England v Australia, 1st npower Test, Cardiff, 4th day

England's heads stuck in the clouds

On today's evidence, it's going to be nigh on impossible to resist affording Steve Harmison one final, final shot at redemption if England are to claim anything from this series. It really is looking that desperate right now

Andrew Miller at Cardiff

July 11, 2009

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Ben Hilfenhaus roars a successful, if fortuitous, appeal for the wicket of Ravi Bopara, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 4th day, July 11, 2009
'Johnson and Hilfenhaus proved with their tenacity late in the day. Their bustle at the crease was totally at odds with the flaccid impact that England's own new-ball pairing of James Anderson and Stuart Broad had made during their eight-over burst before tea on the second day' © Getty Images
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Psychologically, England have been left with nowhere to hide after a fourth day in Cardiff that, aside from a timely downpour on the stroke of tea, could hardly have been more horrendous for their series prospects. It wasn't merely that Australia took control of the match - that in itself is hardly a new development in Ashes series - it was the point-scoring dedication with which they bossed each and every microcosmic aspect of the contest.

Two particular contrasts stand above and beyond all others. The first and most obvious was the dedication of their batsmen, not least Brad Haddin and Marcus North, two men making their Ashes debuts. Not content with ridiculing England's inability to turn any one of ten double-figured scores into centuries, Australia responded with four of their own, the first time they had ever achieved such a feat in Ashes history.

"You lot think about it a lot more than me," was the gist of Kevin Pietersen's response to the media after his own contemptible dismissal on the first day, but on the evidence of Australia's scorching first innings, nobody thought about Pietersen's performance more than his opponents. Doubtless he was reminded of this during each and every one of the nine deliveries he faced in the gloaming this evening.

"Regardless of where you play and whatever the conditions, if you get in, make sure you go on and get a hundred, and if you get a hundred, try to get a big hundred," said North, with the sagacity of an instant veteran. "We saw Ricky [Ponting] do that and we saw how determined he was to do that. I guess looking back at England's innings, that's something they might have looked at and thought, 'Gee, we might have let ourselves down a bit.'"

Of arguably greater significance, however, was the performance of Australia's bowlers in their seven-over onslaught before the rains closed in. In prising out two vital wickets, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus were everything that England's own attack had failed to be for three long days in the field. If they were caught stealing a glance at the heavens as the light began to fade, it was only as an incentive to make the most of that 30-minute window. England, on the other hand, were content to trundle with their heads, quite literally, in the clouds.

"It's difficult to pick up wickets when the ball does literally nothing for the seamers," said Paul Collingwood, who was not proud to be the pick of a toiling attack. "You can say you've got to use other methods, cutters and things, but when the pitch is so slow it's very difficult. Batsmen these days have got good techniques and combat the straight ball, no matter how fast it is. It's all about hopefully getting that ball reversing, or swinging conventionally."

Except it is not, as Johnson and Hilfenhaus proved with their tenacity late in the day. Their bustle at the crease was totally at odds with the flaccid impact that England's own new-ball pairing of James Anderson and Stuart Broad had made during their eight-over burst before tea on the second day, a critical passage of play that has since been buried beneath the sheer weight of Australia's runs.

England, remember, had enjoyed a morning of rare levity with the bat, smiting 99 runs in 16.5 overs to post a total that, at the time, seemed competitive. By lunch, however, Australia had hurtled to 60 for 0, with Phillip Hughes - a man on the rack after his travails at Worcester - allowed to spring onto the offensive with the initiative-seizing élan of a latter-day Michael Slater.

Already the selectors are steeling themselves for an uncomfortable squad announcement on Monday afternoon. The gamble of playing two spinners has failed spectacularly, with Graeme Swann's cocky confidence fading with every over, while the three frontline seamers who looked such a neat fit on paper have discovered that their roles are so confused that they are like keeper and slip cordon who each look to the other as the chance sails clean between the gap.

Quite simply, there is no leader to the attack. Andrew Flintoff is England's go-to man, because he's the most imposing presence and has the acknowledged respect of the Australians. But he does not take the new ball - partly out of fears for his fitness, but also out of respect to Anderson, who often says he wants to be seen as the frontman, but then fronts up as pitifully as he did in the end-of-day press conference on Wednesday, when his promise that England would "keep fighting" was delivered with the ferocity of a moist sponge.

And then there's Stuart Broad, whose role in the side is perhaps the least clear of all. There's hardly a pundit in the game who does not believe he is destined for great things, but right at this moment he is neither one thing nor the other. He has the capacity to bowl with spite and aggression, as Ramnaresh Sarwan discovered at Durham in May, and he's also capable of holding up an end. But in this match, he's fallen badly between two mindsets, never more so than when he came over the wicket to present Hughes with three deliciously wide long-hops to resuscitate Australia's momentum.


Stuart Broad watches Australia pile on the runs, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 4th day, July 11, 2009
'There's hardly a pundit in the game who does not believe Stuart Broad is destined for great things, but right at this moment he is neither one thing nor the other' © AFP
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For a man credited by Michael Vaughan as one of the most intelligent bowlers he has captained, it was a peculiarly vacant way for Broad to start his biggest campaign yet, especially given the success that Steve Harmison - and later Flintoff - had against Hughes from round the wicket.

"Broady's got some great skills," was Collingwood's damningly faint praise at the close of the fourth day, though he didn't seem willing or able to pinpoint exactly what they are. He has now taken 47 wickets at 39.89 in 18 Tests, which are unflattering, no matter how much promise he may hold. In the opinion of Ian Chappell, Broad needs to focus on being the straight man in the attack, but with Anderson swingless and Flintoff incapable of finding the edge with his back-of-a-length approach, another holding bowler is the last thing England need.

And so, yes, all eyes turn to that man. No matter how many final straws he may have loaded onto the backs of the England management, it's becoming increasingly hard to ignore Harmison's claims for a recall. England need a spearhead worthy of the name, and another five wickets for Durham today are indisputable proof of his form.

"Of course he's going to be in the mix, but this attack has done well for us in the past few months and I'm sure we'll be sticking with it," said Collingwood, but on this evidence nobody else seems so convinced. For some perverse reason, Harmison still has a hold on Australia that no other England bowler can match, not even Flintoff, whose method of bettering them in the past has been more of the arm-wrestle variety.

At Lord's in 2005, Harmison left a duelling scar on Ponting's cheek that is still visible to this day. He alone has the shock factor that commands the respect from Australia that has been so patently lacking in this match. On this evidence, it's going to be nigh on impossible to resist affording him one final, final shot at redemption. It really is looking that desperate right now.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by RohanMarkJay on (July 12, 2009, 14:23 GMT)

I feel England when into this Test underdone. For a start the selectors made a big mistake in not picking Harmison. Now in hindsight a match losing mistake. So if England lose this Test I put the blame solely on the selectors. I think everyone was surprised when Harmison probable the most lethal bowler in England was not playing. Who cares if Harmison is hot and cold I for one would pick him for the entire Ashes, even if he goes for 1/100.

Clearly the problem for England in this Test Match wasn't the batting. It was the bowling department. When Ponitng came to the crease, if Harmison was charging in tandem with Flintoff who knows. It would be Australia instead of England trying to save the match. England's stregth has always been their pace attack. Thats won them the Ashes in 2005. Not the spinners. I would jettison Panesar, keep swann as the sole spinner. Pack the bowling attack with a high speed pace attack dominated by Harmison backed up by flintoff. With Sswann the filler in.

Posted by epochery on (July 12, 2009, 13:09 GMT)

At the start of this series I fet this would be a good chance for us to knock off Australia. Their Bowling has lost so much of the class it has held overt the last 20 years and the batting is inexperienced at this level. We needed to bat well and intelligently and bowl with discipline, and most of all pick the right players. I think we have failed in all areas. Just the team choice. 5 batsmen, 5 bowlers, 1 keeper. Simple. Now i remember a few years ago when you got past number 7 we would soon be all out but to pick a player who average 38 with the ball a very flattering 31, is nonsense. Will Broad take 20 wickets in this series, no. Onions was bowling very well against the west indies but he was left out because of this so called spinners paradise, I dont know where the evidence of this is.

I think if Geoff Miller can't get the selection right we should be looking for an alternative who know how to pick a team that will win. Lords, Harmisson, Onions in, Broad, Panesar out, simple!

Posted by NazmulHasan on (July 12, 2009, 12:38 GMT)

Why everyone says 2005!2005!!2005!!!. It has come after so many years. Sometimes i make joke with my friends saying that, England have nothing to cheer about cricket against Australia. So they have got their memory in 2005. So let them dream about 2005 rest of their life. Come on, Australia were sleeping in 2005, even without great player, Aussies can do whitewash for England, and sure this is going to happen this year as well. So poor cricket from Poms. Play some cricket, forget about the moon that had came in 2005 after so many years of darkness. And make sure dont be cocky. English are cocky especially English media.

Posted by andersond2n on (July 12, 2009, 11:45 GMT)

What a fantastic coverage, what a fantastic match (if you back AUS). Thanks so much for keeping me in touch. Cheers.

Posted by __PK on (July 12, 2009, 11:31 GMT)

2005 was a freak statistical anomaly. A million to one result. It was the coin toss that comes down neither heads nor tails, but rests on the edge, and when you go to pick it up, rolls away, down the street and into the drain. Perfect example that the probability distribution of cricket results has a long, long tail. It'll happen again - but don't expect any of us to live to see it.

Posted by jahnerd on (July 12, 2009, 10:54 GMT)

The best player for England so far is the trumpeter in the barmy army crowd. Hasn't got a note wrong yet.

Posted by StJohn on (July 12, 2009, 10:34 GMT)

I am not sure England has so much of a problem with the personnel, more the application and guile. England were about 100 to 150 runs short on their first innings total, and although neither side's bowlers were much helped by the pitch or the conditions, England's seamers failed to keep it tight and just be patient (something the did well in India and West Indies) and the spinners only looked dangerous for about 10 overs when Australia had already got 500 plus. Some curious captaincy too: e.g. Collingwood looked most likely to take a wicket with his cutters late on day 3 but only bowled 5 overs. But Andrew Miller overly praises the Aussie bowlers for their 7-over effort last night: they were helped by swing, which was largely absent for England's bowlers and which probably owes something to the atmospheric conditions and the lights; and Bopara was unlucky to be given out (North was lucky to survive a better shout for lbw off Swann when he was in his 40s!).

Posted by scoos on (July 12, 2009, 9:55 GMT)

You poms should be happy, your a chance for a draw and that is already an improvement on the last series

Posted by TheDoctor394 on (July 12, 2009, 9:41 GMT)

The English bowling frustrates and confuses me. Against the West Indies, it was fiery and destructive. Here it's lame. Some might say, "Well, Australia is better than the West Indies", but the thing is the actual bowling being sent down is not as good. If they had bowled the same as earlier in the season, and Australia had handled it better, I wouldn't mind so much. But why does it look so weak now, compared with a couple of months ago?

Posted by protea_fan on (July 12, 2009, 9:34 GMT)

This is an average English team. It's sickening to hear over and over again how much promise they have, when they rarely if ever deliver. Stuart Broad is not international quality - his career statistics refer. Andrew Strauss is an average captain. Ravi Bopara is not a number three of test quality. Swann will not win any matches and should not be seen in that light. By overselling their players and looking for ability where there is none, the English are just making it easier for the Aussies, who remain a far better team.

Posted by Liquifier on (July 12, 2009, 9:13 GMT)

And to 'keithcormack' - yes the shot was contemptible, showing KP's total lack of respect. Hauritz is no Warne, given, however he is competent. North's "ill-advised" shots were perhaps momentary lapses, but KP (aka the only English batsmen who Australia have any time for as the others are ordinary and reap all their good performances against poor sides like WI) was set, IS England's backbone and played a disgracefully arrogant stroke that made him look like the arrogant prat he often does. Hilfenhaus had KP plumb twice in the first day, so no use harping about poor little Bopara (the deer in headlights). Umpiring decisions have gone against both sides (I've yet to see the allegedly erroneous decision on Bopara), however the Englishmen are whining about the pitch and justifying their mediocrity with their usual shamelessness. I cannot wait for this series to end in the inevitable trouncing it appears to be at present.

Posted by Liquifier on (July 12, 2009, 9:07 GMT)

It is delightful to see how misguided and deluded the English were at the start of the series. One comment that "the 05 series was a long time ago, and Aus have since reclaimed the ashes" essentially underlines the fact that England are, and have been since 05, living in the past. Anderson is mediocre at best, Broad looks confused, Swann and Panesar are no better than Hauritz and fatty Flintoff looks extremely average. The bowling may have dismantled a weak WI side, wow who hasn't, and the absurd English press and commentary (who have been disgracefully biased and passive-aggressive) HAD (which in their fickle ways they have since retrenched) a deluded self-confidence in their mediocre side. Flintoff is NOT an exceptional player, averaging low 30's with bat and ball reiterate that facet, Anderson bowls around 34 which is quite poor for a bowler with so many wickets, and Panesar is money for jam. Thrilled to see how this series fares. Aus don't have heroes as before, but they are hungry

Posted by Pratik_vodka on (July 12, 2009, 8:34 GMT)

Its a shame that such a hyped up series, where we would finally see some equal competition between the teams,since the god mode players of Australia having left, had to start off in such dissapointment. Me being a Indian cricket fanatic, and no cricket for India for the next few weeks was really upbeat for this Ashes, where i thought England can finally give the Aussies a run for their money. Now that i come to think of it, man to man Aussies look far more determined to prove a point, than the english boys. Aussies new comers like Hilfenhaus Haddin North Jhonson look like they carry no baggage of expectations and are hungry for sucess. To my suprise Ricky too looks like someone who might be playing his first Ashes, looks fresh and ready to go. Englishmen on the other side seem to be and i might be totally off, that all the punters and experts giving England a thumbs up for the series, looks as if they have won the Ashes before a ball was bowled.

Posted by SachinIsTheGreatest on (July 12, 2009, 7:20 GMT)

A few truths England have to face up to...

1) Test cricket needs good cricket played over a period of time. Not one fluke like in 2005. 2) Don't treat every series between Ashes as an irritant which one has to bear for a few days. You don't deserve to play Test cricket if you cannot give your opposition the respect they deserve. 3) Recognise you are hardly the best. For the last couple of years England are probably just a bit better than West Indies. Australia, South Africa and India are miles ahead.

Australia play each and every series with the commitment and ferocity needed to win it. England, on the other hand, have this amazing illusion that everything will fall into place magically on the eve of an Ashes series.

Posted by shannonr on (July 12, 2009, 7:08 GMT)

>>The biggest error of judgement so far was the laughable LBW given against Bopara this afternoon....

No. The biggest errors of judgment were the two absolutely plumb LBWs *denied* against England in their first innings. They set up a total that looked much better than it was, and made Australia's bowling look much worse than it was. The one where Doctrove thought there was bat, but then didn't give the caught behind was especially priceless.

Following those two errors were the two LBWs that could have gone England's way in Australia's innings. Less "absolutely plumb" -- but still would have chopped a big chunk of Australia's massive score.

Posted by since7 on (July 12, 2009, 6:53 GMT)

Sometimes,I wonder whether the subcontinental media is the one known for impatience,hype.But the british media never fail to make my judgements wrong.Ofcourse,England bowled badly but to call for harmison after a single game,I suppose its too early and too impatient.More than the talent,I felt english bowlers were too complacent.ITs alright having an ideal pitch and 5 bowlers but ultimately you will have to bowl well to pick 20 wickets which england didnt do

Posted by Itchy on (July 12, 2009, 6:00 GMT)

Why are all English commentators, media, former players, current players, cab drivers, etc. so hung up on what happened in 2005? Both teams are very different to those of four years ago; even to those teams of 06/07 when, if I remember correctly, Australia regained the Ashes.

Yes Australia has lost some great players (McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden to name a few) since then - so too have England (Vaughan, Jones, Hoggard). England, however, would be better served focusing on who they are playing rather than who is no longer there.

Everyone knows Hauritz is no Warne, but then again he is no Ashley Giles either!

Posted by springonion on (July 12, 2009, 3:46 GMT)

It's odd for an Ashes series because the last thing England seem to be doing is applying themselves. As noted, the batsmen didn't go on to get hundreds, and then the bowlers failed to build up any form of pressure. On a placid pitch, the least you can do is hit a good line and length, yet we saw long-hops, full tosses and various other examples of woeful bowling. It shouldn't take the captain to point this out either. A bit of application from both the bowlers and batsmen and England could be in Australia's position, not the other way around.

Posted by iamherenowfear on (July 12, 2009, 3:46 GMT)

Just a few weeks ago, against the west indies, broad and anderson were looking like wasim akram and waqar younis! against the aussies, they cant take a wicket to please a dying grandmother. why not tell anderson that fidel edwards plays for aus? if that doesnt inspire him, i dont know what will.

Posted by andrew-schulz on (July 12, 2009, 3:41 GMT)

Harmison was easily the fourth best out of the four man attack in the 2005 Ashes, but he certainly wasn't a weak link. Without Simon Jones, England would have lost that series at least 4-0. Without Simon Jones this time...... As for Collingwood being the pick of the attack, again you leave us bemused Andrew Miller.

Posted by keithcormack on (July 12, 2009, 2:33 GMT)

England were poor today. There is no doubt about that. However, I feel that to refer to KP's shot on the first day, or his attitude to it, as "contemptible" is simply wrong. North played several ill-judged sweeps during the course of his innings and survived. Now he is a minor hero for Australia whereas KP has let us down again.....I know that you have an article to write but was KP's stoke really worthy of contempt? The biggest error of judgement so far was the laughable LBW given against Bopara this afternoon....

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (July 12, 2009, 2:00 GMT)

I reckon this is nemesis for endless replays of Ashes 2005 on Sky and singing jerusalem at certain poignant times, and in general England's over exultation.Without wishing to labour any points Australia's countless victories have been a lot bigger than 1 run and 2 wickets, and at the end of the day they must be splitting their sides at this country's puffed out chest and overweening self satisfaction. The fact is that we are back to 1993,big time, and they are on a different level. It's really only when we have vanquished them in 8 consecutive series that we can really afford to laugh.And right now to suggest such a feat is the stuff of white coats and funny farms.

Posted by aditya87 on (July 12, 2009, 1:48 GMT)

At Lord's there won't be a need for two spinners, so Harmison comes in any way in my opinion. There is no need for drastic changes, just replace Swann with Harmison because Panesar is the more experienced spinner and he will get bounce on the Lord's wicket hopefully that he will enjoy, even though he doesn't spin the ball a hell of a lot.

Posted by mithoauau on (July 12, 2009, 1:31 GMT)

the way Chapell was comentating on selection of Aussiee Squad i think that was another way to bring the opponent so sure that they got'em.

Aussiee trio bowling is much younger then the Pomi's, so I guess it was all up to keep the experienced players like Harmison and Hogard in the team to keep the pressure on Aussiees. Anderson is now way near to impress, Broad is just like Shoaib to keep his hairs in style and Flintof is getting his touch back. I hope Aussiee's will white wash the series like they did in 2007 which i didn't wanted to see it. good luck Kangroos.

Posted by vegemite on (July 12, 2009, 0:44 GMT)

Watching the 4th day, all I saw was the England team smiling and joking around like the game wasn't serous. Perhaps this is why they are in the predicament they are in at the moment. Ok, they all have a laugh every now and again, but it seems to me that the Engligh are taking this a bit lightly. Perhaps the white towle has already been thrown down. On another note, Doesn't Ricky Ponting look focused and pumped, It's going to take something special by the Poms to beat the Aussies.

Posted by explorer18 on (July 11, 2009, 23:42 GMT)

And ICC wants 4 days tests....

Posted by 0NBH on (July 11, 2009, 23:27 GMT)

"For some perverse reason, Harmison still has a hold on Australia that no other England bowler can match"

I don't think so. His last series against Australia wasn't '05, when he did scare them. It was '07, when he was aiming full tosses at 2nd slip. Of the current team, only Katich played in '05 but not '07; so for the rest, the lingering memory of Harmison isn't of a rampaging, deadly quick, but a nervous meek bloke who couldn't hit a barn door. And if Harmison does hold such a hoodoo over them, how did '07 happen in the first place?

Anyway, comments like "it really is that desperate" are entirely typical of the problem with the English media: it's the kneejerk reaction yet again. These bowlers were OKed before the series began, but now they've had ONE bad game - just one - and all hell has been let loose. We should apparently bring back bowlers who've had dozens of bad games, because as we all know, once the series and the hype has started, change must solve every problem.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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