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Cricket Web’s Ashes Predictions Revisited


Cricket Web’s Ashes Predictions Revisited

On the eve of the first test in Cardiff, eight of us here at Cricket Web gave our verdict on how the Ashes would go. The results are in, and it’s time to see how we fared. It’s a bit of a mixed bag…


The Final Test


On July 8th, Mitchell Johnson bowled the opening ball of the 2009 Ashes, an inconsequential length delivery outside off stump.

Six weeks and four tumultuous tests later, we’re no closer to knowing where the Ashes are going than we were that morning in Cardiff. From Monty Panesar saving England at the Swalec stadium, to Flintoff’s triumphant re-emergance at Lord’s, all the way to Clarke and North’s stubborn last-day defiance at Edgbaston and Stuart Clark’s incredible comeback in Yorkshire, it’s been a wildly unpredictable series (if not always a high-quality one).

None of what has gone before is of any relevance though, because the Ashes will be decided over the next five days at the Oval. England will desperately try to shore up a shaky middle order, hoping that the pitch and weather don’t hinder their chances of winning back the Ashes. Australia meanwhile are looking to somehow maintain the quality of play seen at Headingley two weeks ago and scramble over the finish line one way or another.

For players on both sides, the final test of a level Ashes series is the most high-pressure scenario imaginable. A match-winning performance in this match will make up for an entire career of underachievement, while a dropped catch or poor shot will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The biggest five days of cricket for years starts tomorrow.


Looking Beyond the Ashes


An unfortunate aspect of England’s success is that the world seems to become an exceedingly grim place. Australian fans, not used to losing, grow hugely critical of their team, while English fans barely manage to escape their bubble of self-protective cynicism and focus on whatever bad can be found in their victories. You’d be forgiven for thinking that both teams were losing the Ashes.

On the contary, England’s success further ushers in an impending era of competitive cricket worldwide. For all their success, the current crop of players don’t appear to have the consistency nor the talent to dominate the game having lost their previous three series. Australia meanwhile might just about retain their status as the world’s number one team but will struggle to convince anyone they’re really the best side around.

Looking on from the sidelines is the world number two side, South Africa. Graeme Smith’s side has a winning mentality missing from the country’s previous sides, but struggle to dominate at home and missed a clear shot at stealing the world number one ranking from Australia earlier this year. Meanwhile, India are looking particularly strong on paper but still have something to prove- particularly away from home. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, find themselves dominating at home with a young, promising team but still struggle to take on the other sides everywhere else.

Should Australia come back and win this series, it will undoubtedly rival 2005 as the greatest Ashes series of the modern era. If England hold on for victory the cricketing world looks even more intriguingly poised than before with five teams all capable of beating one another on a regular basis.

It’s hard for fans of the two sides to look beyond the most important event in the cricketing calendar, but everyone else should be tingling in anticipation. For all I complain about flat pitches, umpiring errors and increasing commercialism, it’s great to be watching one of the most competitive eras of cricket ever. The conclusion of the Ashes is only the beginning.


Plenty Riding on a Tour Match for Australia


The Aussies enter the tour match today with some serious issues on their hands. They’re 1-0 down in a series, a position they struggled in even with a team filled with all-time greats, and desperately need a comeback from somewhere. The tour game against Northants starting today is absolutely crucial if they are to make a comeback of sorts in the series.

The first, most obvious problem for the Aussies is their star bowler, Mitchell Johnson, emphatically failing to fire. With the rest of the bowlers often struggling to find a threatening line to left-handers, England’s all-southpaw opening partnership has caused all kinds of problems- as has their all-southpaw “closing partnership” at Cardiff. The tour match is absolutely essential in finding some form for Midge.

If he plays, a lot of attention will go to Stuart Clark- the man who took an incredible 26 wickets @ 17 in the last Ashes but hasn’t even played this time round. He seemed to have lost a bit of nip against England Lions, understandable after a long injury lay-off. He’s now had months to recuperate, and if he’s back to his effective best England’s opening partnership- who Clark dismissed four times each in 2006/07- could be conquered. On the other hand, if he’s still looking a bit stale, Australia will be concerned that the 33-year-old may never be the same again. It’s only a three-day warm-up, but for Clark’s career, it’s a massive game.

In order to accommodate either Clark or Andrew McDonald, Australia look set to play a five-man attack with Brad Haddin, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke all staying in London. This could spark a change in tactics for Edgbaston- I suspect Marcus North, if he fails to score here, could be the man to miss out. On the other hand, if the lower order capitulates in either innings, a u-turn could be on the cards with any bowler who fails to perform likely to miss out. It’s quite possible that Australia could send out a completely unchanged lineup for the third test, but if certain players aren’t performing, the side could also undergo a massive overhaul.

There’s a lot more riding on this match than seemed the case three weeks ago. The events of a three-day game with little press coverage, and in particular the performance of Mitchell Johnson, could determine the course of the rest of the series.


Hilfy- Player of the Series So Far


It’s a little harsh on the four Aussie batsmen who tonned up in their only innings of the tour, but for my money, the most impressive player so far has been Ben Hilfenhaus. The last name on the teamsheet for Australia at Cardiff, and the most controversial selection to date, he’s also been the best player on either team.

Two bits of bowling stand out for me yesterday. The first was Hilfenhaus’s setting up of Ravi Bopara with five inswingers followed by a straight ball that did nothing for a straightforward lbw. To have the accuracy to do this- bearing in mind that his pace is generally around 87-92mph- is a massive achievement in itself. Of everyone who has bowled so far this series, only Hilfenhaus has been bowling well enough to execute the plan to perfection. Not only that, but having also caught out Kevin Pietersen with the non-swinger last Sunday, he’s starting to put serious doubts in the minds of players over what they have to play at. There’s no question in my mind that his setting up of Ravi Bopara contributed to the dismissal of Andrew Flintoff later that day.

The other piece of bowling that impressed me was the solitary bouncer he bowled in the entire day, to Kevin Pietersen. When Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle were being pulled off a length by Alastair Cook, Hilfenhaus continued to pitch it up and keep the batsmen under pressure. Then, when he saw Pietersen look uncomfortable, he threw in the short delivery which was top-edged inches short of keeper Haddin.

England should know plenty about the overuse of the short delivery. It scuffs up the ball early, tires the bowlers, gives away easy run-scoring opportunities if not consistently well directed and poses no threat to good batsmen. Bouncers work best as a surprise weapon, and Hilfenhaus uses his sparingly to great effect.

Unlike team-mate Peter Siddle, who excited fans and terrified onlookers by hitting Graeme Swann all over his body in a short period before tea on Sunday. For all the pain he caused Swann, he didn’t get him out, and he crucially stuck around for another hour before being dismissed, almost inevitably, by Ben Hilfenhaus.

Those two moments alone barely do credit to the consistency with which Hilfenhaus has bowled, nor do his seven wickets so far @ 28 quite do him justice. He’s been undoubtedly the best bowler on either side, in terms of both wicket-taking threat and building pressure. On very flat pitches, plenty of batsmen have stepped up, but he’s the only bowler to excel when everyone else has struggled.

So here’s to Ben Hilfenhaus, the guy least was expected of who has thus far delivered the most. Cue him bowling terribly this morning…


Who Has the Momentum?


The typical question after a match which one side has dominated but failed to win is who will take the momentum into the next match. Australia have asserted their dominance over England in all aspects of the game, and will now be confident that they can take the series comfortably if they play as well as they can. England, meanwhile, are aware that they have a few days to regroup and have got through what must surely be their worst performance of the summer completely unscathed.

So who has the momentum? For me, nobody. One could argue that the force is currently with England, but if Andrew Strauss is cleaned up in the first over by a vicious Mitchell Johnson yorker the so-called momentum will be right back with Australia again. Likewise, if England rack up 400 on the first day again, any talk of Australia’s dominance will be swiftly hushed. When the momentum is prone to changing so quickly, it’s not even there.

The score in the series is 0-0. The Lord’s test will be won by whichever team performs better over the five days, not who has an imaginary force behind them as a result of this drawn match.

It’s hard to see Lord’s producing a result with the state of the pitch in recent years (although there was an excellent sporting pitch for the West Indies game this year). Let’s hope for cricket’s sake that a series which has just come alive so dramatically isn’t killed stone dead by a horrendous 600-plays-600 draw.


Australia Dominate but Honours Even


Australia were, by a country mile, the better team today. They put the ball in the right areas, bowled some excellent deliveries, fielded well- particularly Mike Hussey- and did particularly well with difficult conditions. England, meanwhile, got the rub of the green. They batted poorly, scrapping their way to starts before losing their wickets to horrible shots. KP’s dismissal was probably the worst shot I’ve ever seen him get out to.

None of this matters though, because Australia don’t hold the advantage at the moment. I’d say the game’s pretty evenly poised with two donkeys to come in for England, but a lot of onlookers are putting England on top from here. A pretty reasonable outcome from a day in which they were firmly second best.

Firstly, they got lucky. There’s no shame in getting lucky, of course. But they could have been out a few times each. Inside edges missed the stumps, outside edges fell short, the umpires made a couple of questionable decisions in their favour. Until the end of the final session, things were simply going England’s way.

Secondly, they won the toss, and it looks like an important one. The pitch seems set to deteriorate as the game goes on, and Australia will be acutely aware throughout that they’ll probably have to bat last one it.

Thirdly, they’ve picked two specialist spinners. When you go in with a two-spinner policy on a pitch like this, you’re banking on keeping the pace for the first few days then closing in hard towards the end when conditions favour you. England have done the first bit, now they need Swann and Panesar to step up and show what they can do.


Cricket Web’s Ashes Predictions


For those who haven’t yet heard, the Ashes is starting on Wednesday. After some dubious predictions for the World Twenty20, we felt it was a good time to prove that we really can predict the future when it’s not just a practice. Hence we have given our verdict on what’s going to happen in England this summer.

Representing England we have Martyn Corrin, Richard Dickinson and Martin Chandler, while Manjunath Reddlapalli is holding down the Aussie camp all by himself. Offering a more neutral view is James Nixon, a New Zealander, Ganesh Venkatasubramanian and Swaranjeet Singh, both Indian, and myself, Will Quinn, from Ireland…


Back in 2005…


Over in England, the Poms are getting a bit excited about the Ashes. Predicting what the commentary will be like is a bit too easy, so I’m going to do it anyway. 2005 features heavily…