Tag Archives: The Ashes

Death in an Afternoon

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Although it was only the third morning of a five day Test match, Australia were in no mood to drag out the affair and decided that thecoup de grace should be delivered with due dispatch, batting as if it was Carnival, as well as Jane McGrath Day.

Perhaps Darren Lehmann had been reading Ernest Hemmingway: “The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically; for that to happen there must be good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights, for the bullfighter who has ability to do extraordinary things with the bull which are capable of producing the intensest degree of emotion in the spectator but will not attempt them with a bull which he cannot depend on to charge…”

Bullfighting is a foul activity, a dehumanising one in its selfish, barbaric cruelty, but who could argue that Hemingway’s words point to the root of the condition of the England cricket team on the final day of the 2013/14 Ashes series.

Not a single person at the ground or anywhere in the world watching or listening could disagree that the England bull was not to be depended upon to charge. Such was their total mental paralysis and capitulation.

Motivation and de-motivation are opaque concepts, but a theory favoured by Third Man is that they arise from the sub-conscious.  They are some direct expression of truth, or of a true state of mind.

What spectators and viewers have seen is a traumatic stress reaction to domination and powerlessness.  No means of fighting back. No succour in their own camp.

Michael Vaughan, almost alone within the paid world of cricketainment, has lifted the veil and has writing, “You can see the team are completely scared to death of Andy.”

This climate of fear has eventually produced a collective psychosis.  England communicated in the only way open to them: subconsciously they struck: bat down, ball tossed, catch dropped.

Players have been selected and pushed into the fray who were not fit and not adequately prepared, often technically, sometimes psychologically, for the task. In one case very great damage may have been done to a particularly vulnerable person.

This has coincided with the rise in video, Hawk Eye and statistical analysis that makes such difficulties even greater vulnerabilities.

Lehmann has praised his players for their ability to ‘read’ the game, respond, change, adapt and execute more appropriate strategies. Like Churchill hiding the existence of his code-breakers, and the Enigma machine, Lehmann may have been coy about the extent of the preparations that his team has been put through.

This has probably been one of the most evidence-based series in the history of the game. Yet it is only a beginning.

England will have tried to do something similar, so what has gone wrong? Why couldn’t they execute their plans? To borrow the wisdom of that great cricket coach, Miranda Hart , ‘England is all structure and no fun. Australia is fun within a structure’. The Australian side has license to get it wrong … once .. even twice … before Lehmann gets upset.  He wants cricketers who learn, not ones who never err.

From England’s camp the players and staff can be heard whispering to themselves, “My responsibility to get myself fit, my responsibility to sort out this techinical issue, my responsibility to see this physical problem, my responsibility to see the psychological frailty in that player. Best keep quiet.”

This is the culture that has to change.

+ In case it needs saying, the above ph0tograph of Graeme Swan, on his haunches, calls to mind an image of the tormented torro moments before the coup de grace.

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Seeing the Wood for the Trees – Trott, Ponting and Cricket Australia D2 T4

Yesterday Third Man maintained that England cricketers were dominant even after their set backs at Perth because their minds were stronger than those of the Australians. 

Today, the mind of the captain of Australia fractured into smithereens before the eyes of the cricketing world, its pieces splintering into a thousand fragments each shard available to be used against him.  Cricket is cruel – just how cruel Ponting is about to discover.

Defeat no longer takes place solely on the field, if indeed it ever did. Today defeat takes place in the virtual field that connects us all.  The Punter’s rant (because it was a decisive gamble and one too many) against the umpires was a declaration not of strength but of impotence.

His thinking, confused and racing under the pressures that accelerate time, locked onto and magnified the importance of the unimportant – the cardinal error in decision making.

Institutions also think, so, shortly afterwards the feeble mind of Cricket Australia, in the person of their Chief Executive, was on show in all its mental confusion as it  elevated the importance of unity and ignored the importance of a total apology for its captain’s error of judgement. 

Cricket needed immediate contrition and a promise that Cricket Australia would take action independently of the match officials as well as accepting any decision that they might make.  Instead cricket got the wrong kind of spin.

A Trott in the Present

Meanwhile Jonathan Trott was giving everyone a lesson in excluding the unimportant from consideration.   For five and half hours or more he gave that which might only distract his concentration on the ‘now’ no head space whatsoever.

With training, thought and practice he has construct a technique founded on the firmest of bases, mentally and actually.  From this solid base he performs each element that makes up a precisely timed shot. 

After each shot he takes a mental rest.  Who knows he may even tell himself a joke. Sometimes he dallies with the past by looking up to the replay screen. Perhaps he mentally pinches himself and asks, “Am I really here?”

But this kind of excursion from the crease is brought to an end when he decides – yes, when he decides that it is time to get back to the importance of the present.  The path of the excursion he takes is trodden by a series of well defined and ritual actions that lead him unvaryingly back to ‘now’.

By this route to the present he wins for himself freedom from both the past and the future.  It is the liberty to play correctly from his carefully chosen and practiced palette of strokes.  So what if these tend by a ratio of 2:1 to favour the leg side.  He is not out 141. 

It is a joy to watch and a lesson in stripping out the unimportant – in seeing the wood for the trees.

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Extracting the Michael – At Our Peril

No batsman should ever have to leave any cricket field to the sound of booing.  Yet that is the fate which was to fall to Michael Clarke when he could not avoid playing the second ball of the final over of the day – a steeply rising ball from Pietersen – onto the hip of his thigh pad from where it continued to rise steeply to the right of and behind Cook at short leg who turned to make a diving catch.

Clarke was inconsolable and in a state of stunned mental confusion as he reeled towards the dressing room.

Yet he was forced to experience further stress and torment when an incompetent umpire failed to read the situation or appreciate that Clarke was ‘walking’ and declined England’s appeal for the catch  

A less baffled Clarke would have continued to walk (no doubt risking the wrath of administrators and match referees for ignoring an umpire’s decision and bringing the game into disrepute) but, still shocked and bewildered like a concussed boxer being led by a referee to a neutral corner for a mandatory count he faltered back towards the crease to await the excruciatingly drawn-out process of the UDRS.

In this vulnerable position he now faced the humiliating taunts and ridicule of Team England as the photograph at the top of the page communicates in all its raw school playground mockery.

We are only 9 days into a prospective 25 days of Test cricket, yet this seems a defining moment.  

In their ridicule of Australia’s vice captain, England have humiliated their opponents.  It is more emasculating than a kick in the balls, more brutal than a foot on a wind pipe.

In their contempt for their Team’s vice captain, some of the cricket-following folk of Australia have turned angrily on their own.

Forgotten are Clarke’s eighty runs today made in fine counterattacking style. Forgotten are his match winning innings for their team over many years.  Forgotten is his nomination as Man of the Ashes Series in 2009.

Jrod who knows more about Clarke’s mettle than Third Man says that he has been out in situations like the one today too many times. “If it happens once, he’s a good batsman who was unlucky with the bounce, if it happens time after time after time after time, there is a problem.”

But it is the naked self that crosses the boundary marker on the way to the middle. It is Ego Alone.  Clarke is paid well.  He enjoys privilege.  He is an entertainer or he is nothing.  Except that he is a fellow human being with all the vulnerability and frailty we each know attaches to that individuality.

Clarke is worthy to share a pitch with anyone out there today.  That is all we need to remember.  Oh, and the universal truth that what goes round comes round.

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Finn MacCool

James Macpherson was deceptively quick.  He played for the Squire at World’s End a number of times in the 1760s.  Third Man came to like this mild mannered poet for his fine imaginative play which helped him deceive many a batsmen.  TM can confirm that James was a time traveller. 

He is most famous for his efforts to champion the cause heroics of Finn MacCool, identified by Macpherson as the hewer of the Giant’s Causeway – an early calculating device developed for gamblers needing to determine who should win in the event of riot and pitched battle preventing the completion of a match.

Macpherson’s mistake was not to come clean about his ability to travel through time but instead to invent as a cover for his findings a Celtic poet, Ossian (seen above Awakening the Spirits on the Banks of the Lora with the Sound of his Harp).

It never pays to lie.

As an evening wore on in the Hutt and the punch bowls came and went, Macpherson would often regale the assembled players and members of the Club with tales of a giant named Finn, who travelled through the air to the other side of the world where he wreaked havoc among a tribe of fearsome convicts who for many years had held the swains and yeomen of their Old Mother beneath their yoke.

He even presented the Club with what he said was a fine likeness in watercolour of the Hero which Third Man has kept all these years.

They were good stories but no one ever believed them.  Most had been forgotten by morning.  Only Third Man had seen the twinkle in the poet’s eye and the wink directed at a fellow adventurer through time and space.

On the matter of the Test in hand: there is a lot to be positive about.  There is little to fear in the Australian bowling.  England’s bowling is just about superior and more Australian batsmen have questions to answer than English ones.   A Cardiff escape is essential.   England need to be 300 for 4 or better this time tomorrow.

Third Man recommends some stirring Harp music for their M3 players overnight.

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Ashes in Arles

The gentleman whose familiar bedroom this is has just popped out to fill the kettle or pour another absinthe or both   He’ll be back before you can say, “knife”. 

Not long now.

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Morning After the Ashes Hype ?

As could have been anticipated, TVs are cropping up in a number of famous paintings as the count down to the Ashes continues.

Here, Jean Beraud’s Au Bistro has been transformed by vandals into In the Sports Bar.  Coverage of the first day’s play has come to an end, leaving in its wake a depressing scene of frailty and fickleness, with ‘if onlys’ and ‘might have beens’ scattered like fag butts about the floor.

Vraiment, une Belle Epoque.

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Crowd Psychology – 2nd Ashes Test Sydney December 1928

Percy Chapman preux chevalier now led his merry but generally elderly men on from their seismic victory at the Gabba described earlier to the cauldron of  Sydney Cricket Ground where the outfielder senses intolerable isolation in a crowded place and even the wicketkeeper can hear himself barracked.

Mead had played his last Test and made way for Geary.  For Australia, Richardson replaced Bradman, the gentle Nothling came in for the broken Gregory, who had therefore also played his last Test, and the off-spinner Blackie made his debut at the unlikely age of 46.  The effects of the carnage of the First World War are clear to see with each side missing the Lost Generation of young players who might have been.

Hobbs and Sutcliffe opened the innings and put on 37 before Sutcliffe's dismissal brought forth Hammond.

Australia were bowled out for 253 with Geary taking 5 for 35 in 18 overs and Larwood picked up 3 for 77 in 26.2 overs.  Controversy attended the early dismissal of Kippax who was bowled off his pads from outside leg stump but the batsman claimed that ‘keeper Duckworth had broken the wicket.

The scene was then set for Hammond to take command. Coming in with England at 37 for 1, he reigned supreme for 7 hours 41 minutes during which time he scored 251 in England’s total of 636 all out.

Wally Hammond - the economy of the cover drive

Australia’s second innings of 397 contained centuries for Barnacle Bill Woodfull and the multi-initialed H.S.T.L Hendry, but it was barely enough to make England bat again and the tourists won the second Test by 8 wickets and went 2 – 0 up in the series. 

Tate bowls to Hendry probably on his way to 112 in Australia's second innings. Some consolation for the crowd but not enough to to forestall an eight wicket drubbing which gave a cricket mad country much to talk about.

In the home side’s second innings the damage had been done by Tate with 4 for 99 from 46 overs, but Larwood’s influence, although on paper insignificant with 1 for 105 from 35 overs, was in fact considerable as batsmen took risks at the other end either to avoid him or to protect the lower order from him.  Barker and Rosewater in Test Cricket England v Australia suggest that, ‘There was an impression, too, that at times he bowled at the batsman.’

The Australian crowds and commentariat were in two minds. Either this was the worst, oldest and least worthy side ever to reach Australian shores or given the results so far, the luckiest. The temperature metaphorically as well as literally was rising as the antipodean spring turned into high summer.

Four years later Jardine was to use the following quotation from R.W.Thompson’s  Down Under, a non-cricketing account of a period he spent in the Dominion, to show that the reaction in 1932/33 was in many ways no different to that which had preceded it.

Of 1928, Thompson writes,  “A far more serious series of events now commenced.  I refer to the cricket Test matches between England and Australia.  The papers and the people relegated all other business and thoughts to the background.  I had not realised that cricket could be taken so seriously.  The attitude of the general public and of the crowds at the matches was amazing.  This was no game.  It was warfare …”

Thompson wrote that, ‘There was little sporting spirit … The merits of England’s players were belittled and scoffed at, dismissed as luck.”

Jardine obscures the names so that his 1934 readers might at first think it was a report of that winter’s tour, but in 2010 there is no need for such artifice.

Argument, thought Thompson, was now unavoidable.  “I thanked God for Hammond and his double centuries, and Larwood and his Ponsford-baffling bowling (actually hand breaking bowling – TM). These two were unanswerable.  Nevertheless, the Australians called Hammond a one-stroke player, and Larwood, they said was not as fast as Gregory.”

According to Thompson, “The Sydney Test provided the newspapers with copy for several weeks, and the general public with material for heated and scathing debate …”   Duckworth, he writes, “was barracked unmercifully for many days afterwards …”   The Kippax incident being “discussed unsportingly on every hand.”

Thompson found it very hard, “to get an acknowledgement of England’s worth from anyone, even though we were winning.”

Yet, if the temperature was rising, it was to soar yet further as both sides made their way to Melbourne and the New Year Test.

To be continued …

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