Archive for August, 2009

StraussMr. Cricket (Michael Hussey) stood between England and the Ashes urn for most of the day, but it was the magic touch of Freddie Flintoff which could be termed as the turning point of the day when he ran out Ponting that triggered an Aussie downfall.

Hussey and Ponting seemed to be writing a dream story, but Swann had other ideas and clipped the Australian wings taking four wickets. Harmison came good when most required and took three wickets. Only the top four Australian batsmen had scores to show, with Hussey top scoring with 121 and was the last man out that led to amazing scenes at The Oval.

Stuart Broad’s antics in the first inning earned him the man of the match award. The epic series had two man of the series awards for the respective teams and it went to the top scorers of the series for both Australia (Michael Clarke) and England (Andrew Strauss).

One man who will now not be featuring in the Test arena for England is the talisman figure of Andrew Flintoff. He couldn’t have chosen a better day to bid adieu to Test Cricket. We will miss you Freddie! 

And before signing off, my heartfelt congratulations to the England team on regaining The Ashes. Savor the moment guys!

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Day 3 of the decisive fifth Test in Ashes 2009 took it to a stage where a win for either team is the only result in sight. I say this because two  days, with a minimum of 180 overs, are left in the match. Australia need 466 more runs to register a world record chase, which is not impossible; and England are in search of 10 wickets, which looks more probable.

TrottThis day was momentous for one man – the debutant Jonathan Trott. His composure and technique kept one end intact as he marched towards completing his century, while there were useful performances from the other end. To begin with, Strauss and Trott took their partnership from infancy to adulthood, stitching a much-needed partnership of 118 runs. This took England score from a threatening 39/3 to 157/4, when Strauss left for 75, his second half-century of the match. Matt Prior (4) left early and Flintoff played a breezy little inning of 22, his last in Test cricket. This meant the lower order of the English batting card had to step up to give Trott much needed support and that’s exactly what it did.

Stuart Broad’s new-found all-rounder’s status got another shot in the arm with his inning of 29 but it was the knock played by Swann that stamped England’s authority on the match. He came in with England’s score at 243/7, a lead of 415, which was good but may not have been enough. A quick wipe-off of the tail would have given more than a sniff to the Aussies; however, it wasn’t to be. Swann’s blistering strokeplay saw him striking 63 runs in 55 balls that dusted all Aussie hopes. When he left, England’s lead had already gone past 500. Trott and Anderson put together another 40 runs, during which Trott reached the 100-run mark, which could be worth its weight in gold should England go on to reclaim the Ashes urn.

At the stroke of Trott’s dismissal for 119, Strauss called his boys back and England declared their second inning at 373 for 9, a target of 546 for the Australians. The surprise package in the Aussie bowling attack was Marcus North who took four wickets but that was always on the cards once the English batsmen decided to use the long handle.

Making 546 in two days sounds good but when we add a rider to it that it needs to be done in the fourth innings on a breaking surface, then it’s sure to raise a few eyebrows. The first requirement of such a big run chase is a good opening start and that’s what the Aussies already have on their platter.  Shane Watson and Simon Katich not only ensured no loss of wickets but also amassed a breezy and already healthy partnership of 80 runs in 20 overs. Katich in particular looked in an aggressive frame of mind in his knock of 42 off 53 deliveries, and Watson continued his progress as an opener scoring 31 runs.

On day 4, though, both the Aussie openers will have to start afresh. They have to get past the freshness of the wicket in the morning and then take it from there. The start of the Australian second inning is without doubt promising. They indeed have the wherewithal to surpass this total and I think the time left in the match should be a worry for the England. I agree that it gives English bowlers too a chance to take their time in aiming at the Aussie wickets but it can also work in favor of the Australians. Setting small targets could be the key to an improbable, but not impossible, run chase.

Will day 4 bring the curtain down on this year’s Ashes or is there still a twist left in the tale? If there is, then watch out for an Aussie act of vengeance. A viewer’s delight in either case! That’s Ashes for you!

The day began as expected. Australia made sure to keep English tail from wagging and wiped out the last two wickets for another 25 runs. A total of 332 seemed a par score, a fact brought to surface by the initial response of Australian batsmen. By lunch, Australia seemed to have taken the driver’s seat at 61 for no loss.  

Stuart BroadWhat happened after the lunch break could turn out to be the most crucial session of the match. From 61 without loss, Australia were reduced to 133/8 at tea. The in-between story is a fairy tale that gave a Robin Hood-status to Chris Broad who may have already won the Ashes for England. His figures at the stroke of tea interval read 12-1-37-5. He tore into the heart of Aussie batting line-up removing Watson, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Haddin in quick succession. His incisive spell – which may well prove out to be decisive as well – left little chance for the Aussies to harbor a thought of recovering. He found more than able support from Swann whose offbreaks took out four Australians.

Siddle’s 26 not out helped Australia go past 150, when Flintoff bowled Hilfenhaus with the scoreboard showing Australia all out for 160, a lead of 172 runs for England. Watson (34) and Katich (50) were the two notable contributors in an otherwise dismal show from the Australia batters.

CollingwoodSurely England would not have imagined to start their second innings as early as on day 2. The openers started very cautiously. Fair to say they seemed intent on killing time rather than playing their natural game. They wanted to bat Australia out of the game, time-wise and runs-wise. This thinking – I must say – robbed them off the clear advantage they had before commencing their second innings. The English focus centered around the numbers of overs left in the day, rather than concentrating on their game and play each ball as it comes. This accounted for the loss of three top-order batsmen for just 58 runs, a lead of 230 runs.

While Strauss looks solid at 32 not out, he has to take a different approach on day 3. A defensive frame of mind could well turn the tables on England and Australia are already sniffing it. Trott has just joined Strauss and they, along with Flintoff and Prior, have to do the bulk of the scoring and post a total in access of 450, given the time left in the match and the potential of the Australian batsmen to fight back.

Australia will come out all guns blazing on day 3 and close in on English batsmen on the crease with stinging words. Needless to say, England can’t get a better chance to take aim at the Ashes urn. They surely have climbed a little higher than Australia but a few early strikes could see a race to the finish. Let’s see who summits atop the ‘Ashes’ mountain! Day 3 may decide that.

The dusk of day one of the five-day-long climb up the mountain called ‘Ashes’ saw Australia digging their tents a little higher than England. Though a total of 307 is good going on day one, losing eight wickets is not; that’s where England are placed after winning the toss and electing to bat.

Ian BellThough Cook and Strauss failed to lay a good foundation, a 102-run second-wicket partnership between Strauss and Bell firmed up the English hopes of a mammoth total. The scoring rate too wrinkled up the Aussie faces, with England reaching 108 for 1 in 26 overs at Lunch – a run rate of over 4 runs per over. Strauss departed in the third over after the luncheon interval scoring a gritty 55. Collingwood joined Bell in agonizing the Aussies with a 62-run stand, when Collingwood was sent back for a fighting 24.

The debutant – Jonathan Trott – made his first appearance in the league of big men and must be said looked solid in both defence and attack. Bell’s resurgent knock of 72 was curtained-out by Siddle who castled him. Trott continued to impress in his 48-run stand with Prior who was dismissed by Johnson for 18, with the England score reading 229 for 5. From 114 for one to 229 for 5 is surely a slump and it didn’t stop there. A bright start to the day continued to fade away with the departure of farewell man Flintoff (7), Trott (41) who was unfortunate to get run out and Swann (18). Stuart Broad (26 not out) again showed signs of a future all-rounder for England being the last man standing at stumps on day one.

So the first day of the decisive fifth Test of Ashes 2009 went from rosy to gloomy for Strauss and his men. The mood in the opposition camp, however, was one of sheer optimism for obvious reasons. Though the Aussies gave away some easy runs at the start, capturing eight wickets did make up for that. In fact, we can say Aussies got a Usain-Bolt start to the five-lap race.

Peter SiddleGoing in with an unchanged side was always on the cards for Australia, considering the way they incised the English team in the fourth Test. At the same time, admission must be made that leaving out a fit-Lee is not a decision many captains would savor. Siddle once again came to the fore capturing four wickets and is fast becoming an indispensable commodity. Johnson took two wickets but was a little on the expensive side giving away 69 runs in his 15 overs. Watson looked very average in the role of fifth bowler but North made up for that with a tight spell.

The new ball is just 2.2 overs old and Australia will look to wrap up the English innings in a flash. On the other hand, English hopes of reaching 350 rest mainly on Broad but he has Anderson and Harmison for company which is not one-bit encouraging. There are many twists and turns in this 5-day-long climb up the ‘Ashes’. Let’s see what happens when the two teams resume their climb up this mountain on day 2.

Return of Trescothick, SOS to Ramprakash, Hauritz’s doosra lessons from Saqlain, Lee’s inclusion, Flintoff’s last hurrah, suspected bookie approaching Australian camp: Ever heard of any more stories before any Ashes Test in recent times. This in itself is a testimony to the fact that it’s going to be one of the biggest Ashes Test ever played by any of the 22 men to step on the playing arena from August 20 to August 24, 2009, at The Oval in London.

Barring the skies above The Oval decide to open up, fans all over the world will remain hooked to Test cricket at its very best. For once, those fearful about the future of Test cricket can sit back assured that the enthusiasm for this Ashes Test will not be in short supply. So let’s take a look at how the two sides shape up!

England battersEngland:

For some reason, I feel that breaking out the news of possible return of Trescothick and Ramprakash was a sign of SOS sky-shots being fired by a sinking ship in the eleventh hour. Even if ECB was mulling those options, they should have kept it under cover. Agreed that English batting charts have taken a descending curve since the third Test, but they must admit that their top order has allowed Aussie new-ball attack to dictate terms. To address their batting woes, Jonathan Trott is almost certain to walk into the playing eleven in place of axed Ravi Bopara.

Another aspect of an improved Aussie performance disconcerting the English would be the growing confidence of Aussie batsmen, with Michael Clarke and Marcus North being the chief tormentors. That again highlights the inefficacy of the England bowlers in unfavorable climatic conditions. With Flintoff geared-up to don English colors for one last time, England’s bowling antics might get redressed; he is likely to be drafted in at the expense of Steve Harmison.

Aus battersAustralia:

The good old habit of Australian team to peak at the right time in big tournaments is on show once again. Not many would have given them a chance to come back by the end of third Test, which finished with England still leading 1-0. As the state of affairs prevail since then, English team looked like sitting ducks in the fourth Test where they got a hammering by an innings and 80 runs and are still searching for answers one day ahead of the decisive fifth Test.

Their bowlers – Siddle, Johnson, Clark, Hilfenhaus – have all found their ground, adding to England’s misery. Johnson is back to his aggressive-self, with Clark keeping a nagging line and length from the other end. Siddle and Hilfenhaus have been more than a support. In this scenario, it’s difficult to figure out where Lee or Hauritz could fit in but Nielsen has kept his options open keeping in mind Lee’s ability to reverse-swing, though Hauritz seems sure to miss out. In case Lee plays, Hilfenhaus might be unfortunate to miss the bus; however, I don’t count on that happening as it’s difficult to change a winning combination.

Australian batting line-up wears a very settled look with the surprise success of Watson as an opener. Ponting too is in good form along with Clarke and North who have been brightest stars in this Ashes. The worry in batting remains with Katich and Hussey who are going through a lean patch. Looking at their records, a good inning seems around the corner and that should help them keep their place in the final eleven.

The weighing scale is certainly tilted towards the Australian side, especially since they won the last Test and the momentum seems to be with them. England – though searching for a few answers in both batting and bowling – will come into the final Test with the Flintoff factor; and with this being Flintoff’s final appearance in the Test arena, don’t be surprised to see him firing all cylinders. His aggression may rub off to the rest of the team and that’s what’s needed to spice up this Test or else I see an Aussie Phoenix rising from the Ashes. Enjoy!

SiddleThe fourth Test at Headingley commenced as per the script except the omission of Brett Lee from the Aussie lineup. While Flintoff expectedly missing from English eleven, Stuart Clark was an automatic choice for Ponting given his McGrath-like length.

The only thing going for Andrew Strauss on the first morning was the toss, which he won and decided to bat. What happened after that resembled a procession, with English batsmen going in and out of their dressing room, courtesy Peter Siddle and Stuart Clark. Alistair Cook (30) and Matt Prior (37*) showed some resistance to Clark and Siddle’s immaculate spells. While Clark sent back three English batsmen (10-4-18-3), Siddle’s scintillating figures read 9.5-0-21-5.

The Aussies were cock-a-hoop and the England batting lineup seemed clueless as they folded up for a paltry 102 in 33.5 overs. Australians didn’t start well with Katich back for a duck but Ponting and Watson made sure that the momentum was not lost, knitting a partnership of 119, more than what England batsmen managed together. Watson continued patching up his beleaguered Test career with third successive half century of the series in as many innings.

The match seemed gifted by England until they struck three vital blows in consecutive overs, removing Watson (51), Ponting (78) and Hussey (10), with Australia slightly shaky at 151/4. It was Michael Clarke once again who, along with North, made sure that Aussies didn’t end up losing anymore wickets on day 1, which they ended at 196/4.

A lead of at least 250 is what Australia would be looking at as a bare minimum. They are already 94 runs better off England with Haddin and Johnson next men in, respectively. But before worrying about them, England have the two most successful batsmen of Australia’s second innings in the third Test to contend with – Clarke and North.

England have to pick up early wickets in heaps on day 2 to fancy their chances of making a comeback. Australians look good to score at least 350 and if they do that, it would be very hard for England to bounce back. The pendulum is swinging and it’s swinging the Aussie way. That’s Ashes for you!

Flintoff trainsSpacesuit machine, Game Ready wrap, heavy knee brace, pain-relieving injections: all may come down to how much he can bear through the course of five days of the most crucial Test, the fourth one of this year’s Ashes. When we refer to such innovative means of staying knee-fit, it’s not rocket science to guess that we are talking about none other than the charismatic Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff.

Reacting to reports emanating from the English camp and Flintoff’s display in the nets, stakes are high that Flintoff may well miss out. Knowing Freddie, he will do every bit to play, even if he has to do it virtually on one knee. In some ways, it might augur well for Flintoff to launch one last assault in the Test arena in the last match of the series but that will be more on emotional grounds than to earn the urn.

Australia too has had an injury scare with their most in-form batsman Michael Clarke being injured. Whether he plays or not is still an enigma for us. Brett Lee and Stuart Clark have been declared match-fit, which adds potency to an otherwise lackluster Aussie attack.

The picture before the fourth test seems more pleasing for the Aussie eyes as it seems that Ponting – for the first time in the series – may have a full touring party to choose his winning combination from. England, on the other hand, is just an arm’s length away from getting one hand on the urn. Considering English bowlers have looked miserable in batsman-friendly conditions, Headingly may just present itself like that with the weather forecast improving on the match days.

It’s make or break time for the Aussies and if Freddie misses out, Headingley may well hear Aussies roar. Watch out England!