Shane Warne cheated his way through his career is positively offensive. He is a champion and mastered both the physical and psychological aspects of our great game. A master of the sledge too.

Thirdly, retire in peace Messrs Warne, McGrath, Langer and Martyn. All superb and thank you for your services to our country. We over here hope the void created by your departures can be filled quickly!?! Not too likely

Mike Hussey is a great great cricketer but Ricky Ponting deserved the Player of the Series award.

Finally, in my line of work I had the opportunity to meet Messrs Hoggard, Strauss and Collingwood and I found them all to be true gentlemen and it was a real thrill.

Long live The Ashes and see you in 2009!!!!!!!

Posted by skraz on (January 16, 2007, 8:10 GMT)

Chris - We would enjoy it for sure, but would we be getting MBE's etc over it and carrying on as bad as all the english supporters including bloggers did?

no

Posted by Odie on (January 16, 2007, 3:19 GMT)

For Chris:

Nice attempt at a role reversal, although less than convincing, considering it went a little further than just a few loud celebrations.

I direct your attention to the MBEs, boasts (granted, mainly from the fans and English commentators) that England would now be a test force to be reckoned with and that Australia was "past it", and an inane autobiography (yes, I'm looking at KPs ugly mug on the front of this dog's breakfast right now) amongst the other equally dismal marketing initiatives designed to capitalise on short term euphoria.

The point is that all of this spurred your opponents onto bigger and better things, and the resultant 5 nil drubbing and demonstrates just how annoyed we were at the antics of this bunch of upstarts.

One thing that the ACB would have recognised (had the roles been reversed), and regardless of the celebrations, is that one series win in such circumstances does not deserve the accolades that were bestowed...hence Warne's comment to Collingwood.

The ACB would have been looking at ways to try to cement such success into the future rather than just resting on its laurels as has happened with the ECB (need I remind you where Mr Cooley ended up?).

Mr De Lisle used a word in an earlier ill fated article which probably sums up the whole situation, Chris. The word may also give you some insight as to why many in the Australian cricketing community found the goings on in 2005 rather excessive, to say the least.

That word, Chris, is "hubris".

Posted by Chris on (January 15, 2007, 14:06 GMT)

Here's a little experiment for the Aussie fans who are criticising England's 2005 celebrations. Just imagine (it's hard, I know) that Australia had lost every series against England for 16 years. Imagine there seemed to be no end in sight. Then imagine that Australia, straining every sinew, narrowly managed to beat a superior English side. Now place your hand on your heart and answer this question. Would you have celebrated with no more than a quiet beer? No, didn't think so.

Posted by Graham on (January 15, 2007, 13:23 GMT)

For those wondering why Collingwood laid into Warne, I think he, like the rest of us in the ground when the replay was shown, was absolutely incensed that he didn't walk when he blatantly gloved his 5th or 6th ball from Monty through to Read. I think with the renowned walker Gilly at the other end, Colly decided he needed to say something. One of the all time greats though he is, Warne has got away with more cheating in his career in the form of incidents like this and his ridiculous posturing when appealing or having appeals turned down than any other player in history.

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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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