Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Well done England!!

Oh! my god, Australia have been thrashed by an innings and 71 runs and that too in their own backyard.  Am I dreaming and have to pinch myself that it isn't Australia, but England who have been slaughtered at Adelaide??? During the late 90's and the last decade, I even thought that the great wall of China may fall, or Himalayas may melt, but Australia won't lose a series at home. In 08/09, SA finally won a series against Australia and now I see a holocaust at Adelaide as the margin of defeat is an innings and seventy one runs. The last time Aussies were defeated by an innings at home was way back in 92/93 when the deadly threesome of Amby, Bishop and Walsh made light-work of Australia on a lightning fast track at Perth. The last time England won by an innings in Australia was way back in 1986 at Melbourne.

My views on the test

Pitch conditions

It wasn't a typical Adelaide track as there was a bit of life in it on the first morning yet Australia should have at least made 350-400 on that pitch. The pitch got quicker on day two and three which helped batsmen as the ball came onto the bat and on expected lines, the Adelaide pitch gave assistance to the spinners on day four and five. I thought it was a decent pitch as there was something in it for all the bowlers. Even on days two and three, when the pitch got better for batting, there was decent carry for the quicker bowlers. I have seen pitches that can only be called as a batting paradise at Adelaide, but I would like to give credit to the groundsmen for preparing a track that  had something in it for the bowlers this time around.

Australia's shambolic start

Any team would like to get a decent start from its openers, but Australia had the worst possible start as they lost a wicket during the very first over and that too through a run out. Shane Watson and Katich have already been  involved in a couple of misunderstandings but they don't seem to have learnt their lesson. Losing a wicket through a run out and that too with it being the first over of a match is a clear sign that Australia lack the discipline to win test matches. The loss of Katich opened the flood gates for Anderson to attack right-handed batsmen like Punter and Clarke with outswingers and soon they were in doldrums at 2 for 3. The run out was catastrophic for Australia as it gave England the opportunity to bowl out Australia for a low score in the first innings.

Anderson silences his critics

I have perhaps heard it about 999,999 times that Anderson in Australia won't succeed as the pitches in Australia won't help swing bowlers and he has to bowl with a kookaburra ball. Most experts and fans would just point out that he averaged 82 in Australia in 06/07. It got so bad that just like Harmless-on's 7 for 12 spell in West Indies, I would never forget that Anderson averaged 82 in Ashes 06/07 blah blah blah. I won't repeat it again regarding why he failed in Ashes 06/07 as I have already written an article on it. If interested anyone can have a look at it. Anderson in Australia. In simple words, I can't fathom when fans just look at a stat and judge a cricketer. Bringing up Anderson's stats in 06/07 Ashes is like saying as Harmison took 7 for 12 in 04, he should be in the Ashes squad now.

Anyway, let us not focus on that disastrous Ashes tour of 06/07, but on the magical spell bowled by Anderson on the first day. In-fact, there wasn't any magic in what Anderson did, but just like any good swing bowler, he pitched it up and used a bit of swing on offer to his advantage. He bowled a couple of beauties to Ponting and Clarke as it swung late and both Punter and Clarke had no other option, but to edge it to the slips.

I have also seen a few criticising Anderson for being below par in the second innings, but he is a swing bowler and a swing bowler in an attempt to look for swing can go for runs, as sometimes when a  bowler bowls full, it can turn out to be a half volley.   Anderson though showed character by coming back with a fine spell on the fifth day and got the wickets of both Haddin and Harris. If anyone was going to save the match for Australia it was Haddin,  but a trademark delivery from Anderson that initially slanted into the batsman and left him late produced the edge of Haddin's bat. I liked the way Anderson plotted Haddin's dismissal as he went a touch wide of the crease to create a bit of angle which in the end helped him to get the edge. More than anything else, I am impressed by Anderson's ability to use the inswinger. In the past, he neither had the control over the inswinger nor would he use it judiciously. Nowadays, he doesn't try to bowl his second weapon, the inswinger too often, but keeps it as a surprise element which in turn keeps the batsman guessing.  Anderson alone took more wickets than all Australian bowlers combined and the talk before the series was, he can't bowl on featherbeds like Adelaide.

Hussey's battling knock

In the recent past, Hussey has been out of sorts, but in the Ashes series he has been a revelation. In recent times, he has come across as a batsman, who is afraid of getting out,  but in this series, he has come out with a positive outlook which has helped him.

I don't think he has made any changes to his technique other than him trying to play as straight as possible.  Even when Finn bowled a few decent deliveries with the older ball, I could see that Huss was trying his best to play with a straight bat.

Actually, I thought it wasn't Clarke, but Huss who played Swann very well. I especially liked the way he tried to play low against Swann. The Adelaide track was offering considerable turn for the spinners and it was getting very difficult for the batsmen to survive. The best way to play on such tracks is to play low as it can help the batsmen to escape from being caught by the close-in fielders because the edge won't carry to the fielder. It wasn't just his defensive technique which impressed me though, as he used his feet to keep Swann guessing. In in the end, it was a shame that he got out by playing a bad shot on the fifth day.

Aussies can't get Cook out

Before this tour commenced, it looked like even I could get Cook out by bowling a few of my left arm trundlers, but now the Aussies may feel that even if they throw a rock at Cook, he would defend it in his sleep.  I just can't believe that he is the same batsman, who seemed to be chasing deliveries which were well wide of off-stump and was getting out against Pakistan.

I don't want to take anything away from his great knocks both at Gabba and Adelaide, but looking at some of the flat pitches and the bowling attacks going around at present, I feel that the best place to bat is at top of the order as the field won't be spread and the batsmen can make merry by feasting on roads and of course sub-standard bowling.

KP comes to the party

Before the series started, critics were asking questions like whether KP still has the hunger to play test cricket? has he been worked out by opposition bowlers?  and many more. Yes, he has played just one great knock and needs to be consistent, but even his critics have to admit that he played a fabulous knock.

As I said in my previous article that he showed plenty of promise in his knock at Gabba, but at Adelaide he converted that promise into a big score. I don't think he has tinkered with his technique, but he tried his best to play a lot more through the mid on region rather than play across the line and flick it through the on-side. Of course, he played late which helped him to be confident to get a decent stride forward. KP just loves to come well forward and take the bowlers head on.

There is no denying the fact that during the last 18 months his confidence has been shot to pieces as he lost his captaincy, couldn't score a hundred and had that terrible achilles heel injury, but saying that he is already a 'has been' was laughable. He has been tested by far better bowlers early in his career, who tried the same tactic of bowling the outswinger by attacking his stumps and KP came out with flying colours. Yes, he didn't play SLA early in his career, but in the recent past has been troubled by left arm spinners yet, I don't see any major flaw in his technique. It was just that here was a player whose confidence was shot to pieces.  A few of his comments before the series even made me think that whether KP is a mix of jekyll and hyde, but thankfully, he made a big impact at Adelaide by not just playing  a fabulous knock, but by also taking the crucial wicket of Clarke on the fourth day.

At his best, KP is a nice mixture of power hitting and finesse. A few of his cover drives, pulls and the flamingo shot he played against the left arm spinner Doherty was brutal, but at the same-time, the way he nonchalantly flicked a few good length deliveries through the mid on region was a touch of pure class. I won't forget a few classy drives he played through the covers of Watson, when in-spite of a 7-2 field, he was able to find the gap.

A few of his harshest critics may never give him any credit, but I have no doubt that when in form, KP is England's best batsman as he doesn't just get a big score, but demoralises the opposition team by sending the fielders on a leather hunt. I guess I don't have to remind the fans about what he did at places like Oval(twice), Lord's, Mohali, Napier, Faislabad, Adelaide and many more.  In-fact, I would even say that unless he gets seriously injured KP will break Gooch's record for being England's highest run-getter in test cricket, though I see Cook breaking even KP's record.

Swann makes his presence felt

Swann was ordinary in the first test at Gabba as he bowled short, but made up for it with a superlative performance at Adelaide. Yes, unlike say Anderson, Swann had the luxury of bowling on a wearing pitch, but a bowler still has to take advantage of it and Swann did just that as he bowled well on a track that offered assistance to the spinners.

Swann's strength isn't just in the amount of revolutions he imparts on the ball, but subtle changes in pace and turn makes him a dangerous bowler to face. I especially liked the way he plotted the downfall of Punter. Ponting was trying his best to get outside the line of off-stump so that he won't get out lbw to Swann. Swann perhaps noticed it and bowled a top spinner with an off-stump line to Ponting. Ponting had no other choice, but to edge it to the slip fielder Collingwood.

In-fact, I didn't like the way a few of the right-handed batsmen played Swann. For an amateur like me it felt like both Watson and Ponting were trying to bat outside the line of off-stump to negate the threat of Swann getting them out lbw. Now, I am not an expert, but when a batsman premeditates his footwork, it leaves him with lesser options to score runs. For instance, in an attempt to not get out lbw, a few Aussie batsmen perhaps missed out on scoring runs through the on-side as once a batsman gets outside the line of off-stump, he would struggle  to flick it through the on-side.

If I have to criticise Swann, I would say that he has the tendency to bowl quicker through the air when a batsman goes after him. As soon as Clarke attacked Swann, he tended to bowl quicker through the air. Let me make it crystal clear that Michael Clarke played wonderfully well in the second innings, but I was surprised by a spinner of Swann's calibre bowling flat to Clarke.  Anyway, I don't think one can criticise Swann too much as after playing 26 tests, he has a strike-rate of 56. I consider a strike-rate of 65 as outstanding for a spinner, but this guy has a S/R of 56!!!

Australia's toothless bowling attack

England's batsmen have to be praised for the way they have acclimatised to the conditions in Australia and have got huge scores, but  what about Australia's bowling?

In the past, even when the Aussies fielded depleted attacks, the likes of  Kasper, Bichel, Fleming, Reiffel, Macgill and co. would bowl out opposition teams for low scores on flat tracks, but the same can't be said about the current attack.

Seamers like  Siddle, Bollinger, Johnson,  Hilfenhaus and especially Bollinger have good averages, but against stronger teams on flat tracks, I do expect that attack to come a cropper. Bollinger has feasted on weaker teams, Siddle is good when the track offers something for the bowlers like on the first day at Brisbane, but has a tendency to test middle of the pitch on flat tracks. His innocuous short deliveries were swatted like flies by KP. Johnson is a strike bowler, when he gets awkward bounce and he can bowl at good pace too, but unfortnately for Australia, he has done that in only couple of series and that came against South Africa in 08/09. Everyone seem to rate Hilfy highly, but until he adds a decent inswinger to his armoury, good batsmen would just be content in leaving his outswingers. At present, he has a decent off-cutter, but that isn't good enough to succeed at the highest level. He doesn't get late swing like Anderson either. It just doesn't look good, when an average bowler like Harris looks the best bet and Shane Watson too seems to be better than some of the seamers.

I don't think I have to discuss much about Australia's lone spinner at Gabba and Adelaide, Doherty. In simple words, I would say that after watching Andy Whittal of Zimbabwe, Bradburn of New Zealand and Robin Peterson of South Africa, I thought I won't see a worse finger spinner in my life,  but I was wrong as I have now watched Doherty. It would be better if he changes his profession to playing darts as he may turn out to be good at it.  In-fact, North looks like Australia's best spinner at the moment as he is ready to give the ball a bit of air.

Ponting's captaincy

If the bowlers aren't good enough a captain can't do much yet Ponting's captaincy was abject poor. He set weird fields and seemed to be following the ball all the time.

More than a few fans and experts criticised the older Waugh for setting 7-2 fields during his time as a captain, but what do they make of Punter's captaincy? Waugh set a 7-2 field mainly for McGrath. Now, McGrath could bowl on a good length spot and just outside the off-stump perhaps even in his dream, but Punter set such a field for swing bowlers like Hilfy and even Watson. How can any captain expect a swing bowler to bowl to such a field? Was he expecting a swing bowler like Hilfy to bowl a three quarter length and wide of off-stump? absurd.

Ian Chappell on Ponting's captaincy,

"If a bowler is asked to bowl with a 7-2 field, he's entitled to throw the ball back and say 'you bowl it yourself' "

It wasn't just him setting a 7-2 field either as Punter sometimes had three men in the deep and three fielders in the short extra cover region. I can't fathom such tactics for sure. Australia even had the strange idea of getting Trott out caught on the leg-side as instead of trying to pull a short ball, Trott tends  to flick it in the air. I don't think when a batsman first arrives at the crease any captain should look at getting a  batsman caught on the on-side as the first plan should be to have a few slips and try to induce the edge. Yes, if nothing works such type of tactics can be thought of as the last option.

Ponting's opposite number Strauss isn't a great captain either, but more often than not, he sets a particular field and asks the bowler to bowl to it. On the other hand, Aussie bowlers must be really confused as their captain can't stick to a plan, but changes the field all the time.

 Broad's injury

Everything went well for England except for the fact that Broad got injured and now has been ruled out for the rest of the tour. He must be feeling very bad as no one wants to be ruled out of the Ashes series because of an injury. We wish him a speedy recovery, but at the same-time, is he a big loss for England?

In the past, I have been criticised by more than a few fans as the general feeling is, I am biased against Broad. I have never rated him too highly as he comes across as a bowler, who bowls short and doesn't bowl a fuller length. Even when he bowls short, he doesn't get the awkward bounce that someone like Freddie used to get. Sky sports experts and most fans though think that he has bowled well without much luck in this series.

I don't like to go through what sky commentators say as they seem to be obsessed about praising Broad at every opportunity they get. So, I looked at what our great man Boycott has to say about Broad. I am not a fan of Boycott either, but he always makes some interesting observations.

Boycott on Broad after the first test,

"Stuart Broad bowled too short and needs to be reminded to pitch the ball up on that awkward length where batsmen are not sure whether to come forward or stay back. Many bouncers were too short and ineffective. They may have looked good but they were harmlessly going over the batsmen’s head. When he bangs it in short he needs accuracy to aim at the batsman’s ribs, high chest or neck area which is pretty awkward for the batsman to keep the ball down"

If Tremlett bowls like he did at Hobart, I do expect him to do better than Broad as he gets a bit of awkward bounce and finally Tremlett decided to bowl a fuller length in the second innings at Hobart and reaped the rewards by taking wickets.

What next

After a great victory at Adelaide, England would play Victoria in a three day game. It would be interesting to see how the back-up seamers Bresnan, Tremlett and Shahzad perform against the Vics. The batsmen are all in great form and if the team plays like they did at Adelaide, I do expect England to win at Perth as well.

Australia though have plenty of problems. Doherty wasn't even club standard and would likely be dropped with Hauritz coming back into side. The seam attack doesn't look much better which may result in a quick recall for the unpredictable Johnson, or maybe Aussies would go for a fresh face like Copeland or Cameroon? North continues to play like he hasn't ever picked up a cricket bat, but as Katich is out of the side with an injury, he may yet get another chance and North also bowled well in the first couple of tests.

The Aussies may make wholesale changes to the side, but what they need is a change in attitude. The way the lower-order collapsed on the last day was reminiscent of how England used to play during the dark days of 90's! If the lower-order had shown a bit more fight, they may have saved the game as Adelaide was hit by thunderstorms as soon as the match was over and it is said that rain stopped only during the wee hours of morning today. The fielding has been worse as they have fielded like Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh!

On the other hand though, England's team showed ruthlessness by taking the last six wickets on the fifth day to finish the match before Adelaide was hit by thunderstorms. In the 90's, Aussies used to say that Poms should show a bit of fight as it was boring to defeat the same team by huge margins. It hasn't come to that stage yet as we are thinking about just one loss, but the Aussies have to improve significantly to win the Ashes. Finally, I am not surprised that England are doing well in Australia, but Australia losing by a huge margin is a surprise.

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