Ashes July 8, 2009

Six factors that shall decide the Ashes

The phoney war is over
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The phoney war is over. After a build-up consisting of a couple of press conferences, some interviews, bits of general non-specific build-up, and, idiotically, no actual cricket to set the scene and establish the rivalry, the 2009 Ashes today makes its long-awaited transition from media frenzy into reality. I am a 34¾ -year-old father of two, and I am, frankly, a bit giddy with excitement.

At 11am, the world will gather around its TV sets and watch in amazement, as Aleem Dar emerges from the umpires’ module in the Cardiff pavilion, strides down onto the outfield where no man has previously stepped (at least, not in a Test match), and utters the immortal words: “Two small steps for two men (umpires, specifically), one giant leap for mankind (or, at least, the subset of mankind that consists of the cricket-watching publics of England and Australia).”

(Incidentally, so incredible was the 2005 Ashes that cynics have suggested that the entire series was a forgery, filmed in a studio in Texas, to stop the Russians hosting the perfect cricket series first. They cite as evidence Matthew Hoggard’s cover drive for four at Trent Bridge, a shot they claim was so unlikely and outlandish as to have been a patent hoax. And Ricky Ponting clearly flapped when he shouldn’t have flapped.)

Here, then, is the Unremittingly Official Confectionery Stall List Of The Six Factors That Will Decide This Ashes Series (excluding the six most obvious factors that will define the destiny of the urn, namely: (1) batsmen, (2) bowlers, (3) fielders, (4) wicketkeepers, (5) umpires, and (6) the magic bionic knuckle Nathan Hauritz bought from a backstreet alchemist’s shop in Cardiff yesterday).

Luck

Lady Luck is notoriously one of the world’s more fickle females, to the extent that many now question her suitability as a peer of the realm and role model to millions. Nevertheless, the flighty temptress absolutely loves cricket, keeps interfering with it, and will undoubtedly pay a visit to the Tests at some point.

In what appears likely to be a close-fought series, both sides would be well advised to get down on their bendiest available knees, offer to take her out for an extremely expensive meal, and beg her to be nice to them.

Four years ago, England, although the dominant team for most of the decisive part of the series, still needed some giant splodges of fortune custard dolloped on top of their otherwise excellent cricket crumble. They won 2-1. They could have won 3-1. They could also have lost 4-0, if Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and the Oval had taken slightly different courses at critical moments.

Admittedly, a 4-0 scoreline would have been the greatest miscarriage of sporting justice since Goliath was posthumously awarded the Slinger Of The Match medallion by a home-town adjudicator from the Philistine Board Of Single Combat. However, 4-0 could easily have happened. And, if it had, I don’t think I would ever have left my house again. And nor would any other self-respecting England cricket fan. (Have left their houses, not mine.) (In case there was some confusion.)

These prime slices of honey-roasted luck included:

− an inquisitive little cricket ball deciding to take a peek at the ground underneath Glenn McGrath’s foot on the first morning of the 2nd Test;
− Brett Lee seeing the juiciest imaginable wide, low full-toss with only four needed to win at Edgbaston, but failing to juice it;
− the marginal caught behind decision against Kasprowicz immediately afterwards, which was clearly out in all but reality;
− Pietersen’s first-ball edge off Warne on the final day at The Oval, which was heading straight towards the safe hands of Hayden at slip until it thought, “Hang on, do I really want to deprive the watching millions of one of the great modern innings? No, I do not, I’m going to deflect off Gilchrist’s gloves and take the battering I deserve”;
− the boundaries at The Oval not being set a quarter of a mile deeper, out in the streets of South London, otherwise Pietersen’s hooks for six off Lee could easily have been caught; and
− Don Bradman being born in 1908, as opposed to 1978.

Upon such slender threads...

Balls (1)

Which, if either, leader will be prepared to whip out his captaincy cojones, thud them both down on red, and spin the roulette wheel?

Ponting may be known as Punter (partly due to his youthful love of gambling, partly due to his predilection for propelling himself slowly up rivers with a long pole), but as captain he has not always donned a cavalier’s hat (the rarest headgear in Test cricket after the sombrero (which has not been seen in an Ashes Test since Douglas Jardine famously ‘went Mexican’ in the final Bodyline Test, charged down the wicket to Bert Ironmonger shouting ‘it’s chimichanga time’, and spooned a catch to Vic Richardson)).

In the Caribbean this year, the Strauss-Flower axis showed itself to be not merely risk-averse, but risk-allergic. The mere concept of taking a calculated gamble in an effort to recover from 1-0 down in the series seemed to bring them out in hives of indecision. At some point, they will need to shut their eyes, glug down a powerful tactical anti-histamine, and pray that they are not allergic to that as well.

Injuries

McGrath’s ankle was arguably the single most influential factor in 2005. He had taken 9 for 82 at Lord’s. He took 10 for 358 in the rest of the series. If only he had trodden on a cricket ball before every Ashes Test he played in, there might be a few more MBEs floating around English cricket.

Brett Lee is already out of at least one Test, probably more − a major disappointment for the series, as, with his pace, attitude and vulnerability to counterattack, it is scientifically impossible to conceive of cricket being dull whilst he is bowling. Australia are thus denied a fearsome-looking and perfectly balanced pace quartet. Regardless of Lee’s statistically unimpressive record in this country, and Australia’s victory in South Africa without him, this is a potentially decisive development.

His absence leaves Ponting and Katich as the Australian bowlers with most Test wickets in England, each boasting a grand total of one. If they remain at the top of that chart come the end of the Oval Test, England will be either deliriously parading around Trafalgar Square in an open-topped bus, or catastrophically embarrassed. Whilst Andy Flower tries to explain to an angry press conference why occasional left-arm wrist spin and dobbly medium pacers are the toughest types of bowling to face in Test cricket these days.

It seems almost inconceivable that Flintoff will last for five Tests, although the entire English cricketing nation will spend the next seven weeks rubbing soothing lotions and tinctures into its Big Freddie voodoo dolls. Pietersen is irreplaceable, in terms of talent, tempo and temperament. If Cook or Strauss is injured, England have no Test-hardened cover.

But the key injury victim could be an unexpected one – Nathan Hauritz. Following his unimpressive performances in the warm-up games, and the rest of his career to date, the off-form offie will be keeping a sharp eye on his team-mates.

I am not suggesting that they will deliberately injure Hauritz. Far from it. But I am suggesting that, if they see him walking down the road, unaware that an especially slippery looking banana skin lies ahead on the pavement ... well, they might not warn him quite as quickly and loudly as they would alert Mitchell Johnson in the same scenario.

And then, when it subsequently emerges that McGain, Krezja, White and the rest have mysteriously all simultaneously lost their passports and been handcuffed to a lamppost in Alice Springs, Ponting will make a televised appeal to the patriotic nature of a certain member of the TV commentary team, and the rest will be talkative history.

Balls (2)

Recent research shows that most British cows, when facing up to the icy, mechanised hand of death, spend their final conscious moments hoping that their leathery hides will be made into Test-grade cricket balls. A lucky few beasts will be unwittingly playing potentially pivotal roles in this summer’s action, and how they choose to behave in the hands of Anderson and Johnson could dictate the series.

The Australians will have to adapt to the unfamiliar Duke ball, which is different to the Kookaburra used down under, which is made, I believe, of a fossilised platypus egg coated in a beer-soaked kangaroo pouch.

Stepping up to the plate

In competitive eating, ‘stepping up to the plate’ is merely phase one in a campaign of intestinal mayhem, base camp on the Everest of Herculean Hot-Doggery.

In the Ashes, however, both teams will need new heroes not just to step up to the plate, but to dive into that plate face first, with the fearlessness of an angry wife in a shopping centre, and keep eating up until victory is assured.

Each side is likely to start today with only three of their first-choice XI from 2005, and many reputations will be made and broken in this series. Is Hussey the untouchable perfectionist who averaged 85 in his first 20 Tests, or the uncertain grinder who averages 30 in his the last year and a half? Is Cook’s Test average of 45 that of a maturing master bordering on world-class, or of a flat-track accumulator flattered by the age in which he plays?

Will Broad ever be a major wicket-taker? Prior and Bopara certainly cut the mustard against West Indies, but the mustard was Scandivianly mild and came ready-cut. Will their cleaving be as effective against an altogether more nose-watering class of condiment? Is Pietersen able to dominate an entire series? Is Hughes the world’s next batting genius, or a flawed rookie with much to learn? Or both? I cannot remember a series in which there were so many uncertainties.

Choke Management

In 2005, England arguably managed to choke three times − in the second innings (with bat and ball) at Edgbaston, chasing at Trent Bridge, and on the final morning at the Oval – but still win. Having stepped up to the plate, they found themselves struggling to keep their food down, but they managed to Heimlich themselves to safety each time.

In Adelaide, they collectively turned a slight tickle in the throat into paroxysmic spasms of self-asphyxiation. If the series is close, the side better able to suppress the early splutterings of a choke, should emerge triumphant.

OFFICIAL CONFECTIONERY STALL SERIES PREDICTION

I have absolutely no idea what will happen. Both sides have enough question marks hanging over them to punctuate a Spanish quiz book. So I will guess that Australia will win 3-1. I hope I’m wrong. England can certainly win, but I think the English media underestimate the Australian pace attack (even without Lee). England have lost their last two late-summer home series. And I am a born pessimist. Roll on 11 o’clock.

You can listen to my Ashes radio comedy show ‘Yes It’s The Ashes’ on BBC 5 Live.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ryan Pereira on July 9, 2009, 21:35 GMT

    Great stuff Andy! Love your articles. Can't read them at work cause I'm laughing too hard. Keep it up

  • colin froman on July 9, 2009, 17:51 GMT

    your grandmother should have taught you to suck eggs Regards to ZZ

  • colin froman on July 9, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    your grandmother should have taught you to suck eggs Regards to ZZ

  • Vipul on July 9, 2009, 7:06 GMT

    Don't these look like something straight out of something from Wodehouse - "Both sides have enough question marks hanging over them to punctuate a Spanish quiz book." and "Prior and Bopara certainly cut the mustard against West Indies, but the mustard was Scandivianly mild and came ready-cut. Will their cleaving be as effective against an altogether more nose-watering class of condiment?"

  • jogesh99 on July 9, 2009, 4:07 GMT

    You forget England's greatest weapon - Ponting's captaincy. Unless Pointless the Gracious decides to cleverly mess up the over rates and get himself banned - something he tried so hard to do in India but lost count halfway, and contrived to lose the final test and the series instead. But we're reliably told that the brilliant Aussie think-tank has learnt from that mistake - they now have a dedicated laptop that enumerates balls, overs, and Pointless's scowls (that much neglected statistic).

  • Paul on July 9, 2009, 2:46 GMT

    In overstating the influence of Smith's injuries on the recent Aus/SA results, Ganesh somehow overlooks the fact that the injuries were caused by his total inability to handle Mitchell Johnson's short ball.

  • ted on July 8, 2009, 22:34 GMT

    if you poms doctor the pitch through the rest of the series [spin friendly dust bowls}you will win 5 nil

  • Siddharth Gupta on July 8, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    Lol...this was a really funny article...especially the part mentioning Pontin and Katich being the highest wicket takers..also the one concerning the luck factor..but one thing that I noticed was that u seemed to have blended the humour with some serious views of ur own...something that was missing in the last few articles....fantastic article anyways..keep up the good work

  • Oliver Jones on July 8, 2009, 16:36 GMT

    Your prediction at the end sums it up! Johnson is in the top 2 fast bowlers at the moment, with Steyn. Siddle and Hilfenhaus are workhorses. And, being an English pessimist like yourself, I feel Andrew Strauss is going to have to do a Mark Butcher Edgbaston 2001 and take their prize scalp!

  • Warhol (not the avant garde pop artist) on July 8, 2009, 15:10 GMT

    actually Don Bradman WAS born in 1978 - he was sent back in time in order to kill English cricketing spirit before it could inspire the likes of the 2005 Ashes series - but was thwarted by the ECB when it sent back one D. Jardine to counter him. This remains the only intelligent decision made by the ECB.

    i predict 2-1 England (i'm an aussie pessimist)

  • Ryan Pereira on July 9, 2009, 21:35 GMT

    Great stuff Andy! Love your articles. Can't read them at work cause I'm laughing too hard. Keep it up

  • colin froman on July 9, 2009, 17:51 GMT

    your grandmother should have taught you to suck eggs Regards to ZZ

  • colin froman on July 9, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    your grandmother should have taught you to suck eggs Regards to ZZ

  • Vipul on July 9, 2009, 7:06 GMT

    Don't these look like something straight out of something from Wodehouse - "Both sides have enough question marks hanging over them to punctuate a Spanish quiz book." and "Prior and Bopara certainly cut the mustard against West Indies, but the mustard was Scandivianly mild and came ready-cut. Will their cleaving be as effective against an altogether more nose-watering class of condiment?"

  • jogesh99 on July 9, 2009, 4:07 GMT

    You forget England's greatest weapon - Ponting's captaincy. Unless Pointless the Gracious decides to cleverly mess up the over rates and get himself banned - something he tried so hard to do in India but lost count halfway, and contrived to lose the final test and the series instead. But we're reliably told that the brilliant Aussie think-tank has learnt from that mistake - they now have a dedicated laptop that enumerates balls, overs, and Pointless's scowls (that much neglected statistic).

  • Paul on July 9, 2009, 2:46 GMT

    In overstating the influence of Smith's injuries on the recent Aus/SA results, Ganesh somehow overlooks the fact that the injuries were caused by his total inability to handle Mitchell Johnson's short ball.

  • ted on July 8, 2009, 22:34 GMT

    if you poms doctor the pitch through the rest of the series [spin friendly dust bowls}you will win 5 nil

  • Siddharth Gupta on July 8, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    Lol...this was a really funny article...especially the part mentioning Pontin and Katich being the highest wicket takers..also the one concerning the luck factor..but one thing that I noticed was that u seemed to have blended the humour with some serious views of ur own...something that was missing in the last few articles....fantastic article anyways..keep up the good work

  • Oliver Jones on July 8, 2009, 16:36 GMT

    Your prediction at the end sums it up! Johnson is in the top 2 fast bowlers at the moment, with Steyn. Siddle and Hilfenhaus are workhorses. And, being an English pessimist like yourself, I feel Andrew Strauss is going to have to do a Mark Butcher Edgbaston 2001 and take their prize scalp!

  • Warhol (not the avant garde pop artist) on July 8, 2009, 15:10 GMT

    actually Don Bradman WAS born in 1978 - he was sent back in time in order to kill English cricketing spirit before it could inspire the likes of the 2005 Ashes series - but was thwarted by the ECB when it sent back one D. Jardine to counter him. This remains the only intelligent decision made by the ECB.

    i predict 2-1 England (i'm an aussie pessimist)

  • JMike on July 8, 2009, 15:04 GMT

    At least one native Yank who has never played cricket (but followed it semi-closely since about the 2005 Ashes) and who writes about like you do (i.e. full of parentheses (occasionally nested)) finds the Confectionery Stall funny in general and a particularly good one today.

    Yours sincerely etc. --JMike

  • Rex on July 8, 2009, 14:20 GMT

    Wow! What an article Andy! You never cease to surprise as well as impress me!

    It was normal fare until you talked about the possibility of the Hauritz injury and a call to Warne.

    I wasn't sure as to where you were getting at when you started talking about Hauritz being the victim of a national conspiracy- I could make it out only at the last line- a patriotic call by Ponting to a member of the TV Commentary team. I actually had to read it twice to be clear of your intentions.

    Masterly stuff!

    The choke joke was nice. The rest was all normal- and impressive.

    It's like saying normal service for Tendulkar, which is always impressive.

    Rock on Andy! I don't care who wins the Ashes, or who wins any game for that matter (India excluded, of course), as long as you churn out articles like these.

    I'll try to listen to your show on the radio- I'll have to look for Worldtel radio site. But I'm sure it'll be worth the effort!

    Rock on!

  • Simon Goddard on July 8, 2009, 10:33 GMT

    What's all this about lack of sombreros. Who can forget the Windies touring attack of Tino, Pedro, Corey and Fidel. Actually they're all from Barbados but there is a very good Mexican on the corner at St Lawrence Gap if anybody is interested.

  • jawad on July 8, 2009, 10:31 GMT

    ENGLAND OPPENERS LOOKING GOOD BUT START VERY SLOW THIS TIME 20 . 30 runs BUT THIS PARTNERSHIP IS GOOD

  • Rahul on July 8, 2009, 10:19 GMT

    another gem of an article... keep going... wonder what it will take us indians to arouse you to write the same about non england matches/series (indian matches/series)(in case there was some confusion)

  • Banksy (not the graffitti artist) on July 8, 2009, 8:56 GMT

    Andy, does "luck" include the weather? Why even bother to have a series in the sodden grey swamp of a country anyway? 67mm of rain is the average for July and it's more than falls in my town of Mildura, Australia in a year!(or more some times) Let's have all "Ashes" games in Australia so we actually get them in unaffected by the elements.

  • Aidan on July 8, 2009, 8:53 GMT

    of course the weather is another important factor although i guess that falls into luck. Great article though, being an Australian i found the bit on Hauritz hilarious, like most people over here who have been watching Warne destroy the best batsmen in the world as if they were trembling under 18s tail enders for so many years, watching Hauritz be nufin but easy runs for even our mediocre state batsmen leaves many of us silently hoping for a wayward Banana skin, if not placing it ourselves

  • Ganesh on July 8, 2009, 8:31 GMT

    yeah....article is good. But remember that Aussie lost home series to Proteas( only won the last much thru injury to smith). After that they won the series in South Africa provided that injury to smith in the last two tests( specially when a good partnership was going on between Smith and Kallis in the 2nd test).So i believe that It will be England to win the Ashes provided that no injury to Peterson and Flintoff. Because, no one can have answer to Fredie Bowling and Peterson Batting.

  • Markinspain on July 8, 2009, 8:10 GMT

    Great image of Jardine as a Mexican. Even "Zap" Gooch never batted in a poncho (to my knowledge), although I do remember Gatting bringing tacos and margaritas to the wicket in a county match at Taunton.

  • Dancindandanson on July 8, 2009, 7:40 GMT

    Very funny, but another example of how everyone in the UK seems very focussed on the 2005 series. Let's not forget there was a series in-between... or perhaps it's just too painful to remember?

  • paul on July 8, 2009, 7:30 GMT

    A very idiotic analysis of "factors" that will decided the ashes.

  • Shrikant on July 8, 2009, 6:41 GMT

    Nice one Andy, especially the part on cows spending their last few days in the hope of being used as cricket balls!

  • Nathan on July 8, 2009, 6:28 GMT

    Another fantastic column. Andy - you are one talented, not to mention incredibly humorous writer. Kasprowicz 'clearly out in all but reality' ... classic!

  • andy fielding on July 8, 2009, 6:03 GMT

    There's always a moment of genius Andy, and I can't think of another sports writer I could say that about. I watched a good friend nearly die in the middle of the 'Dullest XI' piece when he came to the Ravi Shastri line '..if he could have bowled to himself, cricket would have died' and have just had a minor crunchy nut cornflake choking scare at Jardine's decalration of chimichanga time. An absolute pleasure, as always. Thanks for these!

  • Scott on July 8, 2009, 5:54 GMT

    Hilarious

  • Peter Tapsell on July 8, 2009, 5:45 GMT

    A very entertaining (as usual)post, however I think you have missed one of the other factors that might become important.

    If things go badly for Australia Punter's bottom lip might extend to such a length that it blocks out the sun and causes bad light to stop play. I'm not sure that he has any control over this, so it might not constitute ungentlemanly conduct or any breach of the rules. It might simply be considered a natural event. The concerning this is that this is only likely to happen when Australia is losing. It could well force a draw in such circumstances and remove England's opportunity of a series victory.

    I hope not.

  • Damien on July 8, 2009, 5:34 GMT

    I really enjoyed this article honest and funny, who is this guy and will he be writing any more articles, a very fair article pointing out both the good and bad of each team. Better than tony gregs or ian chapple comments by far, Kepp up the good work and let hope for an awesome serries.

  • Samir, India on July 8, 2009, 5:13 GMT

    Thank god you're back Andy... Your last title had us worried.. It's not often you can read wodehousean humour in a sports site..

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  • Samir, India on July 8, 2009, 5:13 GMT

    Thank god you're back Andy... Your last title had us worried.. It's not often you can read wodehousean humour in a sports site..

  • Damien on July 8, 2009, 5:34 GMT

    I really enjoyed this article honest and funny, who is this guy and will he be writing any more articles, a very fair article pointing out both the good and bad of each team. Better than tony gregs or ian chapple comments by far, Kepp up the good work and let hope for an awesome serries.

  • Peter Tapsell on July 8, 2009, 5:45 GMT

    A very entertaining (as usual)post, however I think you have missed one of the other factors that might become important.

    If things go badly for Australia Punter's bottom lip might extend to such a length that it blocks out the sun and causes bad light to stop play. I'm not sure that he has any control over this, so it might not constitute ungentlemanly conduct or any breach of the rules. It might simply be considered a natural event. The concerning this is that this is only likely to happen when Australia is losing. It could well force a draw in such circumstances and remove England's opportunity of a series victory.

    I hope not.

  • Scott on July 8, 2009, 5:54 GMT

    Hilarious

  • andy fielding on July 8, 2009, 6:03 GMT

    There's always a moment of genius Andy, and I can't think of another sports writer I could say that about. I watched a good friend nearly die in the middle of the 'Dullest XI' piece when he came to the Ravi Shastri line '..if he could have bowled to himself, cricket would have died' and have just had a minor crunchy nut cornflake choking scare at Jardine's decalration of chimichanga time. An absolute pleasure, as always. Thanks for these!

  • Nathan on July 8, 2009, 6:28 GMT

    Another fantastic column. Andy - you are one talented, not to mention incredibly humorous writer. Kasprowicz 'clearly out in all but reality' ... classic!

  • Shrikant on July 8, 2009, 6:41 GMT

    Nice one Andy, especially the part on cows spending their last few days in the hope of being used as cricket balls!

  • paul on July 8, 2009, 7:30 GMT

    A very idiotic analysis of "factors" that will decided the ashes.

  • Dancindandanson on July 8, 2009, 7:40 GMT

    Very funny, but another example of how everyone in the UK seems very focussed on the 2005 series. Let's not forget there was a series in-between... or perhaps it's just too painful to remember?

  • Markinspain on July 8, 2009, 8:10 GMT

    Great image of Jardine as a Mexican. Even "Zap" Gooch never batted in a poncho (to my knowledge), although I do remember Gatting bringing tacos and margaritas to the wicket in a county match at Taunton.