For Whom The Bell Tolls


Ian Bell averages 25.10 against Australia. He comes into the England team in place of a man who averages 50.72 against the same side. Ian Bell is not best known for his ability to cope with pressure. The man he replaces thrives against the best opposition and plateaus when confronted with medicore opposition.

Yes, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen are not, perhaps, all that alike. So you would think that Bell goes into Thursday’s third Test feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he might not, you know. Because, all things considered, there has never been a better time to be stepping in for Pietersen. And as far as Bell is concerned, there has never been a better time to come up against the Aussies.

Pietersen, of course, looked a shadow of himself at Lord’s, and it was no great shock when he was ruled out for the rest of the series. This works in Bell’s favour. Can you imagine if Pietersen had hit two centuries in the first two Tests, and then injured his achilles and got ruled out? Now that would be pressure that you’d imagine Bell would struggle with. Instead he comes in with England one up and with no real weight of expectation on him. And on top of that, Pietersen didn’t look in form, he didn’t look set to plunder the Australian bowlers to all parts of England. If Bell does his usual, get in-look good-get out routine, it won’t really result in much difference in terms of output from what Pietersen has done in the series so far.

The previous occasion that we saw Bell return from being dropped was back in 2006, when he replaced Andrew Flintoff, so he’s not exactly unaccustomed to stepping into the big guy’s boots in the England team. That summer, he scored three centuries in three matches, albeit against distinctly average bowling. What’s that you say? No, I dare not suggest such a thing!

Thursday will be Ian Bell’s eleventh Ashes Test match, yet you would expect he feels more relaxed than he ever did in the previous ten. Aside from the aforementioned factors, there is no Shane Warne tormenting him with the ball, and with verbals. Though I did hear a cheeky mention of the nickname ‘Sherminator’ during the last Test! Expectation has never been lower for Bell, it seems most England fans are resigned to him doing very little, and Australians are somewhat optimstic about his apparently inevitable failure. This is a great opportunity for him, he would do well to take it.


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.


Mid-series Reports – Australia


Mid-series reports ? Australia

Phillip Hughes


Expectations were high after Hughes` brilliant beginning against South Africa and in terms of what can be expected of a young, impulsive, unorthodox stroke-maker, he`s shown glimpses of form. However, once a player is in the Test side, results are expected and in those terms, Hughes just hasn`t impacted to any meaningful degree on the series??. Yet. Hughes has a great eye, no-one works harder, is determined to succeed and has a winning pedigree. Watch this space

Simon Katich


A trademark hundred in Cardiff was followed by a gritty knock at Lords sullied by a perilous pull shot (albeit, intercepted by a fantastic catch) and somewhat injudicious shot trying to force the pace in pursuit of 521. Katich is maintaining his great form of the last two years and still appears serene at the crease so he can be said to have had an excellent series so far with the promise of more. Is one of Australia`s key players in clawing back from 0-1 down.

Ricky Ponting


Played a bullish hundred at Cardiff and wasn`t able to get going in his Lord`s innings` but appears in good form, quick on his feet as the spinners found to their detriment. His captaincy has generally been on the mark although his predilection for questionable fields has been replaced by one for questionable bowling changes, the pressure seemingly manifesting itself in his uncharacteristically poor fielding at Lords. Purely on the basis of the occasion, being an Ashes series, you`d back Ponting for at least one more significant score in the series.

Michael Hussey


Word on the street is that Hussey`s footwork is slow at the moment and certainly, he`s having to work very hard for his runs. Definitely not in the pink form-wise and another failure at Edgbaston would rightly see his place for the remainder of the series in question. The Australian selectors seem keen to back him for now but will be looking at either he or North to make way if Watson bats and bowls well in the tour match.

Michael Clarke


The second Test at Lords may well be looked upon in retrospect as the moment when Michael Clarke went from `very good Test player` to `great`. An all-too-short 83 in Cardiff was followed by a sublime 136 at Lords when, despite chasing 521, for a short while Australia appeared in with a chance of winning the game and shattering a world record along with it. The hallmark of a genuine match-winner is one who takes responsibility for the team`s fortunes on his shoulders and Michael Clarke appears primed to do exactly that for Australia from now on.

Marcus North


Marcus North`s form is generally up-and-down and the perception is that after playing a superb hand in the first Test, a succession of low scores will follow. Certainly at Lords he appeared rattled by the occasion and in both innings played `get-out` shots which compounds why his place is rated as more vulnerable than that of Mike Hussey`s, despite scoring more runs of late. One reason for his initial inclusion was overs of handy off-spin but he didn`t appear terribly likely to take wickets in his journeys to the crease. Without his bowling being a factor, his place is that much more vulnerable, particularly with the team needing another genuine bowling option.

Brad Haddin


Has had an excellent series with the bat, playing very slick knocks in both Tests but the reason for being in the team, his `keeping, has been off. No major let-offs but his anticipation behind the sticks appears a little slow which resulted in many byes at Lords as he struggled to cope with movement after the ball passed the batsmen. As long as he`s batting well, questions about his play will be minimal but he`d do well to quiet them entirely with a screamer or two.

Mitchell Johnson


Unexpectedly, Mitchell Johnson`s has caused more than a few headaches for the Australian selectors. Despite bowling on both sides of the wicket (sometimes off it) and at just about every imaginable length, against all standards of what constitutes good test match bowling, he`s managed to take 8 wickets in the first two Tests. Clearly, though, he`s not bowling very well, a lower arm at delivery appearing to be the culprit as the menacing swing from South Africa has all but disappeared with runs flowing from his bowling. His reputation should keep him in the side for the rest of the series as should the knowledge that from his previous low periods, a far improved bowler has generally emerged. That he`s taken as many wickets as he has with such poor bowling should worry the English batsmen, especially if he sorts himself out.

Nathan Hauritz


One of two surprise packets for the Australians, the bowler most thought would bottle up an end and be happy not to get smashed has morphed into a genuine wicket-taking option. He appears to lack the penetration to really run through a side but evident in his bowling has been good drift and sometimes vicious spin. His dismissal of Strauss in the second innings at Lords with a classic off-spinning slip catch should give him heart and enough confidence to realise the spinner`s spot in the Australian side is his for the taking if he`s good enough as no-one else is putting pressure on his position. He`s unlikely to dominate in the remaining Tests, especially considering that they`re likely to be fairly flat pitches but it`ll be a job well done if he keeps taking the occasional mini-bag in support of the pace attack.

Peter Siddle


A cleaner, (much) leaner Merv Hughes, Siddle`s figures belie the quality of his work so far. While Johnson surprises with the occasional ball on the pitch, Siddle`s bowling has been menacing and but for a bit of a luck and better fielding, would have had more wickets. Always asking questions of the batsmen, his biggest bowling fault so far has often been releasing the pressure after a series of good deliveries. His length is about right and always threatening so if he tightens his line a little and gets a pitch more to his liking, there`s no reason why he can`t take quite a few wickets as the series wears on. Almost there but not quite putting the whole package together.

Ben Hilfenhous


The other surprise, Ben Hilfenhous wasn`t even looking like being selected for the Tests but, when picked, has looked the most consistent bowler on either side outside of Flintoff. In the right conditions, his swing has been prodigious and he`s caused many problems for attacking players such as Kevin Pietersen as well as testing the techniques of Strauss and Cook when the ball is new. When the ball hasn`t swung, he`s still been very difficult to get away and able to bowl for long spells. While Johnson is busy finding himself, Hilfenhous is shaping up to be the workhorse Australian desperately needs to keep more adventurous Englishmen in their shells.


Mid-series Reports – England


With the Tests now taking a ten-day break, it’s a good opportunity to assess how the players on both sides have performed so far. So here are the teacher’s reports on England after two days. We’ll look at Australia tomorrow.

Andrew Strauss

Has received a lot of flak for his captaincy, particularly at Cardiff where he was a little too proactive with his bowling changes. He came under close examination in the fourth innings in Cardiff, but used Flintoff and Anderson when necessary, gave Swann the ball at the right time and led England to what was a comfortable victory. With the bat, he has played the most important innings of the series so far (not the best, but the most important) and one which ultimately led to England’s first victory over Australia at Lord’s in an age. He had a bit of luck on the way, but he took advantage of it.

Alastair Cook

Cook is blighted by the same problems as he has been for quite some time now; technical difficulties, planting his foot and missing the straight ball. He has made nice starts and not gone on with them, a problem he has had for a long time now. His place in the side was being whispered about before the series, he’ll hope for a hundred at Edgbaston.

Ravi Bopara

Bopara has struggled so far. He was unlucky in the second innings at Cardiff where he got a poor decision, but the rest of the time hasn’t looked all that convincing. Did well to get to 35 in the first innings of the series where he was all at sea, but played an innings in the second innings at Lord’s that was practically a polar opposite, scoring at a run approximately every five balls. He deserves one more shot, and with Pietersen looking likely to miss a game somewhere down the line he may get a reprieve anyway, but he’ll need to do better and prove that he can score against quality teams.

Kevin Pietersen

Pietersen would get a higher grade if he was somebody else, but by his own standards he has been disappointing so far. Looked like he was in for a great summer on day one of the series then played one of the most bizarre shots of all-time, and hasn’t looked in good shape since. Pietersen is clearly struggling with injury and may have to miss a Test for the same time since his debut.

Paul Collingwood

Three fifties in four innings in the series so far tell you that Collingwood is a batsman in consistent form. He played an absolute blinder in the second innings at Cardiff, and anchored the declaration chase at Lord’s well, allowing Prior and then Flintoff to tee off at the other end. He’ll need to convert these fifties into hundreds somewhere down the line though.

Matt Prior

Two fifties and two failures for Prior with the bat so far. His quikcfire fifty at Lord’s was just what England needed and his partnership with Flintoff on the first day of the series was crucial in England posting a decent first-innings total. He has kept above expectations so far, with no real clangers of note. Recent history suggests his keeping tails off as a series goes on, but he’ll be hoping that won’t be the case here.

Andrew Flintoff

With the bat, Flintoff has looked better than in recent times, but has not threatened to return to his glorious performance levels of four years ago. With the ball, he had an indifferent start at Cardiff and then played a blinder at Lord’s. He was nigh on impossible to get away in the first innings, playing a huge role in allowing James Anderson to take four wickets. Then, in the second innings he bowled two amazing spells of fast-bowling, taking five wickets and securing a marvellous victory for England. This is Flintoff’s last Test series and he’s promised us the best is yet to come, Australia will be hoping not.

Stuart Broad

Broad had a shocker at Cardiff and had plenty of people calling for his head. He bounced back at Lord’s with an improved performance but there is still a lot of work to do. His spell after lunch on day four at Lord’s has been forgotten, but he removed Ponting with some lovely bowling and if he hadn’t, anything could have happened. He also took a couple of wickets late in the day in Australia’s first innings; had those batsmen stayed in overnight we would have been looking at a very different game.

Graeme Swann

Swann also had a very poor game at Cardiff, but then turned in a matchwinning performance at Lord’s. His contribution has been understandably understated in the wake of Flintoff’s glory, but Swann took four Australian wickets, including the key man and their best player of spin, Michael Clarke. He had a bit of luck with Clarke missing the straight ball, but he won’t mind that at all. He has chipped in with some useful runs as well.

James Anderson

Nasser Hussain referred to Anderson as a fantastic cricketer yesterday after a fine piece of fielding, and he wasn’t wrong. Anderson is growing in stature with every game. His bowling never really fired in Cardiff but he was a hero with the bat in both innings but most importantly in the second innings where he amazingly hung in there at the death. He took four top-order wickets in the first innings at Cardiff, a feat not to be underestimated. The ball which got Hughes wasn’t a beauty but how many times have we seen Anderson bowl much better than his figures have suggested? He’ll have been disappointed to go wicketless in the second innings though, and will want to get himself on an honours bad in the series soon.

Graham Onions

Onions will have enjoyed his first big Test match, but ultimately he had a quiet one. The only top order wicket he took was that of Simon Katich in the first innings where in all honesty he had Stuart Broad to thank for one of the catches of the series so far, and he then added a couple of tailend wickets on Saturday morning, but they came at a time when England were struggling to dismiss the tail. He only bowled nine overs in the second innings and got hit around a bit, but seemed to be suffering from a niggle of sorts. His first-innings partnership with James Anderson with the bat is well worth a mention, mind you. He’ll hope to keep his place for the next game but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Harmison take his place.

Monty Panesar

Panesar may well not play again in this series, but he returned himself to the hearts of English cricket fans with a legendary rearguard in Cardiff. Even though he always looks like he has carrying a bat that weighs more than he does, he never really looked like getting out and helped to save the game. He never impressed with the ball though, and although Swann was out of sorts in Cardiff there is absolutely no doubt who England’s number one spinner is. If England win the Ashes though, Monty should take heart in knowing that his batting in Cardiff will have played a massive part.

That’s all for now folks. Check back tomorrow for CW’s thoughts on the Australian performances.


The Australian batsmen must stand up


In the hours following yesterday`s play, all of the focus has been on the Australian bowlers and the ease with which England were allowed to play them, particularly in the last session which yielded around 180 runs. There`s little doubt that the Australian bowling attack let England get away but there is some context missing which would not totally excuse the quality of bowling on offer but, at least, provide a riposte to those who insist the largest problems for Australia lie in their bowling attack.

The Australian bowlers were subjected to a hefty workload in the first innings against a quick-scoring batting line-up on a very true pitch. All of the pace attack bowled 20 or more overs, Hilfenhous with 31. This was without Nathan Hauritz`s bowling due to a dislocated middle finger on his bowling hand courtesy of Andrew Strauss. That England `only` got to 450 is a testament to how well the bowling unit covered for the actually missing Hauritz and the virtually missing Johnson. Had England been allowed to escape to 600, which they were threatening to, Australia would simply have been out of the match from that point onwards. 450 meant they had a chance of staying in it.

Imagine the dismay of the bowlers who, on said flat pitch, watched as the batsmen threw away their innings` one after the other. The number of mis-timed pulls would have made even Andrew Hilditch question where their heads were at as the chaos unfolded in wicket order;

Hughes: wild swipe caught down the leg-side
Ponting: tied down by tight bowling
Katich: seemingly set to pass 50 and having just batted Australia out of early trouble, decided to hook Onions down to fine-leg only to be caught by, albeit, a great catch but somewhat an injudicious stroke
Hussey: had just passed 50 and lost Katich, average leave to a ball which ran up the slope
Clarke: charitably, a very tame chip to short mid-wicket
North: needed to knuckle down, pull wasn`t on, dragged on to the stumps
Johnson: pull to mid-wicket, again, when the side needed some more introspective batting (and he`s capable of it)
Haddin: high bouncer, pulled to short mid-wicket

After only 60-odd overs, the bowlers were out in the field again, 220 runs behind in the match and expected to take wickets a bowler short. They received some good news when Hauritz appeared at the bowling crease and took a couple of quick wickets and, certainly, in the middle session against Bopara and Pietersen, they bowled very well without luck (or support from the field) but the threads stitching together the bowling effort unraveled quickly in the final session as Siddle and Hilfenhous tired. Hauritz was taken to by Prior and others and Johnson did little to improve his day, struggling to consistently hit a line or length anywhere near being threatening.

However, all the problems with the bowling mask serious issues with the batting. Whilst the going was good in Cardiff, the Australian batting line-up smacked the living daylights out of the English bowlers but in favourable conditions here, couldn`t get anywhere near 300 after their bowlers did just enough to keep them in the match. Cardiff`s batting papered over the inexperience and lack of grit seemingly inherent in the Australian batting.

Now is the time, guys. No-one is saying the bowlers are without fault (some emnity must come their way for conceding 450 in first innings) but the larger problem lies with the mettle of the Australian batting line-up. There are two days to bat (presuming England don`t bat for a period in the morning session) and a win is off the cards. South Africa proved it could be done last year at the same ground and the pitch isn`t playing any serious tricks yet. There`s a sniff of bad weather around so if there`s anyone in the Australian team for whom a return on investment is due, it`s the batting line-up.


A Funny Old Game


They say it’s a funny old game, cricket. Oh hang on, that’s football. Well it would be more apt if spoken about cricket.

This time yesterday the general thought was that England should be able to go on to score around 450 but that that probably wouldn’t be enough and that the game would be heading for a bore-draw. Now all the talk is as to whether they should and will enforce the follow-on. How has this happened?

It is quite the cliche that you don’t know what a good first innings score is until both teams have batted, but it is so true. In both of the Tests in this series, England have batted first and put 400+ on the board. Yet England fans were probably more pleased with the batting effort in Cardiff than here. What has changed?

There was a lot of talk last week that the England batsmen needed to take note of how the Aussies batted and followed suit. I think the Aussie bats read this and thought they better set a bit of a poorer example, it is the only feasible explanation for the drastic difference in application. Michael Hussey batted well but then became the third batsman of the series to leave a straight one. Katich got in but never looked all that convincing before getting out to a blinder of a catch from Stuart Broad. The rest of the top six all failed, whereas last week you felt like they were never going to get out.

Credit where credit is due though, James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff formed a highly-effective partnership today. Flintoff’s tight-fisted bowling was a key factor in the four wickets that James Anderson took, and then the inroads that were being made seemed to spur Stuart Broad into bowling a little better than he had been doing in the series so far. He’ll be hugely relieved to have picked a couple of wickets up late in the day. Onions has been fairly expensive, it will be interesting to see if he manages to have any kind of great effect as the game goes on. He’ll probably be a little frustrated to have been denied the chance to bowl when he is at his most effective, i.e. when the ball was brand new, but you can hardly argue with having Hughes and Ponting back in the pavillion before twenty runs are on the board. Flintoff and Anderson should open for the rest of the series, with Onions at first-change and then Broad.

One man who will have had mixed feelings as England tore through the Australian bats will be Steve Harmison. As Katich and Hussey looked like they were setting up camp, Harmison was taking 6/20 for Durham. Yet if England do manage to finish this first-innings job successfully, and then follow it up with a victory (follow-on or not) then it is hard to see the bowling attack being changed.

All in all, a wonderful day from an English point of view. But I talked last week about the importance of going in for the kill. We were certainly more ruthless than we have been in the past today, but the key now is to keep it going tomorrow, and Sunday. This may not be the Australia of old, but you still can’t expect them to lie down for long.


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…


Momentum vs Statistics


The thought of Australia and England as sharks and minnows may not sit easily with the average England cricket fan, but England can consider themselves somewhat fortunate not to lose the first Test to a rampant Australia. Here we take a look at how other teams since 1980 have fared after being dominated but staying alive in the series opener.


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.


Normal service resumed


It didn’t take long, did it? The teams were relatively evenly-matched for the first couple of days, and some England fans continued to allow themselves to be kidded that there wasn’t a lot between them this time around, or even that England had the better combination. Well, after four (or, minus the time lost to rain, more like three-and-a-half) days, Australia have asserted their familiar superiority and England their familiar inability to produce their best so long as the opposition comes from Australia, regardless of how good the actual players are or aren’t.