July 16, 2009

Ashes

Interesting positives from Cardiff

Andy Zaltzman



Ah, the joys of youth. I spent most of the Cardiff Test feeling like a teenager again – in that it was harrowingly reminiscent of the 1989 and 1993 Ashes cloutings that England received. History, it seemed, was repeating itself like senile old biddy historians have always assumed it was. As the Australians tortured England’s bowlers and the English top order disintegrated more crumblily than a packet of dry biscuits in an earthquake, there cannot have been an England supporter who did not think at some point: “That’s that for the next fifteen years then.”

At lunch on the final day, I sat down with my wife and children and desperately attempted to write a list of positives for England take from the match. My family contributed little of use. My baby son seemed unwilling even to talk about it, so traumatising was the action unfolding before his seven-month-old eyes. I racked my brains, but did not make much progress beyond: (1) No-one died, (2) Worse things happen at sea, and (3) Shane Warne had taken fewer wickets than he had in any Ashes Test in England (or Wales) since the Oval Test of 1989. England have finally worked out how to play the Master Leggie – make sure that he (a) has retired, and (b) is in Las Vegas playing Poker. With hindsight, it now seems obvious.

However, the last-day heroics of Collingwood and the tail saved England’s extremely streaky bacon, and papered over some alarmingly seismic cracks in their performance. Looking on the positive side, ultimately time deprived England of the chance to push for victory. If only this had been a timeless Test – no side in the world would have fancied chasing an awkward 30 or 40 to win on a wearing sixth-day pitch.

It was an excellent end to a patchy Test. The wicket was consistently dull, offering minimal assistance to any bowler even on the final day. Only 25 wickets fell, and by my calculations, well over half of these were attributable more to batting error than bowling excellence.

England must therefore be congratulated for thinking not of themselves, but of the paying spectator and global TV audience, and making an exciting game of it – without their potent cocktail of carelessness and ineptitude in their first innings and a half, the game would have been a stultifying draw, rather than a nerve-clattering one.

Saving the game was a fine achievement, but on such a comatose surface, manoeuvring themselves into a position where defeat seemed inevitable was arguably even more remarkable.

England’s footwork in general was in an entirely different league to the Australians’ – some of it would even have been frowned upon in the West Kent Village League. Cook is a particular concern. He showed that the two main flaws that were apparent since the last time he faced Australia are still in fine working order.

It was notable that Pietersen, so roundly criticised for playing what was generally deemed a silly and needlessly aggressive shot in the first innings, received scant if any praise for playing no shot at all in the second. Hypocrisy on the part of the media? Perhaps. I would argue that he was too negative in both innings, and needs someone to say to him whatever it was that Vaughan said to him at lunch on day 5 of the 2005 Oval Test.

Certainly, if Pietersen had played the shot Prior concocted from the Encyclopaedia Of Wrong Shots, he would have been pilloried on pages 1-6, 23, and 45-56 of all national newspapers. It seems that he will always be a cricketer who does not merely split opinion, but who takes a chainsaw to it and goes Texan.

The rest of the top order owes Collingwood a strongly-worded thank-you letter. The Durham Defier added to his growing album of critically important innings, and even had the presence of mind to plink a catch to gully with the job nearly but not quite complete. Thus he further dented Australian confidence, by giving them the opportunity to try − and fail − to take the tenth wicket in the final 69 painfully tense balls. Monty Panesar’s bowling average of 34 now matches that of Garfield Sobers, and his batting is clearly starting to catch up as well.

If England had lost, such was the Australian dominance in every facet of the game apart from strategic glove ferrying, it would have been almost impossible to envisage Strauss’ men winning the series. As it is, the evidence on display in Cardiff suggests that it remains difficult to picture it, but, with a dose of imagination, a strong whisky and a blow to the head, it is possible. Unless they improve far and fast, however, if England want to take an open-top bus ride around London in August, they will have to queue up with the tourists and pay for it themselves.

So England managed to put themselves on the road to recovery. However, at Lord’s they must now endeavour not to swerve off it into a ditch at the first available opportunity. To do this, they must overcome the Hand Of History, which is flipping them an enormous bird and telling them they have no chance. England’s last Ashes win at the home of cricket occurred when Iran was still Persia, when Hitler was still considered to be in the ‘jaunty curiosity’ category by most of the world’s leaders, before briefs (closely followed by their rogue cousin, y-fronts) had revolutionised the world of underpants, and when Elvis Presley’s mummy was still waiting to feel the future King of Rock’n’Roll’s foetal hips gyrating provocatively in her womb for the first time.

Furthermore, if you wanted to have seen England win two Ashes Lord’s Tests, you would have to be the oldest man, or in the top ten oldest women, in the world – First World War veteran Henry Allingham, now aged 113, was 16 days old when WG Grace rumbled down the pavilion steps to lead England to a six-wicket victory in 1896. To put this in further context, there were still people alive at that point who had fought in the Battle of Waterloo. It is fair to say, then, that should England tear up both the history book and the form book, even the MCC members might muster a celebratory twitch of their collective moustache, if not quite a full whooping, shirts-off, chest-thumping, egg-and-bacon-tie-windmilling pitch invasion.

The Official Confectionery Stall Lord’s Test Prediction (Rough Version): Draw.

The Official Confectionery Stall Lord’s Test Prediction (Detailed Version): England 834-2 dec. Australia 103 all out and 23-9 (rain stopped play).

On second thoughts, it might be closer than that. I’ll stick with a simple ‘rainy draw’ forecast.

I will post again soon with some thoughts on the sad but inevitable retirement of Andrew Flintoff, a cricketer who has transcended his statistics, and, from 2003 to 2005, was touched all-round greatness; and the Official Confectionery Stall analysis of the 12th-Man-And-Physio Farrago, which brought England and Australia closer to war than anything since Bodyline.

Last Saturday’s episode of ‘Yes It’s The Ashes’, my Ashes comedy show on BBC Radio 5 Live, is available here.

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

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Posted by Savita on (July 18, 2009, 4:58 GMT)

Enjoyed reading the article... good stuff.

Posted by Abhijeet on (July 17, 2009, 14:17 GMT)

What an article!! Were your forefathers anyway related to PG Wodehouse??

Posted by Tom the Scottish Producer on (July 17, 2009, 5:22 GMT)

The technical work on your new show is weak Andy. And I'm not just saying that because I'm jealous of your new producer.

Posted by Jagadish on (July 16, 2009, 20:39 GMT)

If only England had got all out with 3 overs to go, and a lead of say 15, it'd have been awesome had the test ended with Australia on 14/0 after the 1 over they got to face. Yet another test drawn with scores level. Ricky'd have been screaming "We flippin' murdered 'em and they know it!"

Posted by Stanley Jackson on (July 16, 2009, 18:57 GMT)

I am , firstly, a cricket lover and , secondly, a cousin of Matthew who is a cousin of your father. Matthew has mentioned your name in the past as a writer for Jay Leno."Family": pride aside,I enjoyed the article. Would love to read more of your work-pse send me an email address. Be warned:I am old enough to remember when England fielded a superb team in SA (1956/7 Peter May's team) but still only scored around 150 in a full day's play. Those were really the good old days!None of this modern throwing your bat at the ball. In the 4th test of that series, Hugh Tayfield bowled 17 maiden overs in a row, and yet it was a most exciting series, a 2-all draw.

Posted by nitin on (July 16, 2009, 17:31 GMT)

OMG...i must really stop reading ur articles in the office.....my sudden outbursts of laughter makes my colleagues wonder WTH is wrong with me. The bit about picturing England winning the Ashes series being possible "....with a dose of imagination, a strong whisky and a blow to the head..".....absolutely blew me off.

Hilarious stuff!!!!

Posted by Mahi_the enevitable_lund on (July 16, 2009, 16:40 GMT)

awesome stuff!!!!... I hope u have bigger P***S than Dhoni.... ha ha ha ha

Posted by Taha on (July 16, 2009, 16:05 GMT)

So funny.......... havent stopped laughing since 'at Lord’s they must now endeavour not to swerve off it into a ditch at the first available opportunity. To do this, they must overcome the Hand Of History, which is flipping them an enormous bird and telling them they have no chance.' Pure genius AZ!!!! Keep em comin

Posted by Dhaval on (July 16, 2009, 15:17 GMT)

absolutely brilliant article...loved it..

Posted by sam on (July 16, 2009, 14:30 GMT)

andy......u r d best and u should be the next ecb chairman........great article...hats off

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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