November 24, 2013

The Ashes 2013-14

Clarke fixes his glitch

After England's early ascendency at the Gabba, fortunes have been thoroughly reversed. Australian newspapers saluted David Warner and Michael Clarke for their centuries on the third day, with Greg Baum, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, particularly impressed by how the captain weathered his personal storm:

When Clarke was new at the crease, Cook manoeuvred to keep him on strike, twice yielding singles to deep-set fields. It was a curious and even insulting tactic, treating Clarke as a tailender. It didn't work, and you imagine that if anything, it hardened the Australian captain's heart.

Later, England set three on the hook, but Clarke was alert and decisive, and England lost interest in this artifice. For the next three hours, he batted with his flair and fluency of old. His century was as timely as it was well-timed; in 19 innings against England in the two most recent Ashes series, he had passed 50 just three times. It was the glitch on an otherwise imposing record.

Warner made his first Ashes hundred, playing with typical verve, but Chris Barrett, also in the Sydney Morning Herald, picked up on a different side to the combative opener. Speaking to Howard Warner, David's father, he was told about the son's off-field generosity:

''He's got us a house. We move in in March or April next year. He's done a lot,'' Warner snr said. ''He's got us out of debt, even though we weren't in big debt. But we had credit cards and he paid them all off for us.

''He's a bloody good kid. It helped us out something terrible. He's basically just put me into retirement so I can go around and watch him play.''

The touring press pack, meanwhile, lined up England in their sights. They are never short of trenchant opinions in the Daily Mail and Martin Samuel's piece on the struggles of Jonathan Trott is dug in halfway down and aimed at the head:

Somehow, England's No 3 batsman has developed a style so flawed, so easily bested, he is a cheap wicket waiting to happen.

Bowlers pass through him, as an express train does a small-town station, on the way to Kevin Pietersen. Trott offers no pause, and no respite for his beleaguered colleagues. Australia have worked him out, as will the rest of the world's quickest bowlers after this, and while England are already engaged in an uphill battle to retain the Ashes after three days in Brisbane, Trott's personal fight borders on the existential.

One of Australia's clear plans on the third day was to try and hit Graeme Swann out of the attack. Malcolm Knox in the Sydney Morning Herald pointed to the difficulties this could present Alastair Cook, England's captain, with on the tour, while emphasising the hard work put in by Clarke and Warner:

Against Swann in both innings in Brisbane, most of Australia's batsmen have batted like men who are sleeping on five-star hotel beds after a year of camping. The torment of facing Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Swann in the past nine Test matches on dusty crusts of earth has pushed them to review and improve their technique and attitude. Without mastering those conditions, they worked to get slowly better. Now, on a true Brisbane wicket, things were a good deal easier. Swann was forced to slow his pace and give the ball more air in hope of extracting turn, but this only gave Clarke and Warner the time to leap down the pitch and punish him. For Clarke this is second nature, but Warner's footwork was a revelation, the fruit of months of application in India and England.

After the shenanigans involving Stuart Broad and a certain local newspaper, the Guardian gave a platform to Christopher Dore, editor of the Brisbane Courier-Mail, to explain their tactics. He admitted that a change of plan had been in order, until Australia dramatically struck back in the match:

By midway through the next day's play we were contemplating surrender. For the next day, would we run a white flag and an open letter of apology to Broad, or publish an Australian citizenship form on the front and invite him to sign up, given that he seemed to have seen the error of his ways - he hadn't cheated in the first two days, and appeared to share several characteristics for which Australians were renowned: bravery, good humour, exceptional talent, fighting spirit and a mop of blond hair surely only the Pacific Ocean and the searing antipodean sun could have had a hand in creating.

Then along came Mitchell Johnson. Any fears that we were losing our readers with the brazenness of our coverage were allayed when Broad was welcomed to the crease by the (slightly adjusted) time-honoured Aussie chorus of "the 27-year-old English medium pace bowler is a wanker".

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