August 22, 2009

Ashes

England set for oddest Ashes win

Andy Zaltzman



This has been a curate’s omelette of a series, and it seems that the decisive egg was thrown into the pan by Stuart Broad yesterday. Broad chose what can conservatively be described as a useful time to graduate from being a perennially promising bowler who had previously chipped away with occasional wickets, to being one capable of devastating an opposition top order – from a sporadically flaring barbecue to a full-blown Krakatoa in one magnificent spell.

He had taken more than three wickets only twice in 35 Test innings, so Australia’s backroom cricketing seismologists could be forgiven for not having detected the pre-rumblings of Broad’s extraordinary eruption of intelligently hostile swing and cut. He was ably aided by Graeme Swann, on a stupidly helpful surface, and Swann was unably aided Umpire Rauf, with two stupidly helpful lbw decisions.

England will have to pull off something spectacular to lose from here, which, on the patternlessly inconsistent form both sides have shown this series, is not out of the question. They seem set, however, to complete one of their oddest Ashes victories. They began this Test having been poor-to-hapless for large swathes of the first four games. No single player had compiled a properly good series – no batsman was averaging over 50, no bowler under 30, and even Strauss, comfortably England’s best player, had failed in two games out of four.

Australia statistically had most of the top batsmen and bowlers, but it now looks as if their irresponsible collapse at Lord’s, and less culpable but still carelessness-assisted one at the Oval yesterday will have decided the series.

The pitch for such an important match has been an embarrassment (although, as a general rule, one like this is preferable to a featureless featherbed), making the toss disproportionately important. Both sides appear to have selected their teams wrongly, Australia more wrongly than England. Jim Laker would have fancied beating his own 19-wicket record on this pitch. Even Nathan Hauritz might have come close to it.

However, a feature of the series has been how both sets of batsmen, products of an era of predominantly pancake-flat wickets, have proved totally unable to adjust to even mildly unhelpful conditions and moderate movement of the ball. I suppose it is inevitable that, if you live on a diet of pancakes, suddenly being served an unshelled crab will be a major test of your knife-and-fork technique.

In this decisive game, England’s batsmen and bowlers have so far been more disciplined. Ponting and Clarke, Australia’s two best batsmen, were out playing attacking, good-wicket shots early in their innings. Strauss by contrast has simplified his already simple technique, and scored some of his most important runs. And Ian Bell received almost no praise from a media that has become so obsessed with his supposed mental frailties that they failed to notice him chiselling out his toughest and arguably best Test innings after an unpromising start.

And, if England fail to pull off something spectacular and do complete the series win, Monty Panesar can clear his throat and prepare to deliver his Man of the Series acceptance speech.

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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 Sanya on (August 29, 2009, 8:57 GMT)

Wow! 111 posts on this story! This proves how popular tests are.

Posted by scottishcricketfan on (August 25, 2009, 11:42 GMT)

I agree with some people that the umpiring wasnt up to scratch, but dont think the result of this game would have been different if all the decisions had been correct, as australia got three top order wickets with no-balls (over two innings) and watson was so plum lbw to freddy early on day two that he began to turn purple, guess asad rauf must be colourblind. I think the pitch was a good wicket IMO - when i define a bad wicket, i look for two undersirable extremes - a wicket which is so hostile and unpredictable that freakish dismissals will be commonplace, with balls zooting from a length one minute and threating the batsmans teeth the next, and will guarentee a real low scorer. The second definition of a bad pitch IMO is one which is so flat and sedate that millions of runs are inevitable and a result is almost impossible (like some of the windies wickets this winter!) Ultimately both sides had centurions, three of the innings were over 300 and the game was won by a seamer.

Posted by Siddons on (August 24, 2009, 17:20 GMT)

Ha Ha Ha, England have put the convicts where they belong. Australia will continue to struggle for the next 50 years. Cheers.

Posted by derrida derider on (August 24, 2009, 7:13 GMT)

Congratulations to all those pommie bastards out there. I can't wait until we get our revenge.

Oh, the pitch was a shocker all right. And the umpiring was dreadful too. But none of the Aussie players are whining about it; they know that the pitch is the same for both teams, bad umpiring is frustrating but it evens out over a series and that if they had been good enough neither would have mattered. Some of the Indian commenters on this blog should take note.

As an Aussie, I reckon the big errors were in selection - we left some of our best players at home, and we left some of the best players on tour out of the team. But we desperately need a class wrist spinner (we all know pommies and saffers can't play leggies) and we haven't got one.

Posted by Andrew on (August 24, 2009, 0:53 GMT)

I want to echo the words posted by many. I have read all the comments. next to none are from Australians blaming the pitch. we know it was not the case for why we lost. Once again this has turned into nothing more than an excuse for indian fans to have a go at Australia. We realised a logn time agao our golden era was over. As for the people bringing up McGraths comment. Come on, its a running joke not arrogance. McGrath says that about every series australia plays in. The English get it, bout time you guys realised it is just him having a laugh.

Posted by Fazeel Javaid on (August 23, 2009, 18:32 GMT)

well there u have it it is england and theres someone up there whos saying that Hussey and Ponting shld be shown the door after this...........well i see that he'll/she'll have to eat his/her words

Posted by Freddie_Flintoff_Dhaka on (August 23, 2009, 18:02 GMT)

Oh, what a moment for England. I feel so proud. I have tears in my eyes. I guess so does Glenn McGrath who predicted a 5-0 Australian victory. I feel for him too.

Posted by John on (August 23, 2009, 17:40 GMT)

Murtaza, what a stupid statement....good to see England win but World Champions? Not & Never!!

Posted by CricketFan on (August 23, 2009, 17:14 GMT)

Ponting and Clarke running themselves out. A batsman brought into the final test impacts the outcome... I dont know... sounds fishy to me. With millions being bet on the series outcome, seems like Match Fixing

Posted by Doug on (August 23, 2009, 17:05 GMT)

Emergency services were today called to a cricket ground in London where onlookers watched helplessly as eleven Australian tourists choked after being force-fed a large slice of humble pie.

Pitch unfit? When debutant Trott made a hundred on it, and out-of-form Hussey made a hundred on it, and Australia made three hundred and plenty on it when they had stopped panicking? It's ridiculous to call England the world champions, but my oath it's sweet to see all the excuses being made for Australia for a change. They thought all they had to do was turn up to win and they trod on a giant banana skin. No-one to blame but themselves.

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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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