|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
There have been plenty of low moments for Australia in recent years, but Sunday at the SCG made them feel a lifetime ago. The Ashes celebrations will carry on for a while yet and, writing for the Guardian, Aaron Timms takes a detailed look at what the nature of the whitewash means
Was this the best series victory Australia's cricket team has ever produced? I have no idea; in any event, "best" is a bland superlative. But there's little doubt that this was the most carnal of victories - carnal because it was a pure product of desire, an achievement so driven by lust it could easily pass as a Pedro Almodovar film ("La Revancha: Los Ashes"). And it was a victory that, more than any other in recent memory, the country as a whole could relate to at a deep level, a feast more enjoyable for the famine that preceded it, the kind of win to make you believe in progress, and self-betterment, and the very perfectibility of things.
While there was confidence from Australia that they could prevail in this Ashes, the manner of their victories has left many stunned - not least elements of their latest success in Melbourne where they trailed on first innings and watched England build a healthy lead before surging back. Greg Baum, writing in the Age, had to rub his eyes a few times to make sure he wasn't seeing things
I saw a team that heroically beat India in India not 12 months ago and was measurably too good for Australia in the northern Ashes complete its falling apart in Australia. I saw England almost give up. And I rubbed my eyes.
A visit to the National Museum of the History of Sport in Orkney gives all the ammunition necessary to fight the phrase 'it's just a game'. The exhibits describe how intricately sport is tied with other spheres like entertainment, art and science, writes Alan Tyers, in the Telegraph. In addition, the display, called Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: the History of Sport in 100-ish Objects, provides evidence of cricket dating back a surprisingly long time.
Among the museum's treasures are this skeleton of the so-called Head Down Man, believed to be the first Stone Age cricketer. Preserved in a mixture of peat and his own bile on a Yorkshire moor, he was interred with some sticks of rhubarb, probably a totem for use in the afterlife.
Leg spin is argued to be one of the toughest arts to master, as New Zealand know very well. Since their last premier exponent, Jack Alabaster, retired in 1972, there have only been three others have made it to the national side, and unobtrusively vanish. But Ish Sodhi, the fourth and most recent entrant, exhibits both skill and intent that tempts Andrew Alderson, in the New Zealand Herald, to suggest their 40-year wait for an attacking legspinner might be over.
In the second test against Bangladesh, Sodhi demonstrated enough to suggest he is something special. Rhythm, loop and speed were packaged into an action reminiscent of India's Anil Kumble. Sodhi possesses an attacking mindset. His three first innings wickets for 59 runs from 18.5 overs made you sit up straight on the couch. If he can eliminate the four-balls which release pressure each over, he'll threaten.
Eric Ravilious' vision of cricketers in top hats has featured in 76 editions of the Wisden Almanack, but very little has surfaced about the man himself. Rupert Bates, in Wisden India, charts Ravilious' history from his less-than-attentive stints on the cricket field to possible sources of inspiration for the iconic engraving.
He said the game went on "a bit too long for my liking and I began to get a little absent-minded in the deep field after tea". He made one not out in defeat, and bowled a few overs. "It all felt like being back at school, especially the trestle tea with slabs of bread and butter, and that wicked-looking cheap cake." He went on to record the comment of the Double Crown captain Francis Meynell that his bowling was "of erratic length, but promising, and that I should have been put on before. Think of the honour and glory there."
Cricket in Pakistan has a history of being tinted by ethnic and religious factors. Nadeem Paracha, in Dawn, presents a chronicle of curious selections, protests and regional rivalries, notably when a 24-year-old was appointed Pakistan captain.
Shortly before the series, Miandad was quoted by the press as saying that the senior players in the team were not co-operating with him. Majid Khan took offense and invited nine players to his home in Lahore and told them that he was going to refuse playing under Miandad. He said that Zaheer [Abbas] had agreed to do the same. The board decided to side with Miandad and he led a brand new team against the Lankans in the first Test of the series at Karachi's National Stadium.
In a piece for the Guardian's weekly segment The Spin, Andy Bull questions whether fast bowling in Test cricket is actually losing its pace. Bull cites a study of baseball pitchers conducted by Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, and the latter has suggested that fast bowlers might also be reaching their physical limit. The important question is whether the trend may be depriving fans of one of the most exciting elements of Test cricket.
That mindset has been passed down by coaches, who see the perfect action as being the one that bears the most repetition while minimising the risk of injury and maximising the degree of control. As Brearley says, Test cricket is poorer for it, stripped as it is of the physical threat to the batsman and robbed of one its most exciting elements. But bowlers have longer careers as a consequence. Fans and players love to argue about who was the fastest. That's a debate that can't be settled. But it is clear that you won't find many contenders in this day and age. We are in a time of tortoises, not hares. The perfectly fast action, like the perfect game of draughts, is a thing of the past, a target players have long since stopped pursuing.
The Kanga League, one of Mumbai's and the country's toughest domestic environments, is slated to begin on Septmeber 7. The players walk out to wet, uncovered pitches that offer ready and often exaggerated help to seam bowling. As former Mumbai captain Shishir Hattangadi puts it, "If a batsman scored 30 or 50 runs, it would be considered equivalent to an 80 or a 100." Though the tournament has sustained several changes, stark among them being it beginning after the monsoon instead of during, former India cricketers reminisce the Kanga League's impact on their game in the company of Venkat Ananth of Livemint.
"The wet and soft pitches definitely helped develop my technique," says former wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit. "The wickets were a bowler's paradise and even after they eased out and got harder, they were usually two-paced. Survival was important. Your shot selection improved drastically. Whenever there were loose balls, you had to put them away, because they didn't come that often."
The last time an Australian touring side was 2-0 down after three Tests in the Ashes was in 1977. By the end of the series, which England won 3-0, Wisden would go on to describe their cricket as a 'very light shade of grey'. Neil Clark, in the Spectator, reminisces about the strange summer where he rooted for Australia in spite of being a Brit (a following based on his love for the underdog) and found a hero in former Australian opener Ian Davis.
In cricket, supporting the underdog meant siding with Australia when they came to contest the Ashes in Britain in 1977. I had cheered on England in 1975 against the Australians and in 1976 when they took on the West Indies. But in the summer of 1977, I kind of fell in love with the Australian team. Everything was against them.
Australia are once again teetering on the edge of several records, only after a thorough debacle at Lord's, nearly all of them are unsavoury. Already 0-2 down and with Old Trafford and The Oval well-known for assisting spin, Malcolm Conn in Australia's Telegraph brings to light a few foreboding statistics.
After a 4-0 defeat in India, Australia has now lost six Tests in a row for the first time since 1984. The worst losing streak is seven almost 130 years ago.
Australia has only ever been whitewashed once in England, and that was during a three-Test series back in 1886. The other large series defeats in England were 3-0 in 1977, 3-1 in 1981 and 3-1 in 1985 on tours unsettled by World Series Cricket and South African rebel tours. During all three of those series Australia did not start as badly as the current team.
Chloe Saltau of the Age paints a vivid picture of turmoil in Australian cricket, from the Argus report, the team's lacklustre performance in the Ashes and a dearth of available talent at the domestic level.
The Argus report now looks like an expensive navel-gazing exercise. Several of its key recommendations are in mothballs. The coach brought in to restore a winning culture has been sacked. The captain, Michael Clarke, is no longer a selector - a flawed concept to begin with. Australia, far from climbing back towards No. 1, is facing its sixth consecutive Test defeat - a streak not seen since the team was pummelled by the West Indies when they were kings in 1984.
In the same paper, Malcolm Knox writes that it's a concern for cricket in general if the rest of the series turns into a no-contest.
But Ashes cricket has thrived on 130 years of titanic tussles, and even when one side has been markedly stronger than the other the combat has been closer to Sharktopus than Sharknado. A week ago, these same teams played one of the tightest Test matches in history, a thriller. Those who came to Lord's basing their hopes on history will always say that sequels are never as good.
In the Independent, John Townsend writes that Australia have good reasons to feel optimistic about their spin situation, going by the initial performances of Ashton Agar and Fawad Ahmed in the tour games. Having fast-tracked Ahmed's eligibility, the time is ripe for his inclusion.
Indeed, Ahmed may be Australia's best prospect of getting back into the Ashes. He had a bowl-off with Agar at Bristol last month after the Australian selectors decided that off-spinner Nathan Lyon was not going to provide the impact required on pitches likely to be as arid as any in world cricket. Agar won the battle of Bristol but it may be that Ahmed wins the war.
In the Guardian, Vic Marks says Joe Root's performance with the ball at Lord's was encouraging enough for Cook to use him as a regular spin option. That is provided Root perseveres with his offspin.
The mechanics of spin bowling are not that difficult, compared with the demands of fast bowling. There is no need for special muscles or extreme flexibility. An ordinary Joe can make himself into a very passable bowler provided he has the right temperament. This is where we can be optimistic about Root. All the signs are that he is willing to learn, practise and use some of his undoubted powers of concentration for the most fundamental skill required by a bowler with a decent basic action: to land the damn thing on a length time and time again.
In the same paper, Barney Ronay wonders if the Ashes has lost a bit of its specialty this time, considering it has been spread over 10 Tests and contested between two mismatched teams.
Just how special is it out there? This is the question the TV interviewers seem intent on asking every Ashes interviewee, every star of the day, in fact pretty much anybody they can muscle in behind a mic. And of course it is only natural, the ramping-up of the history angle, that muscular breadth of scale, the tearfully invoked sense of Ashes tradition, if only because at the centre of all this there is already a notable absence of competitive tension, not to mention at times some pretty ordinary cricket being played.
Two Tests into the back-to-back series it is starting to look like what it is: a decent team and a poor team playing each other 10 times in a row for no clear reason beyond their own grand and illustrious shared history.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan is no stranger to the charm of Lord's. He has strode out through the Long Room twelve times in his career, seven of which were as captain. In the Telegraph, he paints a picture of the experience that awaits the English and Australian players at the home of cricket on Thursday.
The Long Room is crammed like a busy bar. You walk through the narrow tunnel created by the stewards, go through the double doors and down the steps at the front of the pavilion. This is when the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. If you can, take in this moment. Whichever team goes out first should be thinking: "How lucky are we to be playing cricket right here, right now." It does not get any better.