Ashes November 30, 2010

Brilliantly underperformed, boys

England are a fifth of a way to a glorious 0-0 Ashes scoreline
44

The Brisbane Test was, in football terminology, A Game Of Two Halves – the first an intriguing old-fashioned Test match of wrenching tension, shifts of momentum, and hard-fought battle between bat and ball; the second a trademark 21st-century run glut on a featureless pudding pitch that appeared to have been rolled with Mogadon and told that if it did anything naughty it would have its Christmas presents taken away.

The first 130 overs brought 403 runs for 15 wickets (figures courtesy of ProperTestCricketTM Inc.). The next 284 overs gave the world 962 runs for seven wickets − two of which were tail-end hoicks, and two of well-set centurions trying to hit a six. There was some outstanding batting by the five hundred-makers, spectacularly, record-shatteringly dogged resistance by an England team ideally suited to digging in to save a game, some schoolboy fielding by Australia, and some pedestrian bowling and passive captaincy by both teams.

England claimed one of their greatest Ashes moral victories. Given that these have been as rare as actual victories in recent jaunts Down Under, this is not to be sniffed at. Reports are that those Australians who have tried sniffing at it sneezed violently and took themselves off to bed with a headache.

The real winners were the pitch and the slightly baffling Kookaburra ball, which rendered decent, if not world-class, bowlers utterly toothless, gumming away at Cook, Strauss and Trott like a somnolent baby on a week-old rusk. So much so that they must have ended the match feeling that having a medieval dentist yank their incisors out with a pair of rusty pliers, having used a crowbar to the face as an anaesthetic, would have been a preferable means of achieving toothlessness than bowling for two days on that Brisbane track. Indeed Mitchell Johnson ended the match seeming to be bowling like Shakespeare’s seventh age of man – not merely sans teeth but sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Not one of the seven billion people or so on earth today would claim that this Australian bowling attack (for want of a better word) is the greatest in baggy green history, but even some of the greatest bowlers from Australia’s cricket’s pantheon would have been left tweaking their moustaches in frustration on this surface, which provided further evidence that the currency of the heroic rearguard has been seriously and artificially devalued in recent years. Indeed, a spokesman for the estate of 19th-century bowling whizz Fred “The Demon” Spofforth issued a statement saying that his client is “delighted to be dead, rather than bowling at Brisbane”.

Thus the game drifted from cricketing fascination to statistical curiosity and psychological point-scoring, the pointiest of which were scored by England.

It all added up to a curate’s omelette of a Test, which was ultimately glorious for England, agonisingly ominous for Australia, and, presumably, skull-crushingly tedious for the neutrals; and which, whilst confirming that there is little on paper between two teams who justified their current mid-table world rankings, will have left Australia far more concerned than England.

This is partly because Strauss’s men are now 20% of the way to a triumphant 0-0 series final scoreline, and the evidence of this Test suggests that both bowling attacks may struggle to upgrade their 0 into a 1. Fortunately for Australia, the evidence of the 2009 series also suggests that the evidence of any Test between these two sides is of absolutely no relevance to the next match. The evidence from which should equally be shredded and buried before the following game. Eighteen months ago, “having the momentum”, the much-prized, much-claimed momentum, proved to be almost entirely counter-productive, and ultimately for Australia, going to The Oval after obliterating England at Leeds, lethal.

Nevertheless England will be buoyant, having once again brilliantly underperformed in their first innings in order to make their ultimate avoidance of defeat all the more psychologically boosty. Only Collingwood of the England top six did not show form, and, given that Hussey (almost caught at slip) and Strauss (fractionally not lbw) demonstrated how fine the line is between first-ball nought and match-changing century, golden-duck victims Prior and Broad can both claim to have essentially scored brilliant centuries in the first innings.

England’s bowlers all performed creditably if not penetratingly in their one innings of relevance, and with more luck, or a differently regulated umpiring review system, could have snipped off the Hussey-Haddin megapartnership much more quickly.

They may struggle to dismiss Australia – other than double successes in Bangladesh early this year and in swinging conditions in New Zealand three winters ago, England have now taken all 20 opposition wickets in just one of their last 19 overseas Tests (a spectacular horsing of South Africa in Durban a year ago), dating back to the start of the last Ashes in Australia. However, the official Confectionery Stall hunch is now that if they do so once to secure a victory, it should be enough to ensure at least a drawn series, as it was against South Africa.

For Australia, only Siddle really threatened in England’s first innings, and the second was a slow, surgical dismemberment, albeit in those meaninglessly lopsided conditions. Australia should bring it at least two, and arguably three, physically and mentally unscarred bowlers for Adelaide.

And how refreshing it was for English cricket followers to see an Australian team ready, willing and able to drop simple catches at critical times. This traditional staple of cricket at all levels has been largely eschewed by the baggy greens for two decades. With one notable exception, when Warne shelled Pietersen at the Oval in 2005, rocketing to the top of the Player Who Least Deserved To Cost His Team A Series chart.

How refreshing also for England to see their own unspectacular left-hander grind out a massive double-hundred, rather than suffering the southpaw ploddings of others – take that, Gary Kirsten. And Justin Langer. And Allan Border. And Mark Taylor. Cook, freed from the summer torment of Amir and Asif, scored more runs in one match than he had in either of his two previous Ashes series. He might have played more awkward-looking strokes than you would see at the average Overcome Your Lifelong Fear Of Dogs group on an outing to an Alsatian petting zoo, but as statements of intent go, it was majestic.

It was all set up, of course, by Strauss. In the first innings. His third-ball duck may have been greeted with horror by many Northern Hemisphere fans, but it was exactly the start England needed, as it constituted a blaze of relative glory – his team had lasted a 21st-century record three balls before encountering disaster in Australia. After Harmison’s first-ball horror four years ago (a delivery that put the “miss” very firmly into “missile”), and Hussain’s noughth-ball flat-track insertion in 2002-03, Strauss’s third-ball duck represented a discernible, arguably exponential, stride of progress. Boosted by the surge of confidence those first two wicketless balls sent coursing through their non-baggy blue veins, England comfortably romped to their first non-rain-assisted Brisbane non-defeat for 24 years.

Roll on Adelaide. And hopefully some cricket where wickets fall more often than once every 48 hours.

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

  • Wadders on December 2, 2010, 19:54 GMT

    Zaltzman, you amuse and enlighten. Please keep it up.

  • Hugo C on December 2, 2010, 13:24 GMT

    Fantastic article. Made me laugh alot, especially, '...Prior and Broad can both claim to have essentially scored brilliant centuries in the first innings.'

  • Toby on December 2, 2010, 13:23 GMT

    Excellent stuff, Andy - liked the stroke/ing analogy best of all!

  • Stephanie on December 2, 2010, 10:47 GMT

    I agree with what Patrick said. I'm an England fan at at the start of the 4th day I was very fedup, lots of others and myself curled up on our sofa's ready for yet another glorious ashes defeat :( But no two days later, hardly any sleep and only one wicket down it was fantastic I was not bored. I was proud of England!!

    As I think were many others.

  • waterbuffalo on December 2, 2010, 8:42 GMT

    While it was wonderful to see England at 500-1, the fact is two triple century partnerships in the same match is not on, I want England to win, but I do not want Test Cricket to die, and if we lose Australia and England, we are finished, Test cricket is dead everywhere else, back to uncovered wickets or say goodbye to Test cricket.

  • Anonymous on December 1, 2010, 23:16 GMT

    "...a Test, which was ultimately glorious for England, agonisingly ominous for Australia, and, presumably, skull-crushingly tedious for the neutrals;" Brilliantly put!

  • venkatasubramanian on December 1, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    Humor apart, Ponting and Co, will have to seriously think of keeping their fingers and whatever else crossed before they try to bounce back in the series. Their bowling has looked pedestrian, batting redeemed itself to a certain extent but overall, they have never looked the champion side they were quite some time back. Well done Strauss and Co.

  • Niels on December 1, 2010, 6:49 GMT

    I have rarely met such an efficient roller out of meaningless statistics. Although, your stats probably mean more than anybody elses.

    Anyway, if groundsmen won't provide test pitches, then Gunn and Moore must introduce exploding bats.

  • syco on December 1, 2010, 6:19 GMT

    Your bio is freakin' hilarious. I burst out laughing, out of the blue, much to the consternation of my roommate.

  • Theena on December 1, 2010, 5:59 GMT

    Now that was the best summary of the game yet. I can't recall a more boring Ashes test than the last two days of play at Brisbane.

  • Wadders on December 2, 2010, 19:54 GMT

    Zaltzman, you amuse and enlighten. Please keep it up.

  • Hugo C on December 2, 2010, 13:24 GMT

    Fantastic article. Made me laugh alot, especially, '...Prior and Broad can both claim to have essentially scored brilliant centuries in the first innings.'

  • Toby on December 2, 2010, 13:23 GMT

    Excellent stuff, Andy - liked the stroke/ing analogy best of all!

  • Stephanie on December 2, 2010, 10:47 GMT

    I agree with what Patrick said. I'm an England fan at at the start of the 4th day I was very fedup, lots of others and myself curled up on our sofa's ready for yet another glorious ashes defeat :( But no two days later, hardly any sleep and only one wicket down it was fantastic I was not bored. I was proud of England!!

    As I think were many others.

  • waterbuffalo on December 2, 2010, 8:42 GMT

    While it was wonderful to see England at 500-1, the fact is two triple century partnerships in the same match is not on, I want England to win, but I do not want Test Cricket to die, and if we lose Australia and England, we are finished, Test cricket is dead everywhere else, back to uncovered wickets or say goodbye to Test cricket.

  • Anonymous on December 1, 2010, 23:16 GMT

    "...a Test, which was ultimately glorious for England, agonisingly ominous for Australia, and, presumably, skull-crushingly tedious for the neutrals;" Brilliantly put!

  • venkatasubramanian on December 1, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    Humor apart, Ponting and Co, will have to seriously think of keeping their fingers and whatever else crossed before they try to bounce back in the series. Their bowling has looked pedestrian, batting redeemed itself to a certain extent but overall, they have never looked the champion side they were quite some time back. Well done Strauss and Co.

  • Niels on December 1, 2010, 6:49 GMT

    I have rarely met such an efficient roller out of meaningless statistics. Although, your stats probably mean more than anybody elses.

    Anyway, if groundsmen won't provide test pitches, then Gunn and Moore must introduce exploding bats.

  • syco on December 1, 2010, 6:19 GMT

    Your bio is freakin' hilarious. I burst out laughing, out of the blue, much to the consternation of my roommate.

  • Theena on December 1, 2010, 5:59 GMT

    Now that was the best summary of the game yet. I can't recall a more boring Ashes test than the last two days of play at Brisbane.

  • C.Siddharth on December 1, 2010, 4:36 GMT

    Dear Mr.Andy Zaltsman

    This is the first time i have read an article of yours on Cricinfo and i cant control my laughter, even as i write this comment. An amazing mix of wit and humou, it nonetheless brings out the some of the most serious issues afflicting world cricket.

    A wonderfully crafted article, it really makes me laugh at the way boith temas have played the Brisbane test. Also as an Indian, i can relate to the southpaw bludgeoning that England have suffered. We have, thanks to batsmen like Sanath Jayasuriya, Marcus Trescothick and Saeed Anwar(to name a few), suffered a lot.

    Thanks for the wonderful article.

  • Samin on December 1, 2010, 4:25 GMT

    Brilliant. And coming from a non-baggy green supporting Pom, too.

  • Uday Purohit on December 1, 2010, 3:34 GMT

    andy is brilliant!

  • Anonymous on December 1, 2010, 3:26 GMT

    This is so darn funny!!

  • Nader on December 1, 2010, 3:04 GMT

    "Mitchell Johnson ended the match seeming to be bowling like Shakespeare’s seventh age of man – not merely sans teeth but sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Cracked me up - well said, Andy.

  • Ashwin on December 1, 2010, 2:53 GMT

    'Curate's omlette of a test' .. 'Miss to Missile ' ... vintage CS Andy !!!!

  • Andy Church on November 30, 2010, 22:18 GMT

    Delightfully written Andy! Many a word of truth written in jest! Best Regards Andy.

  • beancounter on November 30, 2010, 18:54 GMT

    Nevertheless England will be buoyant, having once again brilliantly underperformed in their first innings in order to make their ultimate avoidance of defeat all the more psychologically boosty ... brilliant

  • geoff on November 30, 2010, 18:37 GMT

    thanks, andy. love your work....grateful for the summary of the non-result. i am an aussie living in the usa...sorry to report both fox news AND msnbc completely fail to report on the ashes. i appreciate your bugle-ing with that oliver chap as well as this cricketeering blog. i'm heading to melbourne in december and just might wander down to the boxing day test. keep the confection coming.

  • John vd W (South Africa) on November 30, 2010, 18:11 GMT

    This is fantastic stuff, as always from this writer, love it ! Hopefully lots more to come.

  • Craig lbw b Kirsten 517 on November 30, 2010, 16:49 GMT

    Andy, well summed up.

    Could you throw some light on spin, and how the best spinner in the world, (unless Warne decides on a come back, and come on he would be more of a threat than Doherty even if he needed to commentate for 20 minutes of every hour) Swanny suffered more than fresh new non-Warne Aussie hope Doherty? Perhaps stats hold the key and will signal Graeme return to Wisden writing form.

  • Dr:sanjoysatpathy on November 30, 2010, 16:49 GMT

    Nice article by Andy Zaltzman on the 1st test between Australia and England.Why to blame the pitch or the ball? OZ recent attack is the worst in the world, why you can jolly well imagine a number nine batsman staying on for few hours to ensure a victory for India that too on a fifth day pitch!!Johnson has no idea about pace bowling other wise why he bangs all the balls on the non strikers end good length spot?Mr.Zaltman should have attacked the Australian selectors not the end result of the match.With this draw England is favorite to retain the Ashes.

  • Anuraag Bhati on November 30, 2010, 16:22 GMT

    I must congratulate writer that this is an aweosme post. I am moved after reading this :D

    In depth with lot of humour made it look like a story. Must read for all Australian fans :P

  • Rik on November 30, 2010, 16:07 GMT

    Cricket where wickets fall more often than once every 48 hours...? In this day and age...!? Surely you jest!

  • arvind on November 30, 2010, 15:44 GMT

    what else do we expect from number 4 and 5 ranked team and especially engish team who believe only tests that matter is Ashes. Boring cricket, big hype for nothing. both teams do not have bowlers to take 20 wickets. all 5 matches will be drawn. God save test cricket.

  • adithya on November 30, 2010, 14:54 GMT

    "20% of the way to a triumphant 0-0 series final scoreline" superb!!!!

    and is this really true? "England have now taken all 20 opposition wickets in just one of their last 19 overseas Tests"

  • Fez on November 30, 2010, 13:29 GMT

    That's hilarious as always

  • Chris on November 30, 2010, 10:44 GMT

    I agree. It is absolutely criminal that pitches for a series like the Ashes can be so batsmen friendly. In our recent series against Pakistan both ended in draws due to flat pitches and doggest Pakistan batting. You dont want the result to be determined by the toss, but there has to be something there for the bowlers. Low scoring test matches are still the most exciting matches simply because the best batsmen still shine and you get a result. Mediocre batsmen scoring centuries while bowlers feel as if they are going through the motions are boring and will mean the death of test cricket.

  • Waynevan on November 30, 2010, 10:36 GMT

    Too right. 0-0 it will be. Can't see either side taking 20 wickets in the series, let alone 1 match

  • Chrisl on November 30, 2010, 10:27 GMT

    "Sack the curator" I say. That pitch was embarrassing.

  • Saaatwik on November 30, 2010, 10:13 GMT

    "having once again brilliantly underperformed in their first innings in order to make their ultimate avoidance of defeat all the more psychologically boosty"

    This was a gem. This was a symbolic reference to human nature, I felt. Human nature is such that in context of past failures we tend to glorify even meagre achievements.

  • Anonymous on November 30, 2010, 9:38 GMT

    Thats hilarious...!

  • barrycrocker74 on November 30, 2010, 9:21 GMT

    All too true Andy.

    Why is it that cricket boards, admin gurus and groundsmen haven't realised what the average cricket punter wants from test cricket? A 'test' between bat and ball. Is it a conspiracy led by the bat manufacturers of the world wanting to see their products successfully and monotonously used over 5 neverending days of boredom??

    More pitches like the The Oval and Headingley (Ashes 2009) please. People want to see batsmen not just occasionally inconvenienced but fighting for dear life. Make 'em earn their cowrie shells! Leave the slabs of marble for 20-20!!

    I don't know about 'roll on Adelaide' Andy. If past history is any indicator, England's record 1 for 517 is in some danger! A close-in fielder there is sure to be as big a rarity as a shout for LB.

  • Patrick on November 30, 2010, 9:07 GMT

    Andy, this was great as always.

    However, as a South African who enjoys English defeats just as much Australian ones, I am a notable exception to your assertion that the test was presumably "skull-crushingly tedious for the neutrals". It was a fascinating test to observe third-hand. The first three days fluctuated hugely and when England had a deficit of 220 runs I thought it was all over. I turned on the TV on the fourth morning (evening in Australia time) and my jaw dropped when I saw England's openers had both made tons. It was a fascinating test to watch, despite (or perhaps because of) the docility of the pitch in the closing stages.

  • Mangesh on November 30, 2010, 8:26 GMT

    Now this *seriously* cracked me up!!!! Brilliant!!!!

  • Silk on November 30, 2010, 8:24 GMT

    Brilliant, as always.

  • ramesh on November 30, 2010, 8:12 GMT

    Andy: Brilliant...keep them coming...

    Ramesh

  • Thiaga on November 30, 2010, 7:15 GMT

    Yet another smashing hilarious article! In fact, if this column had been translated into commentary during the last 2 (boring) days of the first ashes test, it would have called in for more viewing! Keep up your good work Andy!

  • SHN on November 30, 2010, 6:50 GMT

    The line about Prior & Broad claim to centuries got me laughing beyond control!

  • Saqaw on November 30, 2010, 6:47 GMT

    Liked the report, till you mentioned, Amir and Asif, now my heart wrenches at the loss of two of the best bowlers in world cricket...All in all good piece thought.

  • sridhar on November 30, 2010, 6:40 GMT

    I would be hard placed to find the difference between these two teams , locked as they are in severe conflict for the fourth and fitth places respectively! Yet all the media hype points to this being the clash of the titans, nevr miind the fact that Australia"s leading wicket taker would give the pie throwers a run for their money. Hopefully the Adelaide pitch will not be as dead and hopefully Austrlalia will hold its catches and hopefully someone like Cook who is as close to a stroke less wonder that one can find, will not score a double century. It would have been made for better viewing if Bell and Pietersen had made the same amount of runs. All in all a boring game barring the first two days. Imagine the tone of all this if it had been a subcontinetal pitch! of course Kevin Mitchell Juniior can do no wrong can he! If more of the test matches are going to be like this, then England will think it has four Hammonds till they lose to India next year! sridhar

  • Tom on November 30, 2010, 6:18 GMT

    Andy,

    In all seriousness, write a book. About cricket. Quickly, please.

  • harsh_vardhan2002 on November 30, 2010, 6:15 GMT

    Indeed the pitch flattened out in the last 2 and half days and made life miserable for bowlers and the poor umpiring decisions(aleem dar plumb lbw to hussey) and schoolboy fielding and dropping catches did not help the cause and be prepared for another ahmedabad track in adelaide oval too who knows few of the bowlers may get tired and injured infact both the bowling attacks lacked potency and penetration another draw looms

  • Aditya on November 30, 2010, 6:13 GMT

    Oh, the delusion of the English fan. Australia dropping catches has been a problem for quite a while, it's just that England have never been good enough to expose it.

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  • Aditya on November 30, 2010, 6:13 GMT

    Oh, the delusion of the English fan. Australia dropping catches has been a problem for quite a while, it's just that England have never been good enough to expose it.

  • harsh_vardhan2002 on November 30, 2010, 6:15 GMT

    Indeed the pitch flattened out in the last 2 and half days and made life miserable for bowlers and the poor umpiring decisions(aleem dar plumb lbw to hussey) and schoolboy fielding and dropping catches did not help the cause and be prepared for another ahmedabad track in adelaide oval too who knows few of the bowlers may get tired and injured infact both the bowling attacks lacked potency and penetration another draw looms

  • Tom on November 30, 2010, 6:18 GMT

    Andy,

    In all seriousness, write a book. About cricket. Quickly, please.

  • sridhar on November 30, 2010, 6:40 GMT

    I would be hard placed to find the difference between these two teams , locked as they are in severe conflict for the fourth and fitth places respectively! Yet all the media hype points to this being the clash of the titans, nevr miind the fact that Australia"s leading wicket taker would give the pie throwers a run for their money. Hopefully the Adelaide pitch will not be as dead and hopefully Austrlalia will hold its catches and hopefully someone like Cook who is as close to a stroke less wonder that one can find, will not score a double century. It would have been made for better viewing if Bell and Pietersen had made the same amount of runs. All in all a boring game barring the first two days. Imagine the tone of all this if it had been a subcontinetal pitch! of course Kevin Mitchell Juniior can do no wrong can he! If more of the test matches are going to be like this, then England will think it has four Hammonds till they lose to India next year! sridhar

  • Saqaw on November 30, 2010, 6:47 GMT

    Liked the report, till you mentioned, Amir and Asif, now my heart wrenches at the loss of two of the best bowlers in world cricket...All in all good piece thought.

  • SHN on November 30, 2010, 6:50 GMT

    The line about Prior & Broad claim to centuries got me laughing beyond control!

  • Thiaga on November 30, 2010, 7:15 GMT

    Yet another smashing hilarious article! In fact, if this column had been translated into commentary during the last 2 (boring) days of the first ashes test, it would have called in for more viewing! Keep up your good work Andy!

  • ramesh on November 30, 2010, 8:12 GMT

    Andy: Brilliant...keep them coming...

    Ramesh

  • Silk on November 30, 2010, 8:24 GMT

    Brilliant, as always.

  • Mangesh on November 30, 2010, 8:26 GMT

    Now this *seriously* cracked me up!!!! Brilliant!!!!