It’s all gone so horribly wrong

by Darren Dawson

I would hazard a guess that there is not one Australian supporter out there who, prior to the Ashes series commencing, had the vaguest inkling that it could all go so horribly wrong. Sure, the batsmen were not exactly at the peak of their form and, yes, a few of them were entering their dotage, but even a casual observer would have admitted that the top six could handle England’s honest attack.

And the bowlers? Well, the spinning cupboard had been threadbare since Warnie’s departure, but at least there was a battery of fast-bowling options just waiting to be unleashed on a familiar-looking pommy batting line-up.

I am not too proud to admit that whilst I was expecting a tight, close and competitive series, I was anticipating an Australian victory. Nine days into this contest and I am slightly shell-shocked at proceedings. It is stumps on Day 4 of the Second Test. The Australians are grimly hanging on: to this innings, to this match, to the series. And, for some, to their careers.

In all honesty, today was a brilliant day’s cricket. The belligerent Pietersen and Bell signalled England’s intentions from the first over. Although they should probably have declared overnight, the Poms decided to send the Australians out into the field for yet another day. Why? Because they could!          When KP was finally out for an imperious 227, dismissed playing a shot that was more suited to the Anglesea beach matches of my youth, the Aussies’ torment still was not over. He strode from the ground with the air of a cat which had mercilessly played with a dying mouse, and decided that he did not want to put it out of its misery just yet. Prior also wanted a bit of that fun, and he joined with the much-improved Ian Bell to pile on another 52 runs before Andrew Strauss ended it all. Bell looks a different player to the character who was hung, drawn and quartered here four years ago. He seems to have acquired a vast array of strokes. I guess not having to worry about facing Warne clears the mind somewhat.

The most depressing thing for me about the early session was the feeling that the Australians were clean out of ideas. They had given up on trying to get wickets, and were now just limiting the damage and hoping that the Englishmen would declare. Please? Pretty please?

Ryan Harris was lion-hearted but interestingly not called upon today. Bollinger and Siddle were toothless. Watson was his usual serviceable self. And Xavier Doherty has been given the toughest Test-match initiation since Bryce McGain. As a group they could probably argue that, having been bowled out for 245 on an Adelaide belter and leaving them with little to defend, their batsmen deserved much of the blame. And they would probably be right.

The second innings provided a chance for a small amount of redemption. Katich is on one leg, and must be in serious doubt for Perth, but with 43 tough runs he was stoic.

You just had the feeling Ponting was not going to last against a spinner with his tail up and heaps of runs in the bank. And so it proved. In his pomp, Punter would have pummelled the straight-break from Swann which dismissed him today, but these are desperate times for the skipper.

As much as he grates on me (and many, many other cricket supporters), I believe that an in-form Clarke is one of the best batsmen in the land. Today, he played an excellent counter-attacking innings. He is not quite back to full fitness and form, but his knock contained some beautiful shots, both straight and square of the wicket. His last-over dismissal at the hands of Pietersen was a tragedy: for Clarke, for this match, and for the Australians’ Ashes hopes.

I would hazard another guess that, prior to the series, not many people would have pegged M Hussey as Australia’s most dominant batsman. I reckon even M Hussey wouldn’t have! But his hundred in Brisbane seems to have broken the shackles which were causing such hesitancy in his play. He seems like such a lovely bloke that I want to tell him that I am sorry I doubted him.

North will enter the arena tomorrow with his country 137 runs in arrears, facing a cock-a-hoop English team containing arguably the world’s best spinner, on a turning Adelaide day 5 deck. Knowing that if he fails, his career is over. But I wish him luck, because the tail looks long and no-one deserves to battle those odds.

If the weather does allow Australia to squeak away with a draw, it will be interesting to see where the selectors will go from here. I don’t envy their task, because it was only two weeks ago that, like me, this situation they now confront would have been the furthest thought from their minds.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Darren – I hate to say it but I backed the Poms to win this series 3-0 before the first ball was bowled; got 26/1. Looks good at the moment. I will take pleasure in collecting the winnings, but I won’t spend long contemplating how I got the winnings.

    I hope North goes well. He should be dropped but he looks like a decent bloke.

  2. johnharms says:

    Smokie, I agree regards the batsmen: they have to shoulder a lot of the blame. There is a sense here that the Test was over at 3/2 on Friday mrning. I don’t buy that because the Australians can save this match – 1-2 hours rain is forecast which would help. Haddin, the right-hander, is probably the key, given the ball will turn into him, but Hussey will be determined and North is playing for his spot. The worry will be the inexperienced tail on the big stage.

  3. John Butler says:

    Smokie

    Sadly, most of what has befallen Australia could have been foreseen- though not Cook’s dominance. But our side has had unadressed problems for 18 months.

    JTH is right, the weather could intervene. But it would be undeserved fortune.

    The worst part is that the selectors have backed themselves into a corner where the only alternate options are largely complete rookies. Where to next?

  4. Dips,
    I had a little something on a series draw which, although unlikely, may still come to pass.
    Therefore today, for entirely differnet reasons, looms as an important day for both of us!
    John,
    You have hit on an interesting point. The tail is longer than it has been for many a year.
    However, I dislike the modern trend of using batting abilities to assess bowlers’ comparitive
    worth. If we are relying on the bowlers to make runs, then surely the top 6 are not doing
    their job.

  5. Excuse me while I toot my own trumpet.

    December 5, 2009:

    Go hard, go early:

    From what the Australian bowlers have delivered so far in this series it would be staggering if we managed to regain the Ashes in 2010/11. We just don’t have the fire-power to win one more Test than England over the five Tests.

    That’s the bowling covered. We have also failed to make 300 23 times since we were rolled by India in Perth in 2008:

    300, THE NEW 200

    Opposition Total Venue Date
    India 212 Perth 16-Jan-08
    West Indies 167 Kingston 22-May-08
    West Indies 251 Bridgetown 12-Jun-08
    India 268 Mohali 17-Oct-08
    India 195 Mohali 17-Oct-08
    India 209 Nagpur 6-Nov-08
    New Zealand 214 Brisbane 20-Nov-08
    New Zealand 268 Brisbane 20-Nov-08
    South Africa 247 Melbourne 26-Dec-08
    South Africa 207 Johannesburg 26-Feb-09
    South Africa 209 Cape Town 19-Mar-09
    England 215 Lord’s 16-Jul-09
    England 263 Birmingham 30-Jul-09
    England 160 The Oval 20-Aug-09
    West Indies 150 Perth 16-Dec-09
    Pakistan 225/8d Melbourne 26-Dec-09
    Pakistan 127 Sydney 3-Jan-10
    New Zealand 231 Hamilton 27-Mar-10
    Pakistan 253 Lord’s 13-Jul-10
    Pakistan 88 Leeds 21-Jul-10
    India 192 Mohali 1-Oct-10
    India 223 Bangalore 9-Oct-10
    England 245 Adelaide 3-Dec-10

    This hiding has been coming for ages now. The selectors probably realised it and wanted to change the line-up against the West Indies and Pakistan last summer, but they were not prepared to bite the bullet and try new blood. Precisely who they could have picked is a matter for conjecture since there were no obvious candidates to come into the side.

    This Ashes is a bit like politics. Sometimes political parties hang on for one term too long (Tories 1992, federal Labor 1993, federal Coalition 2004, NSW Labor 2007), but the pressure of electoral gravity is irresistible and although a party managed to cling on one time, they get walloped the next time.

    Always in the back of my mind is something Tubby Taylor said about the West Indies “Once we beat them, everyone else will beat them.”

  6. Peter Flynn says:

    Tony,

    Compelling table above. Mini-collapses abound.

    Most Australian batsman are batting in an incorrect position. North should be dropped. Ponting should now bat at 5 or 6. Watson should bat at 5 or 6, 4 at a pinch. Clarke can’t bat any higher than 4. Hussey can bat anywhere.

    We all have some form of cricket sense, particularly when it comes to appraising where somebody should bat.

    From personal experience, I struggled at 3 but went OK at 4-6.

    It staggers me that Ponting, Hilditch, the 2-point Charlies, Neilsen and CA seem to lack cricket sense.

    The English have cricket sense. They don’t talk garbage like our entourage does.

  7. #5. Get with the times, Tony. You’re tooting while everyone else is tweeting!

    Great table, though, one which illustrates beautifully where Australia’s batting is at.

  8. Peter,

    Chuck Berry yesterday called batting at five and six as “batting in the golden wing lounge”.

    Gigs,

    One for the quirksters: Broad’s injury will also be good trivia value. “Which England player made a golden duck as part of a hat-trick on the only ball he faced on the 2010/11 Ashes tour?”

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