Category Archives: ashes

Diagnosing Australia

Jarrod Kimber has a fine essay on Cricinfo about all that ails Australia. It’s a beautiful piece, and I recommend it in full. That said, while I’m not nearly as smart or observant as Kimber (the little I know about cricket, I learned from commentary), I want to add a note of caution to the recent diagnoses of Australia.

Please keep in mind, all ye critics, that Australia just lost a great number of players in the past five years. Not just any set of players — but some of the greatest to have ever played the game. In my mind, it is still an open question as to whether Australia will face a terminal decline (a la The West Indies), or merely slide to something more mediocre and less dominating (but still very, very good). I’d like to think that a nation with as much cricketing history, talent and infrastructure as Australia will not allow Michael Clarke to suffer as much as Brian Lara did in the early 2000s. We shall see.

At any rate, think about how different this team would be if they still had, say, Michael Hussey. I’m not saying that they would be winning now, but perhaps they’d be more like Sri Lanka’s Jayawardene-Sangakarra — a combination that can still occasionally stop the opposition in its tracks, and provide succor and stability to the rest of the (largely middling) batsmen. Hussey’s retirement (as I understand it) caught Clarke by surprise, and I think it’s fair to say this Australian team would have had a less embarrassing transition had Hussey stuck around for another year or two.

Because let’s keep in mind as well that Australia are also playing against England in England. We’re dismissive of Watson and Hughes and Cowan (and Warner), but both Cowan and Warner performed admirably against India when India played in Australia in 2011-12. Of course, England is not India — Jimmy Anderson and Swann are much better than latter-day Zaheer Khan and Ashwin. But playing in England against a great swing attack is no easy task; even the mighty Australians of yore (e.g., the 2005 squad) failed that test. (Please also note: When Anderson played in Australia in 2006-2007, he was a shambolic travesty: five wickets in three Tests and 93 overs. He got better, sure, but it took a long time.)

So what are we comparing this Australia to? Are we comparing it to the Australians who didn’t relinquish the Ashes urn for nearly two decades? If that’s the case, we’ve got a problem — we are refusing to recognize the greatness that has passed. No, compare Australia to a team that’s in the middle of a generational change — didn’t England suffer in 2006-2007? Didn’t India suffer in 2011 (against both Australia and England)? Every cricket fan from every country has been humiliated in the past; now it’s your turn, Aussies. Stop being so dramatic about it.

Who Watches Cricket?

From Kevin Mitchell in The Guardian comes dispiriting news:

There are negative omens everywhere for Australian cricket. Television ratings are down 24% over 10 years; grounds are near empty for all but 20-over games and Ashes Test matches; the only real competitors, Rugby League and Aussie Rules, are booming, with Aussie Rules (AFL) taking up nearly a third of all newspaper coverage; and Australia have just endured the most comprehensive Ashes drubbing by the old enemy. It is enough to test any stalwart’s faith. Cricket, once indisputably the national game, has slipped behind AFL, horse racing, rugby league and motor sport, and sits just ahead of rugby union and soccer, according to the government’s latest attendance statistics.

Those who despise the Australian team, and have chafed for the last two decades under its dominance, enjoy a hearty laugh now. But, I wonder, isn’t this the norm in most white-cricketing nations? Isn’t cricket usually behind rugby and soccer?

Another question: is cricket the game “of the masses” only in India? Or is Indian cricket and its recent popularity more connected with the explosion of the middle class? Who watches cricket?

Exposing The Batsman’s Dilemma: UDRS and Michael Clarke

Regular readers know that I haven’t been the biggest fan of the UDRS. If it were up to me, we’d stick to as little meddling with the onfield umpire’s authority. But watching its latest incarnations, I’ve been fascinated with the sheer awkwardness the system has created. First, the umpire has to cross his arms and plead for mercy if his decision has been successfully reviewed. But secondly, imagine what it does for batsmen like Michael Clarke, who refuse to walk?

In the old days — um, five years ago, say — batsmen could stay at their crease and happily wait for an umpire to make his decision if they nicked (or didn’t) a ball to a fielder. If a replay showed his guilt, the batsman wouldn’t care; after all, it’s not his job to rule on an appeal, it’s the umpire’s. Impeccable logic. Now, however, if a batsman nicks a ball, as Clarke did off Pietersen on Day4 at Adelaide, he has no choice but to walk if he hit unless he wants to take a very silly bet that Hot Spot won’t catch him out. Otherwise, he’ll be caught out on a technological display of who-dun-it, exposing his lie. By standing at the crease and risking the review, the batsman’s complicity grows somewhat more embarrassing.

Ryan Harris had a different problem the other day. He nicked the ball and was given out, but he was convinced he didn’t touch the ball with his bat. So he reviewed the decision, but the technology didn’t back him up (or rather, it was inconclusive). Now, one of the things that infuriates me in cricket, especially in this Glorious Age of Batting, is the notion that the benefit of doubt should go to a batsman. But in Harris’ case, thankfully, the benefit of the doubt went to the umpire, and he was told to head off, and rightly so. Let’s peg back these batsmen a touch or two, please?

David Gower Screams

Can’t wait for the Auto-tune version of this. David Gower’s toe got a bad pinch from an errant Nasser Hussain yesterday, leaving us with this memorable Ashes YouTube moment. Enjoy:

Warning: Graeme Swann May Be An Annoying Idiot

Until this series, I only knew Graeme Swann for his bowling. The guy was the best spinner in the world; he had run through the Aussies at home; old people started talking about some guy called Fred Titmus.

But now, I find Swann may also be a really, really annoying idiot, and that too a racially insensitive one. Read Andy Bull’s profile in The Guardian for details on the first charge; the guy’s dressing room antics (and his recent drunk driving) put me in mind of the stupid jocks who weren’t supposed to find refuge in a game like cricket. (Sigh.)

What’s worse, Swann indulges in a dash of racial humor. Take a look at his “Behind The Ashes” video series; I followed a flattering link that said it offered an “irreverent” (meaning: funny) look at life on tour. It does that, and most of it is actually quite funny, until you get to the part in Episode 3 where Swann basically makes fun of coach Mushtaq Ahmed’s accent and inability to speak English well to his face for a good minute. (See below at 2:30.)

Now, it’s possible “doing the Indian accent” bit is funny in England because of its much higher Asian population (so accepted is the accent, it is akin to making fun of any regional — read: Yorkshire — accent, for e.g.).  Generally, though, it’s not a kosher thing to do in America, where it’s seen as needlessly picking on a very, very small percentage of the population. Not that it’s not done; God knows I’ve had to answer thousands of questions on why I don’t sound like Apu from The Simpsons. (I also absolutely despise having to listen to someone do the accent with the expectation that I laugh at it, as if I’m part of the joke. Swann does this to Mushtaq in the video, and you can tell he thinks Swann is laughing at him, not with him.)

I might be making a mountain out of a mole here. But just take a look at the video. Mushtaq seems like such a nice guy; I almost feel sorry he has to spend his days surrounded, almost universally, by white people. Time to break out the diversity sessions, ECB.

Like I said, the rest of the video is fairly funny (esp. the sprinkler dance bit at the end). But wasn’t the Ahmed moment so, so awkward? Back me up, NRIs — how many times have you gone through this exchange?

 

Jimmy Anderson May Still Be A Little Wanker

I like Jimmy Anderson a lot. So do a lot of people; they said he has changed his ways, he won’t give up at the first sight of trouble, or when the swing stops working the oracle again.

Actually, the English team as a whole pulled an Anderson yesterday. After that first session, they needed to play like they were on a pitch in India — going back to attrition, slowly trying to strangle the opposition with tight lines and lop-sided fields (recall the 8-1 Dhoni field?) and taking all their chances (unlike, um, Jimmy Anderson and his drop). Instead, they sort of gave up; there were moments when I thought I could see Anderson mouth, “Screw this, I’m going home.”

But now, they have a chance to play like in India once more: nothing better than facing a huge deficit to bring out the Laxmans, Harbhajans and 5th day pitch-heroes in your team. Welcome to the subcontinent, lads!

The Thin Line Of Ashes Success At The Gabba

Sometime in the lunch session on Day 3, fellow twitterer SnickedCricket criticized Cricinfo for calling it another brilliant day for cricket. After all, he had just seen Hussey and Haddin dominate for a couple of hours, with no wicketing prospects in sight for England.

Except, he was quick to admit, he had missed the first hour or so of play. That made all the difference. The first hour wasn’t only scintillating, with excellent stuff from Jimmy Anderson (and, to a certain degree, Stuart Broad). It also exemplified the virtues of Test cricket. Two batsmen struggled, scoring next to nothing, and were beaten by ball after ball. If you were just looking at the scoreline, you would concluded this was a boring display. Not true — this was an extended period you’re unlikely to see in ODIs or T20s, and I argue it’s one of the best moments in a Test: that ill-defined feeling that something is about to happen, a crescendo of tension.

Usually, it ends with a wicket (as it did when Ishant Sharma tested Ponting for an hour or so in Perth). And it feels damn, damn good. But today, it went the other way — and that made all the difference. Just a few inches, a nick here or there, a little luck from the physics gods, and England could have been 200 runs ahead now, not behind.

Check out roundups on the day from Mike Selvey at The Guardian, The Old Batsman and Marcus Mitchell.

Ashes Fever: Brisbane Belongs In the Perfect Time Zone

I’m so excited about this Ashes series. I can’t help it; I don’t care if I sound too earnest; this is going to be great. And not least because Brisbane, QSL, may in fact be the perfect time zone for cricket watchers on the American East Coast. It is 15 hours ahead, so 10 a.m. will roll around in Australia just as I’m heading off from work. That gives me about 5 hours to enjoy at home before I call it a night.

Dinner and cricket. Amazing. Oh, and I’m calling this for England, 2-1.

Kevin Pietersen Plays Blindfold Cricket

Good stuff. Too bad it’s for an advertisement (and that too, some hair cream product). But the bravado is hard not to like (“Crank it up, buddy”):

The Aussies Get Insider Information

I don’t know the full details, but it seems extremely unfair for one team to be able to hire an opposing team’s staff during a cricket series between the two teams.  But this is what the Australians have managed to pull off:

Dene Hills, the England batting coach, is to take up a new role with Cricket Australia in the middle of the forthcoming Ashes series, according to a report in the Mail.

Hills will then be free to go straight into the Australian dressing room for the third Test in Perth on 16 December and be able to produce up-to-date and first-hand information on England’s leading batsmen.

Then again, it’s possible the English hired this guy in the first place was his knowledge of Australian bowlers. Oh, the double-dealing never ends.