Ashes December 3, 2010

Another (totally accurate) Ashes prediction

Pay attention, Confectionery Stallers

Pay attention, Confectionery Stallers. I am about to tell you what will happen in the Adelaide Test. Admittedly, by the time you read this, what I am about to say will happen may already not have happened, or, at least, have started not happening. But, as I write it a couple of hours before play begins, it has not yet not happened, so it could still happen.

This will enable you to free up some extra family time by not having to watch my forecastings unfold live on your televisions (for any Europe-based readers following our continent’s greatest cricket team take on the best Australasia has to offer, I realise this freed-up family time may be in the middle of the night; your children may not appreciate being woken up at 2 o’clock in the morning to play Scrabble/arm-wrestle with Daddy/Mummy (delete as you wish), but during an Australian Ashes series, you must take such opportunities as they arise).

Before unveiling the official Confectionery Stall 2nd Test forecast, I should admit that my Ashes-predicting form has not, thus far, been especially incisive. Indeed, my own personal Ashes began almost as disastrously as Mitchell Johnson’s. I, too, was way off target. I watched the long-awaited opening-day skirmishes of the long-awaited first Test of this long-awaited series on the Test Match Sofa. During the lunch interval, I confidently predicted that Peter Siddle – who bowled reasonably in 2009, since when he had done little of note other than fail to remove his rather unnecessary facial topiary, and be injured − would pose little threat to England at any point in the series.

Good prediction, Andy. Bang, bang. Slight gap. Bang-bang-bang, bang. Nearly another bang. Six wickets for not many. There, in two stints of high-class fast-medium probery, went my chances of picking up next year’s Nobel Prize For Cricket Punditry.

In my defence, there was not exactly a chorus of disagreement from my fellow Sofa-sitters – “Are we talking about the same Peter Siddle?”, no-one asked. “The guy who has now limbered up in the morning session and is clearly about to scythe through England like a piping-hot chainsaw through suicidal butter?” they did not continue. In further mitigation, I also said that England might have more to fear from bowlers not playing in Brisbane − Bollinger, Ryan Harris, and, at a stretch, Lillee, or, at an even greater stretch, Lindwall (there’s no substitute for experience). So I was potentially not entirely wrong on that score.

Siddle’s hat-trick (unexpected on sofas on the other side of the equator as well judging by the pre-match build-up) was probably the best in the Ashes in terms of quality of batsmen splattered since England’s Jack Hearne catapulted Clem Hill, Syd Gregory and Monty Noble back to the Headingley pavilion in 1899. Sections of the Australian press have been arguing that, if the Australian selectors insist on having a batsman in the team with the initials MN who can send down a few tidy overs of spin, they might as well pick Noble in place of Marcus North. Some have even suggesting ex-Panamanian despot Manuel Noriega for the role ahead of the beleaguered offspinner who can intermittently bat a bit.

In an effort to replicate and invert my Siddlecasting blooper of last Thursday, I should now predict that, on Day 1 of the second Test, Jimmy Anderson will take 0 for 180 off 25 overs of needlessly short-pitched garbage described by Richie Benaud as “the worst thing I’ve seen in any medium since Tony Greig’s glove-puppet rendition of Verdi’s La Traviata in the MCG toilets in 1979”.

However, I will resist that temptation, and instead issue this forecast for England’s first Test match in Adelaide since 2002-03 (neither I nor anyone in my immediate family can remember any Ashes Test there in the interim, least of all one exactly four years ago culminating in the longest all-night cricket-watching waking nightmare of my entire life): England will absolutely not declare at 550-odd for 6, have Australia in trouble, let them off the hook by dropping Ponting, still not really being in trouble despite Australia topping 500, before suffering one of the chokiest of team chokes in sport history and subsiding to an alarmingly easy defeat. That will not happen. That will not happen. That cannot happen. Please don’t let that happen.

To conclude, some statistics on England’s second-innings psychologislam in Brisbane:

• England smashed the Test record for the first two wickets of a team’s second innings as if it were a cheap and brittle plate as a particularly exuberant Greek wedding between two Olympic discus champions during an earthquake. The previous highest total for the first two wickets of a second innings was 366, by India as they almost successfully chased 429 to win at the Oval in 1979.

• Of the 12 times a team has reached 450 for 1 in all Test cricket, seven have been this millennium.

• On which point, the eight Tests played in November 2010 produced almost 9000 runs at an average of 43.6 runs per wicket, and 22 centuries, including one triple century, three doubles hundreds (equalling the record for most 200-plus scores in a month), and two more innings in the 190s. Seven of the eight games were draws, none of which even came close to producing a result. Commiserations bowlers. You should have paid more attention at school and got a proper job.

• Cook, who scored more runs in Brisbane than he did in either of his previous two complete Ashes series, became the seventh man (and first left-hander) to score 300 runs in a match against Australia, after three Englishmen from a long time ago (RE Foster, Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton), and three Indians from no time ago (Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar).

• Jonathan Trott now has the highest Ashes batting average in history – 108 in two matches − shunting the now-clearly-overrated Don Bradman (89 in 37) down into bronze medal position. In second place – Jonathan’s much, much elder Australian brother Albert Trott, averaging 102 in his three Tests in 1895.

• England scored as many 180+ partnerships in their second innings as they had against Australia (a) in the three previous Ashes series combined, (b) in the entire 1990s, 1970s or 1960s, and (c) between the birth of Julius Caesar and the death of Queen Victoria.

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