Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The WACA has provided some electrifying games in the past, mostly delivered by quality fast bowlers who have single handedly turned games in their teams favor. A few performances that come to mind are Richard Hadlee’s 11 wicket haul in 1985, Curtly Ambrose’s 1st innings 7 for 25 in 1993 and Glenn McGrath destroying Pakistan in the 2nd innings in 2004 with figures of 8 for 24 among many others. It’s not a coincidence that many out and out quicks have declared the WACA as their favorite hunting ground. Australia has had a lot of good fortune at this venue. This is due of the abundant stocks of quality Australian fast bowlers in the last 20 years. The last two decades have seen Australia play 20 matches at the WACA while winning 13 of them. These results are mostly due to the outstanding bowling of McGrath, Lee, Gillespie, McDermott, Hughes, Kasprowicz and Johnson.

Presently, Australia is with their backs to the wall with England threatening to take the Ashes away from them in the third game of the series. This is an unheard of scenario for the Australians as hosts in the whole history of the Ashes. It is in times such as these that hard decisions have to be made to regain the advantage from the opposition. The Australian selectors made some key blunders with their choices in the last few games, especially with the persistence of Marcus North, the exclusion of Mitchell Johnson due to a couple of poor performances and the exclusion of Nathan Hauritz, their most experienced spinner. They have chopped and changed the bowling line up at the first hint of inconsistency. These frequent changes have hindered the Australian progress more than it has helped them and prevented them from building any momentum in this series in particular. The Australian selectors will have much to answer for if England retains the Ashes before Christmas.

The Australian selectors have slotted Phillip Hughes in for the injured Simon Katich, a good choice given Hughes's quality, aggression and prolific scoring in the past few domestic seasons. However, England will look to exploit Hughes weakness against the short ball by making the tall duo of Finn and Tremlett unleash a barrage of short balls to unsettle the opener. Given the nature of the pitch it may have been wiser for the Australian selectors to open with a batsman who is more comfortable against short bowling.

The inclusion of Michael Beer in the squad is a surprise to many as Beer is neither experienced nor superior to any of the other spin debutants since the retirement of Shane Warne. Even though Beer plays for Western Australia in domestic cricket, he does not have enough matches under his belt to suggest that he has an intimate knowledge of the pitch to provide any home ground advantage with his bowling.

Marcus North has finally got the sack and instead of bringing a specialist batsman to the squad, North has been replaced by Steve Smith which indicates that Smith will bat a number 6. This decision alone may prove to be the redemption for the Australian selectors as Smith will beef up the batting while giving Ponting an additional choice in the bowling department. This is not an ideal venue for a spinner to make an impact, even the great Shane Warne has failed to take a five wicket haul in the 12 games he had played here; however, Smith is a valuable option that Ponting will be thankful for.

The Australians should go in to this must win game with a four pronged pace attack which will be a huge asset on this ground. Johnson, Harris, Hilfenhaus and Siddle have to use the WACA to wrestle the advantage away from England. Even a draw may not be good enough as England will definitely perform better in the following games at Sydney and Melbourne.

England on the other hand will have less difficulties and uncertainties in their selection process. They will definitely miss the pace and bounce of Stuart Broad who would have enjoyed bowling at Hughes in particular, but they would be satisfied with the adequate replacement of Tremlett who was impressive in the tour match against Australia A in Hobart with match figures of 7 for 123. In the batting department, Andrew Strauss should take on more responsibility as Australia are sure to come hard at the English batsmen with their pace attack.



Bell averages 71.91 in his last 10 games with three hundreds and four fifties in three series against South Africa, Bangladesh and Australia. He has already scored 2 fluent fifties against Australia as well as two more fifties and a massive 192 in four tour matches. His bat has not been needed due to the fluency of the English top order so far in the series. However, the law of averages are bound to catch up with Cook, Trott and Pietersen in the next game especially as Australia will come hard at them with pace. Watch out for Bell to unfold his enviable stroke making at the WACA.

Anderson’s performance has steadily improved as the series progressed. He is one of the major problems that Australia has encountered as their batsmen have not been able to dominate Anderson. Every time an Australian batsman seems to get the measure of him, Anderson has come back strongly and bowled extremely skillfully to put Australia under pressure. Expect more of the same from him in Perth with the Fremantle Doctor at his back and the excitement of the birth of a child to buoy his mood.

This is a perfect pitch for these two 6 foot 7 inch giants to use their height to their advantage. Both Finn and Tremlett have the opportunity shine in the absence of Broad. No doubt, Andy Flower would have revved them up to unleash a few thunderbolts at the Australian batting. Their success will depend on their adaptation as well as the discipline and determination they show to persevere if the going gets tough.


He will be compelled to bat at his best to save the series, his team, his captaincy, his legacy and the pride of Australian cricket. In the past, Ponting has answered his critics strongly with his bat. However, never has this man seen such a low in his illustrious career and never has his leadership been questioned as universally as it is being questioned now. The vultures are circling and Ponting has nowhere to turn but deep inside and pull out the innings that will make or break his legacy. Thought by many as the best number 3 batsman after Bradman and the best in the world today, he will have to live up to his reputation to keep his team alive.

Michael Hussey
The only Australian to turn up for duty in this Ashes series. While the rest of his team mates are struggling with their confidence, batting form or trying to figure out how to get the English batsman out, Hussey has held the fort on his own to no avail. Hussey may have to come in early and play a game saving knock if Anderson, Finn and Tremlett rock the Australian top order as they did in Adelaide. He should be brimming with confidence due to his three previous outings and he is also playing in his home ground at the WACA. 

Will be playing at his home ground where the pitch will assist him more than any of the other Australian bowlers. He will provide the performance that will bring Australia back in to the series. He must, for the sake of his reputation and his future in the team. His performances usually depend on his levels of confidence his confidence should come through with familiarity. The familiarity of playing in his home ground will give him enough confidence, experience and knowledge on how to manipulate the conditions to get him his elusive first wicket and first run of the series.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The 2nd Ashes Test was an appropriate follow up to an intriguing 1st Test at the Gabba at least from an English perspective. By the end of the first over, the usual the swagger and bravado of an Australian team going about their business had disappeared. The normal vocabulary of the Australian commentators such as “intimidation” and “momentum” were crossed out for a few very un-Australian words like survive, defend and regroup. So very unlike the Australian commentators who would usually talk of “counter-attacks” and “fight backs” no matter how dire the situation the team was in. Could it be that even they have understood that this Australian team is incapable of the valiant fight backs of the past? Could it be that they too do not rate the mental strength of this Australian team highly?

It was the most disastrous start in 60 years of Australian cricket. Within the space of three overs the Australian batting had been reduced to 3 wickets for 2 runs with their captain and vice-captain back in the dressing room. Jimmy Anderson bowled one of the most devastating opening spells of his career to take 2 for 1 by the second over to put Australia under siege for the rest of the game. There was a sense of inevitability in this English win from very the first over itself. Australia did not have the batting to recover from 3 for 2 nor did they have the bowling strength to restrict England to a similar total and give themselves the opportunity to counter attack in the second innings. Sadly, they have no one to blame but the Australian selectors who had again shoved a few batsmen who were struggling to regain form into the midst of this fire fight. Marcus North’s form has been so bad of late that he should not have been even allowed to enter the Adelaide oval let alone play in the game. Clarke should have had similar treatment as he duly demonstrated in his first innings failure, but fortunately, for himself and for the selectors, Clarke fought back with a skillful 80 to give his career some sort of longevity.

If they only had a few questions to ask from themselves following the Gabba Test, now they would have a whole examination paper to answer after the shambles in Adelaide. It’s back to the drawing board for Hilditch, Nielson & Ponting who will have to get through the longest two weeks of their careers. There will be questions asked with regards to the failure of the batting, bowling and fielding efforts of the Australians. It’s difficult to recall any Australian cricket team hitting such a low in all areas of a game during the last 2 decades. Common sense states that there should be a few intelligent changes in the Australian camp to stop the English charge for the urn. No doubt the English will steel themselves for the final push at the WACA to regain the Ashes. A failure to understand this from the Australian selectors will surely vacate some high profile positions at Cricket Australia.



The Batting
Most of the Australian batsmen did not look convincing right through out the game with the exception of Watson and Hussey as well as Clarke in the second innings. Katich was unlucky in the first outing and defensive in the second, which was reasonable as he was hampered with a sore ankle. Ponting was at his worst prodding, lunging, jabbing and jumping around as if the pitch was made out of hot coal. Clarke’s first innings outing was sabotaged by a magnificent ball from Anderson. North looked as good as he ever will be in his short-lived and disappointing Test career. The desire of the Australian selectors to want to persist with this losing combination is an enigma to most. It almost seems as if they are trying to lull England into a false sense of victory before the selectors spring their master plan into action; whatever that may be.

The Bowling
Bollinger was all passion and heart at the start of the innings but ran out of steam as the game progressed. To be fair to him, Bollinger got the early wicket of Strauss and he beat both Cook and Trott a number of times early in the innings. Sadly, he was also let down by some sloppy fielding which cost him the wicket of Trott. Siddle was a disappointment as his performance was a total contrast to his earlier outing in the first game. He bowled well at times but his bowling was mostly dull and workmanlike as opposed the fiery first innings performance at the Gabba. The contest between Doherty and Pietersen was much awaited due to Pietersen’s weakness against left arm spinners. Doherty did the job he was sent out to do; get Pietersen out, but he didn’t live up to the expectations as Pietersen’s wicket came 227 runs too late. He ended up with the worst figures of all the bowlers and gave away 158 runs in 29 overs with only 1 wicket averaging at 5.85 per over and was treated particularly harshly by KP.


How many times will Hussey have to bail out the Australian batting in this series? So far he has sparked an Australian recovery from 143/5 to a match saving total of 458/7 at the Gabba. He came in at 3/2 in Adelaide and scored an invaluable 93 in the first innings and scored 52 in the second innings when they were 134/3 to try to salvage a draw from this disaster. There were calls for his axing from all around, but he's silenced all doubts with regards to his value in the team by averaging 113 in 3 innings thus far. Hussey has been the mainstay of the Australian batting and may turn out to be the single batsman to stand England’s way to an Ashes victory. 

Watson contributed with his customary half century in each innings yet again. He plays the perfect part of a solid opening batsman, at times as imposing as Hayden and at times as resilient as Langer. However, his conversion rate of fifties into hundreds has to improve if Australia is to put any kind of pressure on the England bowlers. He has passed fifty 14 times as an opener in Tests but converted only two of those into hundreds. However, he is one of the few shining lights in this shaky batting line up and Australia should encourage Watson to deliver a big hundred soon.

Harris was easily the best bowler of the bunch. He bowled in good areas at a lively pace and threatened to take wickets regularly but the England batsmen negotiated him well to negate his efforts. Harris managed to get the crucial wickets of Trott and Cook to break two big England partnerships. These two wickets was a meager return for a bowler that invested so much effort to rally the weak Aussie bowlers. It is time for Australia to think outside the box with their bowling attack for the remainder of the series. However, it may not make a difference as this English team looks to be competent enough to smother anything Australia can throw at them.



Strauss’s Leave
It must be by choice that Andrew Strauss did not take advantage of this bland Australian bowling attack. If not, why would he donate his wicket twice while on a duck? His badly judged cut shot ended up in the hands of Hussey at gully in the 1st Test, and his atrocious leave on the second day of the 2nd Test got him adjudged leg before. He almost put England’s cause in dire straights on two occasions; therefore, should show more responsibility as the captain of the team. He would have had three ducks in as many outings if technology hadn’t saved him in the 2nd innings at the Gabba as Hawkeye judged him not out on that occasion. His embarrassment may have been tenfold if Cook had not dug in and scored well on both occasions.


Delivered wickets at crucial times in both games, but none more important than his opening spell which knocked the wind out of Australia from the onset. His opening overs saw one of the most skillful spells by an English bowler in Australia in recent times. He was unlucky not to end up with the wicket of Hussey when he dropped a tough return chance in the 6th over. He was unlucky not to get a 5 wicket haul in the first innings as his bowling was well deserved of that statistic. His bowling has improved leaps and bounds in the last 4 years. He has already taken 8 wickets in this series, 3 wickets more than his total haul in the 2006 series. Furthermore, his average of 82.60 per wicket in 2006 has improved 32.12 in 2010, a staggering 50 runs under his previous best in Australia.  

The Top Order
The English top order looks rock solid barring a couple of indifferent innings from Strauss. Alistair Cook brought his amazing powers of concentration into play once more to score another brilliant innings. His solidity and fluency at the top calmed the nerves of England’s early setback of losing Strauss again. There have been some comments from certain parties saying that both of Cook’s innings are due to flat pitches against a weak bowling attack. To say this about Cook who has played with Bradman like powers of concentration is not only an insult to Cook, but to all of the double and triple centurions in cricketing history. It took Australia 697 balls in 17.5 hours to get the wicket of Cook, which alone demonstrates his mental strength and willpower to stay at the wicket. 450 runs at a strike rate of 55 in Australia is no walk in the park for any batsman of any standard by far. Instead of trying to find fault, his batting should be applauded for its determination alone.

If Cook was solid and fluent then Pietersen was magnificent and sublime. Since his first knock of 44 in the first day of the series, he has had to wait patiently for 11 hours till Cook and Trott finished their business for him to have another bat. His first few overs at the crease was filled with nervous energy which would have been built up by hours of padded up anticipation. However, once he settled down he was like a runaway train; unstoppable. His century drought had lasted 21 months and he was not going to stop at a hundred. It seems that KP saves his best for the Australians as he went on to get his highest ever score in Test cricket of 227, 1 run more than his previous best of 226 against the West Indies. KP’s overall average against Australia is 57.75 in 14 matches while his average in Australia is 69.09 in 7 matches.

Trott, Collingwood and Bell offered ample support to the two centurions to ensure that Australia had little opportunity to snatch the advantage at any point of the game.

Was touted to come good at the Adelaide oval and come good he did. He pulled off a performance similar to Shane Warne’s outing at Adelaide in 2006 to deliver the win for England on the morning session of the fifth day. He went on to get his first 5 wicket haul against Australia and it came at a crucial time in the series to put England ahead. He was by far the best bowler in the 2nd innings, bowling superbly to both right and left handers. His tireless fingers sent down 41 overs at an average of 2.25 with 12 maidens that kept most of the Aussie batsmen tied down for a good part of the inning. He may not have got the man of the match award but he was definitely the man of the 2nd innings.

To conclude, this Ashes series is similar to the sinking of the Titanic for the Australians; at first there was talks of greatness and indestructibility with a rip roaring launch from Peter Siddle. Then there was the first encounter with the iceberg which claimed two casualties from this Australian Titanic; Johnson and Hilfenhaus. The second encounter with the iceberg in the combined form of Anderson, Pietersen and Swann sank the Titanic. Anderson breached the hull, Pietersen ripped the ship apart and Swann dragged it under water. The casualties of the second encounter are expected to be much higher and will be washed ashore in two weeks at the start of the 3rd Test in Perth. What Australia can salvage from this shipwreck to stay afloat in the series will depend on how stubborn or how intelligent their selectors turn out to be in the duration of the next two weeks. Amongst all this carnage, one thing is definite; England has walked the talk. Can Australia match their stride?

*Statistics courtesy of

Thursday, December 2, 2010


The 1st Test at the Woolloongabba showed us that both Australia and England are contenders of equal ability in the fight for the urn. Australia lost the home advantage in a demoralizing draw while England snatched the psychological advantage with a morale boosting fight back. The second chapter of this saga enfolds at the Adelaide Oval on Friday the 3rd of December 2010. Both sides have a few issues to be ironed out before the start of the second game. While England only have to make a few minor adjustments, Australia have to rectify some major issues but are trying not to panic by projecting an image of calmness.

England’s main concerns lie with the bowling of Graeme Swann who managed to get only two wickets in his 43 overs. However, in his defense, Swann’s average was under 3.00 per over which is rather good considering that the Gabba is not a friendly venue for visiting spinners. Swann’s bowling figures of 2 for 128 is at 12th place in the list of touring spinners who have played at the Gabba since 1990. The Gabba has yielded 46 wickets in 20 matches to visiting spinners within a time span of 20 years from 1990 to present day averaging at 2 wickets per match. In contrast, the Adelaide Oval has been a little friendlier to visiting spinners and has given away 73 wickets in 21 Tests within the same time span. Adelaide averages at 3.5 wickets a game and a much better return for visiting slow bowlers. England should rest assured that Swann will come good at this venue.

Australia, on the other hand, has a lot more to worry about. Their main concern would be Mitchell Johnson who is a shadow of the bowler he was in the Australian tour of South Africa and the West Indies tour of Australia. The Australian coach Tim Nielsen has no choice but to say that he will back his fast man to come good in Adelaide as he would not want to further dent Johnson’s fragile state of mind.  It’s true that the team must stand by him in his hour of need, but Johnson himself has to realize that he let the team down with his pathetic performance. Frankly, Australia has to take a good look at the bigger picture rather than tiptoe around Johnson’s fragile demeanor. I’m not sure if the Australian management has noticed that this isn’t grade school cricket, it’s the Ashes and its war out there. If Johnson can’t “man up” and handle the pressure then he’s not the right man to lead this attack. Let Bollinger, Siddle, or any other individual who has the heart to spearhead the Australian attack take the lead. Johnson may turn out to be the biggest chink in the Australian armor if he doesn’t overcome his problems as the series progresses. All in all, it is better for him to skip the Adelaide Test and focus on making a comeback at Perth where the pitch will assist his bowling as well as his confidence. As Ian Chappell stated in his post match interview of the 1st Test, Johnson should be sent back to play some state cricket to find his form and confidence before he takes on England again.

The other major concern that the Australians have is the batting of Marcus North who has scored 178 runs in his past nine innings at an average of 19.77. His unflattering average plummets further when the 128 he scored against India is subtracted from this total to end up with 50 runs from eight innings at an average of 6.25. It would be difficult for Ponting to have confidence in his No. 6 batsman to hold the fort in the event of a batting collapse when he analyzes North’s last few performances. Considering North's lack of form, he should be replaced by the impressive Usman Khawaja which would also bring some youth into an aging Australian batting line up. There’s also the option of playing Cameron White at No. 6. as White has shown that he has the penchant for long innings during his recent internationals, and when needed, he can attack the opposition with his natural game. His inclusion would also give Ponting a leg spinning option in the bowling department. The other alternative is to drop Watson down to the No. 6 spot and slot a regular opener such as Phillip Hughes or Phil Jaques at the top. Australian cricket is extremely blessed to have multiple options of talented players to solve any selection problems. Let’s hope that the selectors are brave enough to venture out of their customary risk-free selection process and let some of these new recruits earn their stripes.



The England top order scored heavily with the exception of Collingwood and Pieterson at the Gabba. All the batting accolades went to Cook, Strauss and Trott as well as Ian Bell for his first innings knock. Pieterson is not the kind of player to stay away from the limelight for a long period of time. He would want to stamp his authority on this series as soon as possible. His ego demands it. It would do the spectators a lot of good to invest in strong headgear as Pieterson is sure to take advantage of the short boundaries at the Adelaide Oval.

This man was not included in the 2010 ICC Test Team of the year for nothing. The two wickets he took in the 1st Test in Brisbane is a mere appetizer for Swann. England will look for a big haul from him at the Adelaide oval and Swann is sure to deliver.


Let me rephrase and age old saying to suit the occasion; “hell hath no fury than an Australian cricket captain scorned”. His captaincy has been questioned, his team has let him down on a number of occasions and he’s been booed, ridiculed, laughed at by his own countrymen. Ponting came to bat in the dying moments of the game in Brisbane and blasted a 43 ball half century mainly to send a message to the opposition that the worst is yet to come. It would be wise of Strauss to warn his men to prepare themselves to withstand the force of Ponting’s wrath in Adelaide.

Dropped from the 1st Test due to the lack of match fitness, Bollinger had to watch his replacement Siddle get the best figures in the game from the sidelines. If his past performances are anything to go by, the selection of Bollinger will cause more problems for the English batsman than all the Australian fast bowlers in the previous Test put together. The thought of watching Bollinger throwing the kitchen sink at Strauss and Co. and then some is a mouth watering prospect.

Had a quiet debut and didn’t do too much to impress. However, the nerves of playing his first game at such a big occasion didn’t daunt the young man as he averaged at 3.00 an over. His was a better average than those of Johnson, Siddle, and Watson who went for 4.04, 3.60 and 3.50 respectively. He looked confident and competent and would have gained a huge amount of experience from his first game. Watch out for Doherty to show his skill and guile which he aptly demonstrated against the Sri Lankans in the recent ODI series and grabbed figures of 4 for 46 in the first game.

* Statistics courtesy of