Tag Archives: The Ashes 2010

The Sage of Fitzwilliam

There is polite silence across the media about Geoffrey Boycott’s prediction , at 2343 hours GMT or 13 minutes into the 4th Test at Melbourne that, “I can’t see any way how England can win this Test from what I’ve seen so far.”

To which Jonathan Agnew replied, “But Geoffrey, they have only been playing for 12 minutes!” 

“But I know these things, Jonathan.  I am paid to know them.”

Actual result, England won by an innings and 157 runs.

“Close, oh Master, but no cigar.”

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Believing is Seeing

Like so much in life, cricket is a mind game.  In this 2010/11 Ashes series, England’s minds are stronger than those of the Australians. QED.

They exploit the immediate past and its effect on the present better than their opponents.

Losing the toss in the fourth Test at Melbourne ten hours ago will have drained any hope built on the momentum from Perth.  Yes, there is such a thing as momentum but it is short hand for the influence of what has occurred on what is occurring – to borrow from the Welsh philosopher Ruth Jones.

Despite thrashing England in Perth, the Australians never truly believed that they could succeed – or more accurately they stubbornly believed they would fail. And so, therefore they did.  Action follows thought.  Time past too easily dominates and therefore determines the present.

[Time future – the wanting – is even more mercurial and, although useful to those with strong wills, can be disabling to the average Joe or Joanna.]

Sport is also territorial. It is about the seizing and securing of ground and of making that ground familiar. Possession is ten tenths.

In producing at the MCG a playing surface more familiar to a Yorkshire man and a side that plays at Headingley at least once a year – even down to the effect of cloud coverage on conditions – Australia surrendered home advantage.

Then, in leaving in their droves, the Australian spectators abandoned their field and left the spoils to a barmy army with, at its core, The Barmy Army who have never shouldered belief and have always been there offering unconditional support for their team.

The sun came out and Cook, especially, batted with an almost hypnotic rhythm as if he was making hay in the Squire’s meadow – homely and familiar stuff.

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Perth Cricket

There is Beach Cricket, French Cricket, Village Cricket, Test Cricket and there is Perth Cricket.

At the end of the Third Ashes Test, both teams, their advisers and fans seem in total shock at the turn-around in events.  A side which lost the Second Test by an innings and 71 runs (a clattering), won this one by 267 runs (a clattering).  

A few hours on from their opportunity for revenge on the Barmy Army, Australian fans are still choosing rather to take the p**s out of their own selectors and coach, as if like a thousand chimps typing Act I of Hamlet they had fluked victory.

The truth must be that Ponting, Chappell (G) and Hilditch would have been furious at the surfaces they found at Brisbane and Adelaide where most likely unseasonable weather as much as curator intransigence produced the wrong kind of mixture of mud and grass.

Big, lightly pressed bats, honed muscles and fitness training that for the first time in the history of the game produces batsmen with the stamina to concentrate and perform over long stretches at the wicket mean that international batsmen can bully their way to big scores on flat slow tracks making pace attacks look toothless and encouraging critics to identify a world shortage in good fast bowlers.

If Australia didn’t realise it before the series began, by Adelaide they will have known for sure that they couldn’t out-bully these opponents on a feather bed.

So, at Perth over the last few days, on a different kind of wicket, the allegedly toothless bowlers on both sides have taken 40 wickets for 887 runs, an average of just 22.175 runs a victim. 

Australia won because their bowlers took 20 wickets for 310 while England’s bowlers surrendered 577 runs in taking their 20 wickets, a performance usually good enough to win most recent Tests.

Could it be that experts bemoaning the dearth of ‘class’ fast bowlers in the world have been looking at the wrong end of the wicket?  Perhaps the real dearth in cricket today is batsmen who can play Perth Cricket.

The top four batsmen on both sides scored a total of 309 in the match at an average of 19.3 runs.  The top six batsmen on both sides scored a total of 614 at an average of 25.5 runs.

On the surfaces that most Tests are played, movement in the air at 82 – 84 mph is the most effective way of building pressure and taking wickets, if atmospheric conditions allow it.

What was great to see at Perth was a keeper having to take deliveries in front of his face or above his head.  Such wickets call for the best in batsmanship and produce exhilarating cricket.  Would Test match grounds fill up if we had four day Tests and Perth style wickets?

The curators at Melbourne and Sydney know where their duty lies, both for Australia and for cricket.  It is now a two match series, a Christmas and New Year extravaganza.

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Time for Cricket

A few posts ago Third Man expatiated on Cricket as a Battle to Control Time. There he sought to show that the cricketer who can slow his own experience of time and speed up that of his opponent gains the advantage and increases his chances of dominating the present.

Time is crucial in another way to cricketing performance. Effective cricketers concentrate their attention on ‘now’ or locate their consciousness two fifths of a second in the future, if you believe Third Man’s theory that batsmen and fielders often imagine the flight of the ball some fractions of a second ahead of time.

There are many claims on a cricketer’s attention from other points in time; times past and times future – which disrupt the attention from things happening now.

So called scoreboard pressure is a claim on a batsman’s attention from time future.  Cricketers limitating their shot repertoire as they come up to intervals, the need for a night-watchman to risk a tight run to gain strike are further examples of the future intruding on the now.

Pressure from ‘dot balls’ is a claim on attention from time past. Former failures against bowlers also reach into the ‘now’ from a batsman’s past.

Playing one ball at a time is an often advocated if difficult tactic.  In the days, post WWII, when the ‘ideal’ of batting identified a single ‘correct’ shot to every ball, this tactic indeed made sense.

Now that cricketers train to develop a multitude of shots to an identical ball, past events in a series, a match, an innings or even in an over can legitimately influence tactical choices, as time past presses on consciousness and competes with ‘now’ for a cricketer’s attention.

For winning at cricket, self control of one’s place in time is therefore as important to master and as difficult to achieve as self control of the speed of time treated in the earlier posting.

The past and the future distort the sensation of Time and make the choice of which time to inhabit more complex.

Breaks or intervals disrupt a batsman’s ease of chosing well this place in time. 

As Time Travellers are only too aware, a failure to concentrate is actually the failure to place oneself  and keep oneself in the right place in time.

Yesterday at Perth, Hughes fell immediately after a drinks break and today Pietersen fell immediately after voluntarily breaking his innings (and prejudicing his self mastery of time) to change bats.

As the ICC’s third and fourth ranking nations slug it out, toe to toe, England risk being identified as Flat Track Bullies who can’t hack pace and bounce. All this when the radar is seldom clocking anything above mid-eighties.  Some would say, ‘if you can’t play off the back foot, get out of the kitchen’.

Meanwhile Australia look as reliant on terroir as their wine making compatriots.

UPDATE: to see a wonderful example of how a batsman can control his place in time and locate himself at will in the ‘now’ we only had to wait a few days for Trott’s innings at Melbourne in the fourth Test analysed here.

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Young Australia Where Are You?

“The thing about Australian cricket is that they always blood their new players young!”  “If this English cricketer was an Australian, he’d already be in the side.”  These are the kind of statements that we on this side of the globe have had to listen to for decades.  

“The Australians put people in young.  If they falter they go back into the pond and if they learn they come back stronger, much stronger.”

That has always been the story, perhaps even the reality. So the really interesting thing about recent Australian selections is that the contenders for example for the spin spot are their ages as well as their meagre exposure to State cricket. 

Doherty: aged 28 played 37 first class matches and taken 87 wickets.   O’Keefe (Third Man’s tip for Perth before the start at Brisbane) aged 26 played 10 first class matches and taken 37 wickets and now Beer aged 26 and a half played 5 first class matches and taken 16 wickets.

Australia is bringing in raw recruits but young they are not.  28 and 26 isn’t young – in India if you hadn’t made it by then, would you ever?

Jrod, Toots, Nesta , anybodycan you help explain this?  Over the last decade was there just no room for good 21 year olds to get in, get dropped, fight back and enter now as the complete article?

And where are today’s 21 year olds?  What is stopping them getting into state sides.  Are they not good enough or blocked?  And by what?

If England has too many professional cricketers, do Australia have too few?

Answers by Thursday morning, please.

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Is 80 the new 90 ?

Are we seeing the Asification or possibly the McGrathization of Test bowling?

In analysing the factors that he thinks led to the ‘boring draw’ at Brisbane, here, Peter Roebuck, moves on from considering the effect of the pace of the Gabba pitch – ‘the slowest seen in 25years’ – to  examine a view attributed to the ‘Ancients’ looking on from the boundary that ‘the standard of bowling in Test cricket has fallen to its lowest level in living memory’.

PMR believes that the England ‘think tank’ has concluded that contemporary Australian bowlers (and not exclusively Johnson) have depended on batsmen playing at deliveries that could be left alone.  To help him make his point, Third Man offers an example Glenn McGrath pitch map with the caution; Beware Sideways Movement:

So, the team that Roebuck waspishly if accurately describes as ‘bearing the name England’ has disciplined itself to leave such temptations alone. 

He then explains that Australia, ‘from Watson onwards’, knowing that England was relying on four bowlers, set out to wear them down.   Turgid stuff, as the slow runs per over rates for all but Finn substantiate.

But are the Ancients right about the quality?  There are some poor bowlers, but maybe they are missing how good the better ones really are.

The things that surprised Third Man about the English bowling at Brisbane and today in Adelaide were the length of the run-ups now employed by Anderson, Broad and Finn, and the speeds that they are bowling at.

The approaches may be carefully designed to preserve energy and optimize performance through a long hot day.  They may also be the best at guaranteeing balance in the delivery.  The speed of the bowling they permit may also be optimal for swing – that is for the very late swing that brings just sufficient movement immediately prior to pitching that produces the sideways movement that can ruin a batsman’s calculation of the contact point by precisely the width of half a bat.

It was not so long ago that the accepted wisdom was that Tests were won by 90mph bowlers with the ability to get the ball to ‘reverse’ as soon as possible, producing dramatic late swing. 

We may therefore be seeing a significant and deliberate change in bowling tactics as a reaction to developments in batting and not a durth of Test class bowlers.

What have been the average speeds of England’s opening bowlers on Day One at Adelaide?  Unscientifically, Third Man would guess 82mph for Anderson and 84 for Broad.  At Brisbane, Siddle bowled at a similar pace.  Hilfenhaus somewhat slower.  And Johnson for whatever reason not much quicker.

It was only in the final over of today’s play that Sky’s radar came up red for a 90 mph delivery from Harris.

All this does not undermine the points made by Roebuck – they could add further explanation -but it does challenge the view of the ‘Ancients’.

Let’s face it, those same old buffers were the last to understand the recent change in spin bowling tactics.  They could be wrong about what bowlers are trying to do these days.

Have these bowlers and their coaches registered the impact of Asif – who did well in Australia as well as in England – and altered the model they use?  Were Ponting and Clark dismissed by very high quality balls that would have embarrassed many an old time batsman?

Have the bowlers had a long look at Glenn McGrath  and Asif and said, ‘We should do that’?

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Despite Appearances, There’s No Such Thing as a Tame Great White

The Ashes circus moves to Adelaide where both sides will find a famous scoreboard wiped clean.

But beware hubris.  It brings its own reward …

Nemisis comes in all shapes and sizes.

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