Ashes HQ ASHES HQ 2009

July08

Australia Dominate but Honours Even

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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.

July08

Cricket Web’s Ashes Predictions

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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…

July07

Freddie’s Ashes – The Sequel

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I’m a Freddie Flintoff fanboy. Everyone knows it. When my twins were close to being born, even though I knew they were both girls I was still asked if they would be called ‘Andrew’ and ‘Freddie’. But in the lead-up to this series, I have really tried to stay quiet on the Freddie front, just making the odd reference here and there to him, rather than talking about him non-stop.

But you know what? I just can’t do it. The Ashes are nearly here and I need to talk about Freddie, because everybody knows he can win the Ashes for us again.

The pressure is off Freddie this time round. When people talk about our bowling, they talk about Anderson and Swann. Rightly so, they are in fine form and if they continue bowling the way they have done so far in 2009, they will take plenty of wickets. This is a good thing. England have struggled in recent years when Flintoff is all we had. It’s no secret that Flintoff has functioned best when other bowlers have been doing their jobs fantastically. Not just in that series in 2005, but the couple of years leading up to it.

Additionally, the expectation of him with the bat is low. It has been low for quite some time, but this time there is a difference and that is that he will not be batting in the top six. Flintoff will bat at seven. Some of his best innings have come batting with the tail and it should not be underestimated how much more freedom he has to go out there and play when not part of the top six. My favourite (and I suspect many others agree) Freddie innings is the one from the second innings at Edgbaston four years ago, where he flayed the Aussies to all parts of Birmingham whilst batting with lower-order batsmen of the magnitude of Harmison, Hoggard and Simon Jones. He also produced some fine innings alongside Geraint Jones, a batsman arguably of equal or lower stature to Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, both of whom Flintoff should spend plenty of time out in the middle with this summer.

In recent weeks his batting has seemed to take an upturn of sorts. He has showed signs of feeling a little bit more free with the blade, and if he can carry this into the Ashes he will be dangerous. For all the jibes that he is a tailender these days, and for all the jibes that he will never take wickets consistently, Australia know full well that if Flintoff hits the ground running that they will be in a scrap. People often say “Flintoff has done nothing since the Ashes in 2005″. These people missed his brilliance in India the following year, they missed his mindblowing spell at Edgbaston last year against South Africa. Figures and statistics are thrown around like nobody’s business in cricket, but it matters not what Flintoff’s averages are if he gets going, and you have to believe that in this series, he will. It might well be his last chance to be a hero one more time, and he will want nothing more than to take that chance.

Andrew Flintoff will wake up tomorrow morning and have his usual breakfast (a large, live animal, washed down with petrol). He will then head to Sophia Gardens and tear the Aussies to shreds. You know it makes sense, and you know that he will.

July07

What Does It Really Mean?

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Last night at about 6 pm I was sitting in my lounge room with my seven year old son. We were watching the lowlights of the 05 Ashes when he turned to me and asked “Dad, why do we hate England at sport so much?”

As you might imagine, this was a disturbing moment for a parent. Despite nurturing and loving both he and his twin sister since their birth, and trying to raise them as decent individuals free of nastiness and malevolence, the fact I’d let him reach seven without making so important a matter second-nature to him was like a hammer blow to my heart.

In 1974-75, my grandfather took me to my first Test match at the SCG. Readers will of course be aware this was the series when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson took England apart. As a youngster, what struck me right away was the depth of feeling towards the visitors and the uncontained joy at the thumping they were being dealt.

By 1981 little had changed. That was Botham’s series, and such was the aggression and passion in the way he played, I overheard as an 11 year-old the ultimate compliment paid to him by my uncle – “He should have been Australian”. Yet even this affection towards an Englishman was tempered by the comment which followed, as the players left the field for a rain interruption – “That’ll be the only shower the Poms have in a while”. Revenge came in the Centenary series in 82-83, when Greg Chappell led Australia to victory, though not before an epic Melbourne Test in which Border and Thomson nearly stole the match from England. Thommo’s take on the loss – “It’s bad enough to lose at the best of times, but to lose to that pack of sheilas was a disgrace”, indicated that feelings still ran deep.

In the mid-80s, things were grim for Australia, as England romped to victory in the 85 and 86-87 series. You know you’re travelling badly when Richard Ellison rolls your batting line up in a Test match, but the nadir was Melbourne in 1986 when Australia capitulated by an innings inside three days to the might of Gladstone Small, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds. Something needed to be done. Allan Border, captain in those series’ and the very embodiment of conviviality, needed to harden up and take a more traditional approach to cricket against the Old Enemy, rather than sit in the Poms’ dressing room and have a chat with the opposition.

David Gower, England’s captain during 1989 and a friend of Border, noted all he got out of his counterpart before the series was decided was a monosyllabic grunt. Frankly, it was worth it. 1989 came to symbolise vindication of all that is good in the world. Border’s men, called the worst side to ever tour England, thrashed their old rivals 4-0 and set in motion the rightful order of things, which stayed in place until the scandalous events of 2005.

That series, lauded as one of the finest ever played by many purists, was easily the low point of my sporting existence. Looking back, the worst part was feeling so helpless, sitting on the other side of the world in the middle of the night. Unlike home series, where one can get to a game and feel part of it, the 05 hiccup (let’s not call it a loss, OK?) was akin to watching footage of a natural disaster from overseas. No matter how often one roared disapproval at the incompetent umpiring; at England’s devious use of substitute fielders so the bowlers could get a rest and riding instructions after each exhausting six over spell, or at a bad shot played by one of your own, there was an overriding sense of despair at the utter futility of your protestations. Finally, I knew what it must be like to support England.

In January 2007 I was again at the SCG, this time in the Members’ Pavilion with my wife, on day five of the Test as Warne, McGrath and Langer retired. There was sadness in the crowd at “Time” being called on the greats, but generally the atmosphere was euphoric. It was, however, not euphoria built on serendipity or sudden excitement at the result. Rather, the overriding sense was that things were as they should be. Not once did I hear a single murmur of sympathy towards the Poms as they went under 5-0. I’d have been disappointed if I did.

So there it is, laid bare – a summary of my Ashes life. Of course, the rivalry goes back much, much further. From an Australian point of view, the depth of feeling might relate to the “little brother” syndrome – an abiding, burning desire to trounce the older (though obviously inferior) sibling. Personally, I see it as a rivalry fuelled by the sense of injustice at the litany of English atrocities which have taken place for more than 125 years.

Here’s just a sample. From Grace’s unsporting run out of Jones at the Oval in 1882 which ultimately led to the birth of the Ashes themselves; through Bodyline; Hammond batting on to 903 in 1938 in an effort to kill cricket as a spectacle; a tailor-made dustbowl for Jim Laker in 1956; John Snow striking Terry Jenner; the strange fungus (Fusarium) which allegedly struck the Headingly pitch in 1972 despite the rest of the playing surface being the greenest of green swards; Mike Brearley denying Dennis Lillee a decent earn by stopping the use of his revolutionary aluminium bat; the infliction of Chris Tavare on us in 1982-83 in another effort to kill the game for fans; right up to nefarious use of mints and appalling misuse of substitute fielders in 2005, England has given Australian supporters cause to keep the fires of cricketing rivalry burning. It’s fair to say we haven’t missed the chance.

By 11.30 last night, after I explained what it all means, my son finally got it. By that time he was pretty tired though. Don’t think he’ll be much good at school today.

Never mind. The week’s most important lesson had already been learned.

July06

Back in 2005…

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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…

July05

The five greatest Ashes ads

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Unlike some of its sporting counterparts, cricket hasn’t always had the greatest advertising campaigns, however over the past few years this has changed for the better. In the lead up to the first test, Ashes HQ present the top five Ashes and Ashes related advertisments of the past few years.

5. 2006/07 Channel 9 Ashes Promo

A play on the infamous ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign, this ad gets into the top five for Pom soap jokes and for Lara Bingle enacting every cricketer’s greatest fantasy.

4. 2009 Sky Ashes Promo

I’ll be back!

It gets a bit cheesy towards the end and is let down by a cricketer’s fundamental inability to act, but a great idea nonetheless.

3. VB Boon & Warne

This ongoing campaign has been a bit hit and miss, though these are two of the best:

Any ad which advocates placing David Boon in a museum next to Phar Lap deserves to make the list.

The baby Warne creeps me out, but I can’t stop laughing at the image of Warne victims living out their days in a padded room in an mental institution.

2. Big Warnie

What’s the one thing that’s better than Shane Warne? A giant Shane Warne, of course. The faces of the bemused onlookers are absolutely priceless.

1. Budweiser Ashes 2005 ad

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This ad sums up the 2005 euphoria. It’s a complicated game with complicated rules and a complicated history, but who cares? England won, let’s celebrate!

July05

The Lucky Thirteen

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England have named their squad for the first Test, and to the relief of many, Steve Harmison misses out. A squad of thirteen has been selected, with the eleven who faced Warwickshire being joined by Ian Bell and Graham Onions. That means it consists of the following players: Strauss (captain), Cook, Bopara, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior (wk), Flintoff, Broad, Anderson, Onions, Swann, Panesar.

Essentially there is one place in the England team that nobody is quite sure of, seemingly including the selectors. The three players in the above list that you wouldn’t bet your house on them being selected are Bell, Onions and Panesar.

Ian Bell seems highly unlikely to play despite his inclusion in the squad. You would have to imagine that he is simply there as the reserve batsman. It is unthinkable for England to play four bowlers with Flintoff in the side. Rightly or wrongly that has been the line that has been taken for a long time now, when Flintoff plays so do four other bowlers. Bell will only play if any of the batsman, or maybe Flintoff, fall victim to an injury during the next three days.

This of course means it is a shootout between Monty Panesar and Graham Onions for the last bowling spot. There has been plenty of talk of Cardiff turning square and England therefore wanting to go in with two spinners. Yet Australia are likely to play no spinners at all, and recent reports seem to suggest that the pitch has been somewhat overhyped; if one spinner will suffice, that will be Graeme Swann. Panesar has been in poor form all season long, and a few tailend wickets for England against Warwickshire should not have done too much to alter the selectors’ minds.

Onions is the man in possession of the place that Panesar would like, and he acquitted himself reasonably enough on debut against the West Indies in May. He has taken 40 first-class wickets at 13.02 apiece this season (excluding his Test wickets), these came in the first division and he would consider himself very unlucky to be left out. This compares with Panesar’s six wickets in the second division for an astronomical 86.66. Averages don’t have to be the be-all end-all, but when a player isn’t taking wickets then they shouldn’t be selected.

In the end the selectors have to decide whether the pitch really merits a second spinner, but also whether reputation alone is enough to pick a player who has been having a dismal season. History would suggest that Panesar is the more likely to get the nod, but this England setup has been a lot more proactive than recent ones, and as such it is not a stretch to predict that Onions will indeed play. Here is how I tip England to line up on Wednesday:

Strauss*
Cook
Bopara
Pietersen
Collingwood
Prior+
Flintoff
Broad
Swann
Anderson
Onions

It is not quite the Pietersen V Thorpe debate that we had four years ago, nonetheless, when it gets down to these decisions then you know the Ashes are nearly here. Three days to go…

July03

Steve Harmison? Really?

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It’s surprising me how many people are calling for the recall to the England side of Steve Harmison following his performance in the warm-up game for England Lions. Not just the usual long-term fanboys on the Sky commentary team who used to play alongside him, plenty of fans and pundits whose opinions I very much respect seem to be thinking he’s worth a recall.

A lot of people would make the argument that he doesn’t deserve an England place after his recent dire performances in India and the West Indies, but that doesn’t interest me. All that I want to be considered when a country picks their test side is which players are most likely to win them the match. Steve Harmison, for all his supposed pace and bounce, isn’t a man I ever feel is going to take any wickets when he comes on to bowl.

Nor has the warm-up game changed my mind. The case for his inclusion has gained a dynamic of its own, and as such his quality performance against Australia has turned into an all-conquering destruction of the touring side. I’ve watched every ball Harmison has bowled in this game, and he’s not even at his best. Everyone knows what he’s like at his best- he storms in, bangs the deck hard and has top-class batsmen jumping around uncomfortably. Harmison hasn’t been like that in the past few days. His pace drops considerably as each day wears on, calling his fitness into question yet again. Two of his first-innings wickets were full deliveries that deceived batsmen due to a (not deliberate) lack of pace.

Is that what Steve “he’s got pace and bounce!” Harmison is going to do to win England back the Ashes? Deceive Aussie batsmen by actually being medium pace when they’re expecting something scary? Vary his pace by starting off fast then lumbering in at the end of the day sending down half-trackers? I doubt that’s what the England selectors want from him.

When Harmison is at his best, he should be selected. When he takes six wickets in two innings bowling decently during a warm-up game, he should be sent back to Durham.

July02

Great News – Pietersen Fails

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Ask any England supporter which batsman’s runs are vital to our chances of regaining the Ashes this summer. Ask any Australian which batsman’s runs are most detrimental to their chances of retaining the urn. The predominant answer will of course be the same. Kevin Pietersen.

So should we be worried that in his last chance of scoring some runs prior to the Ashes he returned seven runs from two innings against a county attack? Many will say that Pietersen hasn’t been in great form of late and that earlier in the summer he failed to score a century in a home series for the first time in his career. Did the whole captaincy saga really annoy him that much, is his game affected?

The answer is no. You would have to imagine that nobody is reading anything into his lack of runs against Warwickshire, though it would be nice if the Aussies were. Pietersen is one of those sportsmen who thrives against the best. Some will use that as ammunition against him, and say that he should always give his all, no matter what. But the truth is, if England were to play Bangladesh in a Test, and then Australia, you’d bet on him to score more runs against Australia.

It can be worrying to see batsmen scratching around unable to make any runs in first-class games prior to a Test series, be they tour games, domestic games, or rare warm-ups against county sides, as this one was. The truth is that there is absolutely nothing to see here. Pietersen failed today, and he failed yesterday. Good. Ricky Ponting won’t be reading anything into that. Pietersen will ton up in the first innings in Cardiff. You read it here first, folks. Kevin’s Ashes are coming, I am more convinced than ever about that after today’s failure.

July02

Lee settles things – for now

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One of the relatively few questions – and certainly the most brightly burning – over the team line-ups for the Swalec Stadium Test has been the composition of Australia’s bowling attack. The top seven, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle have had precious few questions asked of their places – their performances have been convincing enough in recent times. Brett Lee’s has emphatically not, though it remained the case that he had plenty of fierce advocates. But on the second day of the game against England Lions, Lee’s high-class bowling essentially assured himself of a berth at Cardiff.