Friday, December 10, 2010

The Ashes 2010/11: 2nd Test Round-Up

After the scenes at Brisbane, where Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook batted for all eternity to actually save a match, rather than have England collapse to a horrific defeat, England went to Adelaide with that little word called 'momentum'. Australia, however, were ringing in the changes. Mitchell Johnson was axed. Ben Hilfenhaus was axed. North was under pressure (as he seems to have been for much of his Test career), Xavier Doherty was under pressure as he's not Shane Warne and Michael Clarke continues to be ruthlessly questioned about his credentials as vice-captain of the side. 

So, to day one. Australia won the toss and chose to bat first. Good batting pitch, nice conditions, it could only mean one thing, right? Wrong. After three seemingly harmless James Anderson balls, Watson decided to go for a single with Katich at the other end probably ball watching. Jonathan Trott took aim and fired and Katich was gone for a diamond duck. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Ponting came to the crease to face a fired up Anderson. And he got an outswinger that took his edge and ended up in the hands of Strauss at first slip. Australia were two down without a score on the board. I was, at this point, convinced I was dreaming, but it got a whole lot better as Michael Clarke departed in the third over, again to an outswinger from Anderson. Australia had lost three wickets for two runs. England fans were ecstatic and pinching themselves in delight. I had to make sure I didn't scream the house down.

Sadly, due to not sleeping during the day, I had to call it a night at lunch, but at the end of play, Australia were all out for 245, well below the anticipated par score of pretty much every commentator. England finished the day on 1-0, the one run being a leg bye. England had bowled really well, and they just hoped that the batsmen would continue with their fine run of form.

Day Two

Ah, Strauss. He's one of my favourite players, but on the third ball of the day, he leaves a delivery on the off-stump from Doug the Rug and suddenly England are 3-1. So far this series his scores have resembled binary, 0, 110, 1. I'm pretty sure I've heard that in an episode of Futurama. Anyway, his wicket, after TMS had been banging on about how good England were, leaving me feeling all nervous, brought Jonathan Trott to the crease to join Alastair Cook. The Australians had their tails slightly up. However, these two had a much different idea. As did the Aussie fielders.

Mike Hussey decided to forget how to catch by letting the ball glide through his hands. It was a costly error, and one that had it been taken could've put England under the cosh. Instead, Cook and Trott continued to bat on and on, like they had at Brisbane and at lunch, England were looking very comfortable in the Adelaide heat. 

In the 48th over though, Trott finally succumbed to Australia actually clinging onto their chances, by clipping a shot to Michael Clarke at mid-wicket. After over 500 runs and what seemed like an eternity to Australians and a miracle to England fans, the second wicket partnership of Cook and Trott finally came to an end. The rugged (I use this term in the way it describes ground, not men) Ryan Harris deserved a wicket and was really the only Aussie bowler who did. The wicket brought to the crease Kevin Pietersen, who having been sat in the changing room for most of the latter stage of the Brisbane Test, looking all nostalgic as he remembered previous innings of his, was now ready to face this nearly demoralised Australian attack, and it came as no surprise that Ponting decided to bring on KP's nemesis, the left-arm spinner. Unfortunately, this left-arm spinner took the form of Xavier Doherty, and boy was he in for a rough ride...

After one dodgy over against Doherty, that caused me to mouth furiously at my laptop as I'm a considerate flatmate, Pietersen seemed flawless. Cook at the other end had never looked so cool, both physically and mentally. Apparently he hardly sweats. You didn't need to know that. And so, at the end of the second day, KP was still short of his first ton in over a year (I think, feel free to check Cricinfo) and Cook was quite comfortable building on his not out double century. What would the third day bring? And would Jonathan Agnew stop going on about rain any time soon?

Day Three

Today was a historic day. After over 1000 minutes (or 17 hours), Alastair Cook finally departed the crease. In the time he was there in both Brisbane and Adelaide, I could've gone home, come back to university and gone home again. For the first time, he would be off the field for longer than an hour. It just shows you how fit cricketers are these days, because WG Grace would probably have struggled...

And so, all eyes turned to Kevin Pietersen. In the previous over, he'd just hit his ton and the celebrations showed just how much it meant to him. He was thoroughly enjoying his chance at the crease and his "battle" with Xavier Doherty. Out came Paul Collingwood, who four years ago hit 206 in a losing cause at the very ground. Here, he found England in a very strong position and facing a bowling line-up that didn't include Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne. Now it was the chance to hit quick runs and stay at one end so Pietersen could have his fun.

At the end of the 111th over, Doherty had brought up his ton. Earlier, so had Bollinger. Australians were questioning their selectors, Ponting was praying for rain and the England fans were in such a state of wild bewilderment that they didn't need alcohol. At lunch, England were 449-3.

After the break, Ponting turned to Shane Watson and his best bowler in the second innings at Brisbane, Marcus North. A couple of overs after lunch, Collingwood committed the cardinal sin of getting out to Shane Watson and it brought to the crease Ian Bell, who thrives in situations where the pressure is off him, but also seems to be a new man, who pushes up his shirt sleeves. Quite a lot. The two batted quite happily, leaving England 551-4 at tea. Unfortunately, the heavens opened, causing the close of play and leaving Andrew Strauss with a decision to make. Declare or bat on?

Day Four

Now, having pretty much made myself ill the last Ashes series from getting up in the dead of night and going to bed as soon as I got home from school, I managed to see most of the Adelaide Test, the one that England lost. And I remember the score England declared on. And I looked at the scorecard England were on now and just desperately wanted Strauss to bat on. I didn't care for how long, I just wanted England off the damn 551. Yeah, we were only for four, whilst last time we were for six, but still. Sentiment and domination are far more important. KP was still in, on 213, and looking likely to beat his highest ever Test score (226, against the Windies at Headingley). He'd beaten Collingwood for the highest score by an Englishman, so it was just a question of how much he would get.

Well, we soon got our answer. When he reached 227, he lifted his bat in recognition to the crowd. He got out next ball. Xavier Doherty had done what was required of him as the left-arm spinner, he got KP out. Sadly for him, it came about 200 runs too late.

England were now well past that fateful score, and now I was getting slightly impatient with Strauss for not declaring. But in the back of my mind, a voice kept telling me that Australian batsmen don't often fail twice, so part of me really wanted Strauss to carry on. However, the constant talk of rain on TMS forced me to stop the nagging and begin hoping that Strauss would declare soon. After Prior survived a couple of reviews, he and Bell continued to add the runs and England declared on rather good total of 620-5. Over the last two days of the Brisbane Test and the three days that England batted at Adelaide, Australia had managed to take six wickets and gone for 1137 runs. Time for another shake up of the Australian bowling attack.

Out came Shane Watson and a hobbling Simon Katich. Australia would hope for a far better start than the one they had on day one, and England knew that they wouldn't repeat it again. If they could get an early wicket, the pressure would be all on Australia. Graeme Swann would be key and Anderson, Finn and Broad would need to make sure they kept the run rate down so Swann couldn't be hit out of the attack.

By lunch, Anderson was going at 7 an over. Not the best of starts. Australia were 78-0, which for them was a great start, but there was still a very long time to go before Australia could even dream of the draw.

As the afternoon session began, Anderson seemed to find his radar again and Swann settled in for what would be a crucial and long spell. He got Katich a few overs later and out came Ricky Ponting, on a king pair. He survived and it is in this kind of situation Ponting normally digs in and gets a hundred. His men are down, he's looking more depressed than a Bassett Hound puppy and the bowler's got his tail up. His wicket would be the one England wanted, as Shane Watson normally gets out once he's hit fifty or gets over 90. He's like Ian Bell. Only blonde and taller.

It wasn't to be for Ponting. After 19 balls and 9 runs, he edged to Collingwood after hitting a boundary. Truly, this series is the the series of Opposite Land. Australia's bowlers are having a hard time of it, Alastair Cook has more runs than Ponting and North combined and multiplied by 3 (I've not checked this, I'm merely doing it for exaggeration) and Ponting gets out after hitting a boundary.

Watson went to his fifty in the final over before drinks, and you could see the vultures circling overhead. He did not disappoint. He went off Finn for 57 about six overs later. I don't know why I don't like him. I'm sure he's a perfectly decent guy. I probably just like to have someone I can rant about. In the current England squad, it used to be James Anderson, but he's turned out alright after bowling way too short four years ago. Now it's Tim Bresnan. Prove me wrong man. Prove me wrong.

Ah, Mike Hussey. At the start of the series, he was hopelessly out of form. Then he gets 195 at Brisbane and suddenly I remember that he pretty much haunted me in 2006/07. And most of the English bowlers. I admire him, but I didn't want him to dig in. His wicket would be crucial. His partnership with Clarke would be crucial too. Something crucial had to happen to make sure England were on course to win this Test. At tea, Australia were looking alright, as they were on 160-3. It then decided to rain, so I called it a night.

When I woke up later, I found that Clarke was out. To Pietersen. How gutted must Swann have been? He must've been knackered in that last session after bowling all day and then suddenly, up pops Pietersen to get a moderately useful breakthrough. Australia finished the day on 238-4, and Michael Clarke refused to walk, for which (to the disappointment of many Australia ex-cricketers) he later apologised for, not in a statement, but on Twitter. Welcome to the new world, everyone.

Day Five
Having decided that following Shane Warne on Twitter would be a good idea (even four year olds don't overuse an exclamation mark), it seemed that he was confident of a draw. The Adelaide weather forecast website was getting far more hits than they thought was normal. England, buoyed by the fact Michael Clarke was out, continued to believe.

Pietersen finished his over from the previous night, and it was now just a question of whether or not Strauss would take the new ball. After a couple of overs of Hussey beginning to look like he was enjoying the spin attack, he decided to bring on Finn and Anderson. Sadly for Stuart Broad, a very painful looking stomach injury had ended his tour. He was distraught. I was even more distraught. It could mean Tim Bresnan in Perth.

Marcus North was, as he seems to have been for most of his Test career, batting under a lot of pressure. Fail, and he would pretty much be out of there. The man at the other end was the wicket I was hoping England would get, but North would be in the mood to try and salvage his Test batting career. If he could hang on until the weather came, Australia would've snatched a draw like England did at Cardiff.

Unfortunately for Australia, Mike Hussey made a mistake. He mistimed a pull off Finn and gets snaffled by James Anderson. He was cock-a-hoop. The Barmy Army were cock-a-hoop. Michael Vaughan was playing neutral so well that no cheers escaped his lips, at all. And me? I danced silently down the corridor. If we could just get Haddin or North, we'd be into the tail and I could actually go to bed early. I could forget the pain of four years ago. England could go ahead in an Ashes series in Australia for the first time in a long time. They could win a Test match that actually meant something, rather than be a dead rubber.

And in the 91st over, the match was pretty much England's. Anderson got Haddin and out came another Aussie batsman on a king pair, Ryan Harris. He was given out LBW first ball and Anderson had got two in two. Even the review system doomed him to the inevitable. Australia were 7 down and were now looking at the skies in the hope of a grey cold or 10. It got worse in the next over. North, who had seemed uncomfortable against Swann, succumbed to another LBW. When Swann asked for a review, the TMS team were now convinced that it must have been close.

North's Test career, for the time being, was over.

Now England were really in the tailenders. Peter Siddle and England's new hero, Xavier Doherty. On a fifth day pitch, Swann was looking more dangerous than Doherty by miles. But then a kipper slyly dropped on the pitch where the batsmen run would've been more threatening to Pietersen than Doherty in the mood he was in. Anderson didn't get his hat-trick, and apart from the occasional boundary, the number of dot balls began to pile up.

Soon, Swann bowled Doherty and Australia were nine down with ages to go before lunch. It was England's to win. Finn replaced Anderson (who had gone for effectively the same amount of runs as Swann in half the overs) and promptly got hit for a four by Doug the Rug, leaving Swanny to clear up Peter Siddle and finish with a five-fer. England, having rolled over in the Brisbane first innings, had out batted, out bowled and out fielded (England's fielding was almost certainly one of the major reasons England won this match. Had Australia held onto their catches, England would've been in a whole heap of trouble. It was just like watching Pakistan, only more honest) Australia and got a very, very well deserved innings victory.

Australia, meanwhile, now have to face the music in the Aussie press. I, like many other people, have been entertaining myself with the Australian sports sections and reading just how cheesed off everyone is. Apparently there's a fund to try and persuade Shane Warne to come out of retirement. Good luck with that, he's too busy selling underpants.

On the other hand, England need to not be complacent. We've lost Stuart Broad, so are going to be forced to play one of the less experienced bowlers. Anderson's going to be jet lagged after witnessing the birth of his second sprog (congratulations by the way, now back to the important job) and Australia are going to have a new bowling attack. Again.

And England, remember, we're playing Australia. They may've had one rubbish Test, but we're likely to have a rubbish Test at some point too. The Ashes aren't safe yet. But if we win one more Test, I'm going to be flying out to join a bigger piss-up than if Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff were locked in a wine cellar together.

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