Things we’ve learned from the Ashes 2013/2014

1) Quinoa doesn’t help you to play cricket better.

Lehman (apparently) eschews the goosefoot superfood for a beer on the bus if the boys do well. This difference in philosophy – England with an army of back room staff, every aspect of their lives tightly controlled right down to what they eat, contrasts sharply with the more earthy, retro and traditionally Australian approach of Lehman.

From Mitch’s charity ‘tache, players sledging (get ready for a feckin broken arm), to the baying press and sweary crowds at the Gabba, all in all it felt like Australia in the 80′s under Allan Border. And AB never ate Quinoa let alone piri-piri breaded tofu with tomato salsa. Maybe it’s time for England to declutter?

2) They don’t like it up ‘em

England do not like it up ‘em. The batsman were unprepared for Mitch Johnson’s searing pace and short pitched stuff. And the bowlers retired or lost the disciplined lines and lengths when attacked by Australian batsman.

3) It’s all in the mind

With 5 1/2 ounces of leather aimed at your throat at 93 mph, test cricket can seem like a physical game. But the reality is the mental aspects are as important as the technical and physical ones. It requires a clear mind from the batsman, clear plans from the captain and coach, disciplined bowling and a sprinkle of magic. England had none of the above while Australia had it all. It’s hard to put your finger on why the entire touring party’s brain went the same way as the hundreds of gallons of weak Aussie piss consumed during and after this ashes, but it did simultaneously which influenced batting, fielding, selection and captaincy and made it more confused than a chameleon in a bag of skittles.

4) There is such a thing as too much Ashes cricket

Back to back Ashes was a terrible idea. Five test series are tough, but to play two consecutive, high pressure five test rubbers, with no time to rest in between was at the top of the litany of errors that cricket administrators have made in recent times.

The England players in interview, pointed out the pressure of these back-to-back series frequently. They were scheduled in this way by the ECB to break up the cycle of Ashes following a 50 over World Cup. A reason England claimed they never won the World Cup (didn’t seem to bother Australia in 1999, 2003 and 2007). It’s fair to ask the question “Were these Ashes sacrificed for an outside chance at the World Cup in 2015?”

5) Age is just a number

Ryan Harris, Brad Haddin and Chris Rodgers are 34, 35 and 36 respectively. All have come to test cricket late and are fresher with less miles on the clock than many younger England players. Maybe it’s time for selectors to re-look at some older faces and those that have been discarded in county cricket for answers, after all they have micro managed and flogged their best and most successful team for decades half to death.

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The Ashes. First test review. Time to push the panic button?

Just like the rock hard Gabba wicket, England were well and truly rolled in the first ill-tempered test of the 2013/2014 Ashes series.

England’s main antagonist in the by 381 run loss was Mitchell Johnson. Mitch was once a barmy army laughing stock. He bowled to left and he bowled to the right. This time he mostly bowled straight. Straight at the ribs, fingers and face.

Johnson brought back memories to the Gabba of the ‘good’ old days. When men were men and they didn’t have sleeve tattoos or a grooming regime.

Days when Lillee (who first noticed Johnson) and his partner in pain Jeff Thompson, bowled quick and short; hitting touring batsman into submission in front of baying crowds on hard, fast, cracked Gabba wickets.

This nostalgia was made even more real by Johnson’s slingy action that has more than a touch of Thommo thrown in; the dodgy moustaches on show and the decidedly 70′s style sledging “get ready for a fucking broken arm”.

Maybe this retro stuff is the brand of Australian cricket Boof Lehman was talking about?

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Mitch’s retro ‘tache

Just like the England touring sides of the early and mid 70′s there was little answer to the onslaught, except hopping round the crease or giving their wickets away cheaply to Nathan Lyon.

This kind of drubbing shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, so maybe it’s not time to panic quite yet Capt. Mainwaring

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England always start tours abysmally. India, New Zealand, The UAE and Sri-Lanka all resulted in collapses and losses, or collapses and narrow escapes.

Even the 2010 Gabba opener of the Australian of the Ashes, started very, very badly.

But unlike 2010 or even in India last winter, even the most media trained of cricketers couldn’t ‘find the positives’ in the batting. There was no rear guard. Little fight back, the only slight exception being Cook’s half century.

As with many of England’s batting led brain farts over the years, the bowlers performed well. Broad’s 6-wicket haul impressive. Stuart Broad seems to be powered by unpopularity.

Anderson was also good even with little assistance for his brand of bowling.

Tremlett got wickets and extracted tidy bounce, though was bowling at the pace of Paul Collingwood (a 7ft hulking Paul Collingwood). Swann was as before at the Gabba, expensive.

Though the result was crushing it could easily be an anomaly.

Johnson is mentally weak and was greatly helped by the pitch.

His career has been one of inconsistency, bowling his team to victory in one test and losing it for them in the next. The only pitch likely to play like the one at the Gabba, is The WACA at Perth. Mitchell Johnson bowled Australia to victory their in 2010 and Australia still lost the Ashes comfortably. So he will need to do it at least twice in this series.

Australia’s top order batsman also failed in the first innings – it was only the Haddin and Johnson partnership that saved them. They don’t perform well under scoreboard pressure and second innings runs and slogging, is a lot easier with lots of runs on the board.

Don’t forget too, that prior to this test, Zimbabwe and the West Indies had won more tests in 2013 than Australia. The team reaction said a lot about this – a lap of honour for a single test victory. Like Johnson himself it can’t be classed as a resurgence unless they do it a few times more, at least.

From England’s perspective, even if it is panic stations, batting options are limited so as ever the bowlers will pay after the batsman fail.

Tremlett could be the first casualty of this policy.

As many predicted, he didn’t look like the bowler of 2010/2011 and on a flatter pitch he could be mincemeat. Bresnan will come into contention if fit and the extra pace of Rankin or Finn may be risked on quicker pitches if one performs in the tour match at Alice Springs.

Panesar should play, particularly in Adelaide, which is now more like Ahmedabad if reports of the new drop in wickets are to be believed.

One thing is for sure, England’s batsman cannot afford to have another bad match en-mass. Two-down is a pretty insurmountable. They will have to raise their game considerably from the summer in England, let alone from this test, against an Australian line up growing in experience and confidence.

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The Oval An Eventful Day One

It certainly was an eventful day all round. Featuring:

Selection Strangeness

A drug addled David Bowie, used to pen lyrics by cutting up magazines and sticking the words back together. I think the England selectors took inspiration from the thin white duke, taking the scissors to a Playfair annual and sticking it back together. Two spinners and Woakes at 6!!!! It is squarely against everything England have done for many years and common sense. The result? 23 overs no wickets 105 runs. Woakes gradually got better but Kerrigan got absolutely Bryce’d. A spinner with the yips getting hammered is a horror to watch. I hope he shows what he undoubtedly can do on a spinning pitch later in the match.

Rare Watson Century Spotted in SE London

Shane Watson’s pad has clearly been on the five – two diet. It’s slimmed down to the extent that no England bowler could hit it and as a result he hammered 176 quick, imperious runs before KP took a stunning tumbling catch on the boundary. It was a flat pitch but this was a great innings which has forced England on the back foot. Watson needs a few. more of these before he’s in credit though. He was ably supported by Smith who is learning to build an innings.

Boof’s Diplomatic Incident

Lehmann encourages home supporters to make Broad cry in a radio interview. The only sure way to make Stuart Broad cry is to steal his ‘guyliner’. Br character is such that booing him and giving him verbals will most likely have the reverse effect.

The Usual Please

Broad, Swann and Jimmy all bowled well on a pitch offering less help than a IKEA instruction booklet. Jimmy looked back to himself and went past Willis test wicket record to #2 on the list of all time wicket takers. Can he get past 450 in his career.

Crystal Ball

England need to use the new ball to finish the Aussies off and eek out a long innings to get back to parity. The pitch is set to turn and Australia’s second innings will be tricky, if much of it needs to be on day 4.

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Walk. Don’t Walk.

It is very easy to make simple moral judgements. He hit it. He’s out. He should walk. No less than the World’s premier god botherer botherer, Richard Dawkins seemed to see things in this simple black and white way. Unusual for an internationally renowned academic, but hey.

Of course humanity, sport and particularly cricket have more shades of grey than an second hand book store. This is not helped by the most ambiguous set of ‘rules’ in any sport “the spirit of cricket”.

The spirit of cricket  is not a cocktail that drives Freddie Flintoff into a pedalo at past midnight, or convinces David Warner he is actually David Haye. It is a moral code enshrined in the preamble to the law of the game – professional players can be fined and banned for not upholding it.

So what exactly is the Spirit Of Cricket and does it cover walking? Is not walking actually cheating and is it even immoral?

You can read the preamble to the laws yourself here.

It mentions dissent, aggression, physical violence, accepting the umpires decision, respect, appealing when clearly not out and distraction as some points.The first and controversial Ashes test certainly had breaches and fine examples of this spirit.

Clarke aggressively approaching the umpire after Broad had thick edged a ball off Agar via the keeper to slip, being the former. Trott quietly walking off when he was let down by the third umpire and the operation of technology being the later. Broad not walking, I’m afraid not.

Whilst you could cite not walking is in breech of “the game and its traditional values” it would require a convention of walking which even in the most rose tinted PG Wodehouse history of the game hasn’t happened. Batsman have for as long as the willow been wielded fallen into three camps.

1) Always walk (often keepers, except Brad Haddin)
2) Never walk and wait for the umpire (often Australian’s, including Bradman and excluding Adam Gilchrist)
3) Tactical walkers – will walk for a thick edge and stand their ground for a thin one. This came about as batsmen who got a reputation for standing their ground got given out more by umpires.

Stuart Broad is in a long line, perhaps the majority of number two’s and now everyone knows it, but calls for fines or bans have no precedent. To create a convention of walking would require a sea change in the culture and convention of the game.  Broad’s behaviour – it is just another nail  in the coffin of fair play in lucrative professional sport, awash with the kind of “un-gentlemanly” conduct which has existed for a long time.

Video evidence walkers and non walkers

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Are NZ all that bad?

Firstly if the test were not one of cricketing skills, but of a man-off involving arm wrestling, hard liquor, female conquests on aircraft and stamping on glass, New Zealand would white wash England 3-0.

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New Zealand’s recent team training camp

Unfortunately it isn’t and on paper England have the consistency and discipline to mince the Kiwis, form them into burgers and sell them to ALDI as ‘beef’.

I’m not quite sure it will turn out to be as one sided as some are suggesting though.

Ross Taylor, easily their best batsman is back, despite his own coach and board stitching him up like a kipper.

Tim ‘mile high club’ Southee is also back – he can trouble England with out-swing. Then big Brendan can flay any attack, especially batting down the order against the old ball and spin. Let us not forget the Kiwis bowled South Africa out for low totals on their tour (even though SA bowled NZ out for microscopically, record breakingly low ones) and won a test in Sri Lanka to draw a series.

So don’t write them off before a ball has been bowled.

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T20 Preview/paranoid delusion

Big bats, small boundaries, slow wickets, big crowds. Ahoy it’s T20 time in India.

I don’t know how I feel about T20 – the ECB’s frankenformat. I watch it, I enjoy it, but am ultimately left feeling like I’ve had a big bash on public transport. A bit shifty, hoping the CCTV didn’t pick me up.

I also have theory that The BCCI are hatching a devious plan to destroy test cricket using T20.

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BCCI Headquarters

Here are the facts.

First they create a franchise format that requires cheerleaders and DJ Otzi’s Hey Baby to be played whenever a slogging tailender is caught at short third man after a mistimed slash and somehow make it the envy of all world cricket boards, despite it only being viable in their own country.

Dispatch brainwashed double agent Pietersen to undermine things back to the UK until he is reset by Andy Flower.

Lose a home test series and prior to that, look like fat playboys on tour in England and Australia getting whitewashed.

They stitch up their great rival Alan Sanford in a huge set up global fraud.

The final part of the jigsaw happens now. They crush England’s team of young players turning the nation to the dark side for ever.

Or maybe I’ve drunk too much coffee.

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England Marks Out of 10

Alistair Cook – 0

Ineligible as he isn’t a human – he’s a cyborg sent from the future who doesn’t sweat and can shoot your hat off your head from 1km away using his robot eyes.

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Nick Compton – 5Blocked an end up like Imodium. Would have converted one of his starts and eased his strike rate up with more Brylcream.

Trott – 7Boot nosed top middle order commando came good in the final push over the top.

Pietersen – 7.4321

Flower’s plan to hypnotise KP into thinking he was playing in Indian Premier Test League for the Delhi Dirtdevil’s worked spectacularly in 2nd test.

Bell – 4

Once the reviews for his biopic film The Hobbit was out, Bell was able to relax with an unbeaten hundred.

Joe Root – 10joe root

In Pakistani years, Root is 10. Amazing achievement.

Prior – 10

Purely for his post match press conference where he didn’t sound like the ECB’s ventriloquist dummy. Also kept and batted well and because he will never turn to the dark side – the advanced hair studio.

Bresnan – 1

Utter tripe, I say… ah I say utter tripe.

Finn – 8

Actually bowled fast which seems to be out of fashion for English fast bowlers. Didn’t fall over either.

Swann - 9

Reports of his bowling demise greatly exaggerated. Made Pujara who seemed Dravidesque his internet bought boy wife.

Anderson – 9

Bent his back and bowled like a white Wasim

Panesar – 9

His new low hand clappy whistly celebration justifies a score of 9 let alone his wickets.

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