Monday, November 29, 2010


The 1st Test at the Brisbane Cricket Ground saw a fitting start to the 2010 Ashes series. The contest between England and Australia lived up to the pre-match hype to deliver five days of absorbing cricket to whet the spectator appetites. The first three days of the Test lulled us all in to a false sense of belief that this was an Ashes Test of old. How wrong that notion turned out to be. In the past, English teams had been slaughtered at the Gabba, but this was no flock of lambs to be led to the slaughter, as the Australians found out the hard way, this team turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Gabba is an impregnable fortress to visiting teams and it is not a coincidence that the 1st Test of each series is scheduled at this venue. Many have dubbed this ground as “The Gabbatior” due to the relentless pressure Australian teams put on the opposition at this venue.

The usual familiarity of a poor start by England and a strong start by Australia had everyone fooled that we would see an Australian win by the end of the fifth days play. However, if Australia along with everyone else thought that England would give up the urn without putting up a fight, they had another thought coming. This team showed strength of character that’s rare for any visiting team to Australia. The Australians had England on the back foot for the greater part of the first three days play. At the end of the first day’s play, Ian Bell vowed that England would fight back, and fight back they did in record breaking style. This seesawing game is a reminder that we are finally going to see an even contest in a Test series in Australia.


Four years ago, the England campaign to retain the Ashes was derailed in the 1st Test at the Gabba by Glenn McGrath who shattered the English dreams by taking 6 for 50. In the 2010 edition, Peter Siddle gave the Aussies a similar start with his figures of 6 for 54 which also included a rare hat-trick. This turned out to be the only stand out performance that the Australians could muster from their bowling department.

Peter Siddle, a last minute choice over Doug Bollinger, justified his selection by bowling with pace and aggression. He broke a solid partnership between Cook and Peterson which was threatening to take the game away from Australia. He then bowled very skillfully to get his first hat-trick in Test cricket by getting the wickets of Collingwood, Prior and finally the wicket of Broad with a beautiful swinging full length ball. This was the first Australian hat-trick in an Ashes Test since Shane Warne achieved this feat in 1994 in Melbourne. He then stopped a late rally from Bell and Swann by getting Swann out leg before to completely break England rearguard. His line and length kept the batsmen in two minds of whether to play on the front or back foot and reaped just rewards by finishing the first innings with figures of 6 for 54.

The Australian batting stood strong in the face of an inspired English bowling attack. Even though Australia was in a spot of bother at 143/5 they recovered well through Hussey and Haddin. A record partnership of 307, the highest ever partnership for any wicket at the Gabba, between these two put Australia in the driving seat yet again. Hussey got to his highest ever test score but fell five runs short of a well deserved double century. He played with freedom and aggression which was no doubt spurred on by the need to save his Test career. Haddin played an excellent supporting role and got to his third Test century. Both these batman weren’t given any easy runs by England as they bowled very well though out the inning. This reason alone made Hussey’s batting in particular a very special knock. He was out of form, fighting for his place in the team and Australia was in a dicey position at 143/5 facing relentless bowling from tough opposition. Given these insurmountable odds Hussey’s feat is nothing short of exceptional.


Much was expected from their stand out bowler Mitchell Johnson to produce a good start for Australia. Johnson turned out to be as effective as a feather duster on a Sherman tank against the English batting. He ended wicket less in 43 overs, scored an 18 ball 0 and dropped Strauss when he was on 69 to deny debutant Xavier Doherty his third Test wicket. His performance was such a let down to this team that Ian Chappell has already called for Johnson to be dropped for the 2nd Test in Adelaide.

The Australian Bowling:
Siddle’s bowling in England first inning was the only spark in an uninspired bowling effort by the Australians. Mitchell Johnson was dismal, Hilfenhaus and Watson were just as bad, and at times looked insipid and languid barring a wicket apiece at the start. Xavier Doherty bowled well for a debutant and even though he got two wickets for himself, the wicket of Ian Bell was a gift as Bell was looking to up the ante to get the scorecard ticking.

To sum up their appalling performance with the ball, the only wicket they managed to take in the England second inning was by part timer Marcus North which was more the batsman’s mistake than a feat of prodigious bowling.

The Australian Fielding:
Five dropped catches in the England second innings summed up the Aussie efforts in the field. These missed catches may not have had a profound effect on the end result of the game, but it certainly had an effect on the Australian morale. The Aussie shoulders drooped lower and lower as catch after catch went to ground. As hard as some of these chances were, the Australians must be smarting as they have turned matches purely by their fielding performances in the past. Abysmal fielding, coupled with their pathetic bowling not only took the game away form them, but may have a butterfly effect on the success of the future matches.


Mental toughness is the first positive trait that’s associated with this team which is undoubtedly transferred directly from the personalities of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower. Add focus, concentration, application, perseverance, resolve, determination to toughness and that would aptly describe this English team.

The English Bowling:
Tenacity and perseverance are the key words to describe this English attack. Even though Steven Finn, their worst bowler for the majority of the game ended up with the best figures, Anderson, Broad and Swann must know that stand out performances are just around the corner. This is especially true in Anderson’s case as he bowled very skillfully with the new ball on the third morning albeit with little results. Even Finn made amends for his early lack of accuracy and penetration by breaking the record stand between Hussey and Haddin and then quickly mopped up the Australian tail.

A gritty 67 in the first innings and a majestic 235 not out in the second innings announced the coming of age for this talented opening batsman. The tremendous concentration and application shown by this young man gave him the enviable statistic of the highest individual score by any batsman as well as the first double hundred by a visiting batsman at the Gabba. His 329 run stand with Trott is the highest partnership at the Gabba beating the 307 run stand set by Hussey and Haddin just 48 hours earlier. This partnership is also the highest by an England pair in Australia. A superb retort to Cook’s critics who had called for his axing before the start of the tour.

The English Batting:
The first innings saw Cook and Bell contribute with valuable half centuries to keep England in the game. Bell particularly showed his competence as well as confidence to take on the Australian attack in the face of hostile bowling from Siddle. Both fifties were invaluable in taking England to a respectable score of 260.  The second inning saw Andrew Strauss set the tone to the recovery by scoring a hundred which rectified his initial failure in the first innings. Jonathan Trott too applied himself to score an unbeaten hundred to further frustrate Australia. England should take heart that they tamed the Gabbatoir in style with their batting alone which had been their Achilles heel in the past tours of Australia.


The English Batting in the First Innings:
Strauss, Trott, Peterson, Prior, Swann and Bell all fell to lose shots in their first inning. The Australians made England pay for their lack of concentration by restricting England to 260 and then making 481 themselves. England was lucky that the Siddle couldn’t replicate his first innings form and that Johnson remained bland for the whole game or it would have been Australia who took the accolades for the broken records instead of England.

Strauss’s Declaration:
Some would argue that Strauss took 40 – 50 runs too long to declare and therefore gave up an opportunity to win the game. While this is true, they could have lost the game just as easily as the Aussies have adequate batting strength to score at five an over, as shown by Ricky Ponting’s second innings half century in only 43 balls. Also, it would have taken an extra special effort from the England bowlers to take 10 Australian wickets in 50 or so overs. Kudos to Strauss as made sure that there is no possibility for England to lose the game before he made the decision to declare. Andrew Flintoff, the England captain in the 2006/07 Ashes series, was in a similar position during the 2nd Test in Adelaide. England was in a strong position at 551 for 6 with Flintoff still at the wicket, and instead of ensuring that England was in a position not to lose the game he made the ill fated decision to declare. The Australian batsman put up a 500 plus score and then Warne & Co. shot out England for 129 in the second inning. England lost due to the lack of foresight by Flintoff which cost them the game and the ability to fight back to square the series. England never recovered from there and went on to lose the series 5 – 0. This would have been in the back of Strauss’s mind when he made the decision of when to declare.

All in all, the English team has won an important psychological battle. They have done everything right from the time they arrived in Australia. They’ve gone about their business very quietly yet won two matches out of three in their lead up to the 1st Test. They’ve battled hard to draw the 1st Test in an Australian fortress and they’ve broken a number of records in doing so. This team is unlike any other English team that had toured Australia in the last two decades. It has a certain steel and resolve underneath its deceptively fragile exterior.

In contrast, the Australian camp have much to debate about and rectify for the oncoming matches as they cannot let England gain momentum and get the upper hand as the tour progresses. Ponting must have a headache the size of Ayers Rock with some of the tough questions going around his team. Should Watson be dropped down the order? Should Marcus North be given another opportunity or is it time to bring Usman Khawaja in? Is it time to stop handling Mitchell Johnson with kid gloves? Play two spinners or three pacemen at Adelaide? It’s such a pity that this great man is put under the cosh so often to make excuses for his team. For the first time in many years things are starting to look ominous for the Australians at home.

The score may read 0-0 at the moment, but in the English camp, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower have notched it up as England 1- Australia 0.

* Statistics courtesy of

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


We are about to witness arguably, the most awaited Test series since the 2005 Ashes. England has a genuine chance of beating Australia at home after more than 20 years of waiting. Andrew Strauss has the unique opportunity to become a home and away Ashes series winning captain. Similarly, Ricky Ponting has a chance to avoid the ignominy of being remembered as the one of the rare Australian captains to lose home and away Ashes Test series.

The Australian camp is facing quite a few hiccups even before a ball has been bowled. They are coming into the contest riding on the confidence of 3 successive losses in Test’s; 2 losses against the high flying Indians and 1 loss against the lowly ranked Pakistanis. Even in home conditions, their bowling is far from being intimidating. The experienced Nathan Hauritz was sacked in favor of rookie slow left-arm bowler Xavier Doherty. Mitchell Johnson hasn’t shown enough proof that he will be the bowler to tip the scales in favor of Australia in a Glenn McGrath like manner. Siddle and Hilfenhaus are no Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie either. Their batting is not quite shaky but rather unsettled for an Australian team. They were ingloriously shot out for 88 by Pakistan in July. Marcus North scored a career saving 128 in the last Test against India but his other scores in the last four Tests were 0, 20, 16, 0, 0, 10, (128) & 3. Michael Clarke’s continuing back problem flared up a few days ago which resulted in the inclusion of the uncapped Usman Khawaja in to the squad. Hussey and Katich haven’t done anything to write home about in the last few Tests either. There’s an inclination to believe that they will come apart at the seams if they do not start out by setting the tone for the series by winning the all important Gabba Test.

In contrast, England look very well settled in all departments. The batting looks solid with all their top order batsmen getting at least a half-century in the tour matches barring Jonathan Trott. Much will depend on the batting of Strauss who’s given us a preview of what’s to come by rattling off two hundreds already. Alistair Cook has scored a hundred and a fifty while Collingwood fell short of a hundred by 6 and 11 runs on two occasions. Ian Bell came within touching distance of a rare double hundred by a touring batsman in Australia. Their bowling doesn’t look very threatening but, it does look very competent with Anderson and Broad as the standout pacemen with the tall Steven Finn to add the x-factor. The biggest threat will come in the form of Graeme Swann, the most accomplished and competent slow bowler to tour Australia in decades.  On top of all that, they are guided by the competent Andy Flower with the calm head of Strauss marshalling the troops on the field.

With all the above factors to level the playing field between these two legendary adversaries we can anticipate some absorbing Test cricket in the weeks to come. We could debate, contemplate, analyze and predict scenarios as well as fitting endings to this historic encounter. We could foretell of the heroes and villains of this series armed with the statistics of the past in the hand. However, none of these predictions are certain to become realities. Thankfully, this Ashes series is not a foregone conclusion and in the least, we can expect to be thoroughly entertained. Let the games begin!

- Statistics courtesy of

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief. FINALLY, the Australian dominance over Test cricket has ended. The cricketing world has witnessed the unnatural phenomena of an Australian team losing 3 Test matches in a row since 1988. Humble pie has become the staple diet of Ricky Ponting; their battle scarred captain sporting a bruised ego. His recent post match interviews have been a steady stream of excuses on behalf of an underperforming team that’s scraping the barrel to replace the superstars of the last decade. Ponting, who played a big part in the success of Steve Waugh’s world dominating all conquering team, has become the scapegoat for the shortfalls of this team. I doubt that there’s a single cricketer in Australia who envies Ponting’s current situation, especially as we approach an Ashes summer.

It’s evident that Ponting has the desire to mould a winning team under his own brand of captaincy. A brand of captaincy that would carve a niche for himself as one of the great cricket captains following the feats of Bradman, Hasset, Benaud, and Waugh in Australian sporting folklore. In all fairness, there is no shame in that for such a gifted and accomplished player who has given so much to the sport he loves. He makes his desire obvious with every inning that he goes in to bat with tough gritty knock that holds it all together around him. He has put away his signature hooks and pulls for less risky run scoring. He doesn’t dance down the track to the spinners as much as he used to do, but he still scores steadily against them. His inspired fielding belies his age as it seems that he has not lost even a degree of sharpness with his near superhuman speed and agility.  However, a gutsy captain and a team of fit athletes is not by far a winning formula in the game of cricket.

Performances show that Australia is still a very competitive team, but there are a few slip-ups in recent times in their usually flawless resume.

In addition, Australia’s win/loss ratio has plummeted to an all time low within the last 10 years. The following table shows the Test and ODI results of the Australian team split in to two periods; 1998 – 2008 and 2008 to the present. 


Win/Loss Ratio
These statistics show that the Australian win loss ratio has fallen from 5.06 to 1.54 in tests, and from 3.08 to 2.21 in ODI’s within the last 2 years; a hideous statistic by Australian standards. They clearly indicate that Australia are on a downward spiral and are steadily losing their aura of invincibility. It’s evident that they’ve lost their x-factor by the loss of players like Hayden, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath.

We saw a once great West Indian team fall after the collective retirements of Richards, Dujon, Marshal, Greenidge and Haynes. This ended an era of West Indian dominance over cricket and almost two decades down the line, the repercussions of their retirements still echo in the West Indies. Not even the likes of Lara, Richardson, Walsh or Ambrose could arrest the decline. Even though they are a decade apart, the similarities between the rise and fall of these two teams are uncanny. The retirements of Hayden, Gilchrist, Langer, Warne and McGrath are having a similar effect on the fortunes of the Australian team. History, statistics and recent performances all point towards an implosion of Australian cricket.

Finally, is this really the end of the era of Australian dominance? Without a doubt, the rest of the cricketing world will be painting bull’s-eyes on effigies of the Australian’s backs in the midst of formulating many a vengeful campaign. They finally have a chance to grind the tormentors of their generation in to the dust. I say don’t count on it. They’ve been given a harsh reminder of what it’s like to lose frequently again. If the Australian teams of the past have taught us anything, then it’s that they are going to come back even harder at each and every opponent. I have a strong notion that we haven’t seen the last of Ponting & Co or the best of them either.

- Statistics courtesy of statsguru from
*   9 Matches did not yield results.
** 4 Matches did not yield results.