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'England can regain the Ashes'
All the Ashes action, Bangladesh's win, Murali's retirement, and the future of Test cricket (27:10)
August 3, 2009
The Tony Greig Show
'England can regain the Ashes'August 3, 2009
One of the reasons why cricket is such a great game is because just when you think you have it all worked out it throws up a surprise. Just ask Phillip Hughes. One minute he is being compared to Bradman and the next he can't score a run and is dropped. Mitchell Johnson too has come crashing down from lofty heights as a result of his almost inexplicable loss of form.
These are just two of the most recent examples that have resulted in many of you asking the question: what causes these dramatic losses of form? There are, in my view, many answers but the main one is a loss of confidence. Many naturally talented cricketers just cruise along until things go wrong and they find themselves in a place they have never been before and simply don't know how to deal with the problem. Confidence dwindles and the problem is exacerbated. It is for this reason that experience is so important. One needs to experience going through a bad run to know how to handle it. To be a top cricketer, a run of low scores or bad figures is part of the learning process. To know what to work on in the nets is vital. Often, all the bowling and batting coaches in the world will not help.
It seems that I was correct about the relative strengths of the Ashes combatants. I said before the series started that the bowling team that swings the ball most consistently will win, and that is exactly what is happening. There can be little doubt that modern batsmen, while more aggressive than their predecessors, are struggling with movement in the air, and Australia have demonstrated this again at Edgbaston in the third Test.
England swung the ball all over the place but when the Aussies' turn came on the same day and in the same conditions, there was no swing. If the same happens in the second innings and if the rain stays away, England still have an outside chance of going 2-0 up, but at the time of recording it seems that rain will be the winner.
Before the start of the third Test, Ricky Ponting made it clear that he was reluctant to drop Johnson, and I must say I understood those sentiments. This is a guy who has bowled superbly for Ponting for a couple of years and to drop him when Australia know they need to get 20 wickets to beat England and have a chance of retaining the Ashes was not on Ponting's radar. Ponting's reckoning would be that to drop the out-of-form Hughes and bring in Shane Watson would effectively allow him to play Johnson while at the same time having Watson's pace to fall back on should Johnson's nightmare continue. This, Ponting would have realised, was a bit of a gamble because Watson has not opened the batting with any success. However Ponting has always been a bit of a Watson fan so he took the punt. Watson did not let him down- as we know he did a good job opening in the first innings. The tragedy for the Aussies, and Johnson in particular, was the dreadful decision made by Rudi Koerzten. Johnson had Ian Bell plumb lbw with a beauty - the sort of delivery and wicket that could just have got Johnson back in business. But this game can be cruel and it wasn't to be.
Ponting knew he had problems before the start of the Test but his heart must have sunk when he was confronted with the news that Brad Haddin, Australia's leading batsman [before the start of the third Test] had broken a finger and couldn't play. Ponting and the Aussie management had to go cap in hand to the England captain to seek permission to change their team after the toss - all this after many Aussies had questioned Andrew Strauss's integrity over that Lord's catch. Thankfully sanity prevailed and Strauss granted permission - a decision that will now surely see to it that this law will be altered to something more in keeping with the "spirit of the game", which is so often raised these days.
England definitely has it in them to regain the Ashes because it is clear that the Aussies have lost their sting, and in particular bowling confidence. So far in this series England are matching them with the bat and have outbowled them.
There is also the Andrew Flintoff factor. He seems to have regained his heroic form of 2005 and was the bowler who made the difference at Lord's. The loss of Kevin Peterson will worry England, because while he had not lived up to his lofty reputation in the series, he is the sort of player who would have come to the party at some stage. England will miss him because the Aussies are of the view that Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell combined aren't as dangerous as Pietersen. I agree with them.
It's also worth remembering that England still have Steve Harmison up their sleeve. Harmison is bowling well but the English brains trust have gone for swing rather than pace and that has proved the right decision.
Bangladesh's win in the West Indies
Bangladesh cricket lovers will have enjoyed their team's victory over West Indies but they know their cricket too well to get over-excited because, with respect, winning against the current West Indies second XI is rather like beating their fifth XI in the seventies and eighties. Bangladesh are still not ready for Test cricket, but they are by far the most promising of the weak teams and have a cricket following that is as enthusiastic as that of India Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We just have to be patient with them.
The future of cricket's formats
Andrew Flintoff and Muttiah Muralitharan have chosen the shorter form of the game over Tests because of injury problems, but rest assured the fact that there is now serious money to be made in cricket means this decision is a lot easier to make. There is no way that so many players would be contemplating any form of retirement if it wasn't for the money Twenty20 cricket is generating for players.
Pietersen has said that Test cricket could be dead in 10 years. So where is cricket headed? I certainly don't agree with Pietersen's comments, although cricket's new Twenty20 formula has, as direct result of the success of India's IPL, become the most talked-about subject in the game. Almost everyone I speak to wants to know what I think of Twenty20 cricket because even though they don't always admit it, most fringe cricket lovers lap it up. Forget about the extra cash the players are making; the reason for its popularity is because it is action-packed. No longer do individuals or families have to put aside a whole day to get their cricket fix.
The big question is: what, in the current scheme of things, is going to give way in order to make way for cricket's latest revolution? In the short term nothing will change because cricket administrators, the world over, will want to hang on to everything especially the cash generated by those who televise cricket's three formats: Tests, one-dayers and now Twenty20.
The longer term is a totally different kettle of fish. I have little doubt that Twenty20 cricket will take over from the ODIs. The change in audience figures and ground attendance will see to this. When advertisers, be they those on the ground or those who use television advertising breaks, start to decline, as they surely will, it will be all over.
Last year I was involved in broadcasting 40-odd Twenty20 matches in the ICL over a period of around 50 days. It was wonderful fun, but to be honest I could hardly recall what happened the day before let alone the week before. Not long after that experience I went to Dubai to commentate on the Pakistan v Sri Lanka ODI series: two exciting teams played in new and exciting venues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I was surprised to find that for the first time in my life at any cricket match I was bored. The games were just taking too long after the helter-skelter of Twenty20. I wanted more action and found the period between 15 and 40 overs dull. For the first time in my cricket-playing and broadcasting life I had to concede to myself that this was not great fun.
My conclusion is that in the not too distant future international cricket will have two formats and they will be Tests and Twenty20. Its only a question of time.
Muttiah Muralitharan, or Murali as he is affectionately known to most of us, has announced that the Test series against West Indies in November 2010 will be his last Test series. Murali has been one of my favourite cricketers.
There will always be those who will brand him a chucker, and in so doing, do their utmost to undermine his incredible career. It was and has always been the job of the authorities not the individual to judge whether or not a player's action is within the laws of the game.
Like it or not, Murali has taken more wickets than anyone, and along with Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq has rewritten the offspinner's handbook. The doosra has caused great batsmen to toss and turn in their sleep and resulted in the laws relating to chucking to be altered to accommodate what has been described as the "flick" that so many so called experts consider necessary in order to bowl the delivery. The flick or partial straightening of the elbow has always been a part of bowling but many old stagers just won't have it.
Whichever way you look at it, Murali has been a great bowler. He has been wonderful for the game, he has been a breath of fresh air and has made a serious contribution to the game in Sri Lanka and all over the world. To replace this little smiling wizard is going to be impossible.
Talk to Tony
In this fortnight's show, Tony Greig discusses whether players are now choosing money over cricket with Cricinfo readers Andrew Heyn from Brisbane and Krishna Kumar from Sydney.
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