and finally, some cricket musings…..

About time too, I hear several readers of this blog shout out at me. Time to stop writing about all of life’s issues that have sprung up from nowhere in the past week or so and concentrate on telling you all just how awesome it was to watch England smash Australia in their own back garden for the first time in twenty four years.

My build up the Ashes (if you have forgot) was spent in the company of Basingstoke Pat and Winslow in Bali. Sat in my new guest house here in Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as the locals refer to it) seems a world away from those long chats we shared about how the series in Australia would pan out. Although the three of us had been travelling for differing periods of time and for no doubt different reasons, all of us were there for one common goal of flying into Brisbane to hopefully watch us lift the urn. Those long winded discussions we had, while supping gallons of Bintang in our favourite beach front hangouts, were nearly all based around how confident we were of seeing the boys achieve the goal of a series win.

Now, unsurprisingly, all three of us had differing opinions. Winslow was stupidly confident, Pat was the opposite and I was somewhere in the middle. Some would say hedging my bets slightly or sitting upon a rather large fence, waiting for the end result to occur before I placed my bet. This would be harsh though, as in all truth I just didn’t want to get too excited by the prospect of a series win in case it never occurred. Stayed grounded and all that…..what’s gone wrong since?! One particular chat I do remember clearly was us discussing the individuals that both sides had and agreeing that England would probably win up to eight or nine spots in a joined eleven. When was the last time you could say that about an English side going into a series against the convicts?

I suppose we had every right to be so openly confident. Our preparation, both in the build up after landing in Australia and the eighteen months previous, had been next to perfect. A series draw in South Africa, a settled squad of players playing in their ‘pomp’, a habit of winning in all formats of the game plus a team not scarred by previous Ashes defeats down under. The guys that were part of that now forgotten 5-0 whitewash four years previous had still tasted Ashes success at some point in their careers. Meanwhile Australia had rumours of unrest in the camp (proven when Hauritz was ridiculously overlooked), a captain under fire from the press, a batting line up whose age was comparable to that of Dad’s Army and had arrived back in Australia on the back of three test defeats in a row. Everything pointed in our favour.

So why did I choose to sit on the fence? Why did Pat choose to be slightly negative in his series predictions? Well, I can only talk for myself, and I’ve already given my reason above. I didn’t want to be left disappointed if we failed in our task. I did speak about the importance of taking a lead in the series, which we did in Adelaide on the back of the brilliant rear guard action in Brisbane from our top three. From there on in, even after the defeat in Perth that levelled the series, I always felt we would take the urn home with us. We were just too good for them. I did expect more fight from the Australians though. To beat them three times by an innings is an extraordinary feat, and one I would suggest will never be repeated by an English side down under. Apart from Mike Hussey, none of their batsman looked capable of hurting us through prolonged periods of play that you need to bat for in Australia. Meanwhile our whole top order of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Prior all scored heavily at points in the series – all registering at least one hundred a piece.

My two biggest concerns about us failing to beat Australia were us not scoring enough hundreds (which was never a problem as the above tells you) plus our ability to take twenty wickets on flat surfaces. After all, you can score all the six hundred-plus innings scores in the world but you still need to take twenty wickets in order to win a test match. We had a gun bowler in Swann, who would always prove a threat; though he was nullified somewhat at times in the series by some unresponsive pitches to his off spinners. The worry was how would the pace bowlers go if and when the ball stopped swinging? Well, I need not have worried. The ball did swing, both conventionally and reverse through long parts of the series. Even when it stopped moving we found ways of taking wickets. The most crucial times were not when it was hooping around massively, such as that wonderful 98 all out boxing day at Melbourne, but when the ball was just doing enough. See, when a wicket is flat a bowler earns his keep. We all know that Jimmy Anderson is arguably the worlds best when the ball is swinging, but what he did in Australia that impressed me was his ability to subtly get the ball to move around when no other bowler could do. Whether it be reverse swing or just sheer accuracy, he seemed to have the ability to draw the Aussie batsman into errors, so often getting the vital outside edge. His improvement over the past two to three years has been nothing shy of remarkable.

One of my dark horses for the series was Chris Tremlett. He had all the ‘tools’ too upset any batsman, especially on the bouncier pitches that you get in Australia. He’s a massive unit, about 6ft 8′ at a guess and bowls at a decent enough lick. Never likely to start the series, I had a feeling that he would be required at some stage due to the likelihood of a bowler getting injured, such as Broad at Adelaide, or a bowler needing a rest, such as Finn after the Perth defeat. I had quite a heated chat in Glenelg with Pat, and his mate Chris, both Hampshire fans (where Tremmers used to ply his trade) about his qualities prior to his inclusion in Perth. They were adamant that he was weak, but luckily he proved them wrong as he took sackfuls of wickets in the three games he played. I know from my own infamous ‘I think Strauss should be left out for Owais Shah’ comment prior to the Chennai test match in 2008 that it is sometimes very good to be wrong – Strauss went on to score two hundreds in that very test match and has gone on to lead England to two Ashes victories since!
One recognisable figure from touring, the now married Crouchy, is still getting hammered left, right and centre for his even more inaccurate campaign on the Barmy Army forum, titled ‘COOK OUT!’ Cook has just scored three Ashes hundreds and ended the series as third highest run scorer of all time in a five match Ashes series. Not bad for a bloke with no technique for test cricket.

And that’s the beauty of the game. It’s all about opinions, we all have so many. Everyone who tours independently is a pretty strong character, so we all like our voice to be heard. I like mine so much that I’m even writing as well as talking! The good thing is the majority of us are all delighted to be proved wrong when a player comes good. Many of us have got it wrong over the years about Ian Bell – not questioning for one moment his abilities with the willow, but quick to jump upon a perceived mental weakness that many ex-pro’s and journalists like to write about. For me he turned a huge corner in South Africa last winter, helping save the test in Cape Town. He just looks the part now, strutting around like he owns the place. I love watching him bat now, though not quite as much as I did Michael Vaughan….The other guy who struggled last winter in South Africa was Jon Trott. After a brilliant summer he has just continued to plunder runs against the Aussies all series. He might not be the most exciting bat in the world, but he is just what you want in a test number three. If he continues the way he is, he could break all batting average records for a modern day English test player. I suggested last winter that he may struggle towards the end of long test match series due to the intense mental side of his game. His match winning ton in the 4th test proved me wrong – again!

The other player that has to get a mention is Matty Prior, a new crowd favourite. More and more tourists, both old and new, are soon going to join the ever expanding ‘We love Matty Prior’ fan club. In fact, I’m not sure there is an official one yet…..maybe Deco could start one, naturally as founder member. Here is a bloke that has just worked hard at his game. He got left out for some pretty average wicket keeping after the Sri Lanka tour in 2007 but has bounced back to be our best wicket keeper bat since Alec Stewart. His banter with the England fans is first class, telling us at Melbourne to get on Ponting’s case while he was at the crease. He has a first rate song that everyone knows and even joins in with himself while both on the pitch and in the bar, drinking countless Jager Bombs while celebrating the Melbourne win with us.

And so we come to Ricky Ponting. A much loathed man by both English and Australian fans. Personally I find it a shame that the Convicts don’t treat one of their own with a little more respect. Thirty nine test hundreds and second on the all time run scorers list should command that. But the thing is, Australians just don’t like losers. And despite all his run scoring exploits, Ricky will always be known as the man that lost the Ashes three times during his captaincy. I’ve never quite understood the full hatred many have towards him, as I always liked his stance that test cricket is proper cricket whereas twenty20 is nothing more than a flash in the pan. He does himself no favours though, his behaviour towards the umpires after a referral was confirmed as not out was disgraceful. If there was an obvious candidate to take over, I think I’d have seen his last test innings when he was cleaned up by Tim Bresnan at the MCG. That said, I’m not sure he’ll return to England in two summers time.

The final player to get a mention is Paul Collingwood. Statistically our worst performer, memorably one of our richest. He may have had a poor last series with the bat, but as ever with Colly, he still contributed was some brilliant catching at times in the series. If you haven’t seen the catch he took to get rid of Ponting at Perth, then go to youtube. In fact, while you’re there just type his name in and gasp in awe of some of the catches he has taken over the years. I’ve been lucky to witness a couple of Colly’s ten test match hundreds, but they are not what I will remember him for. He was the guy in the England team that you would want to bat for you if your life depended on it. I was at Cardiff on day five where he blunted the Aussie attack for hours, playing a huge role in us winning that series in 2009. He did the same last winter with Bell, in Cape Town. I was delighted he went out of test cricket on such a high.

With such a solid, confident looking side, the future is looking bright. I get the impression that under Strauss and Flower this England team could go on to be world number one. After we first won the Ashes back in 2005 we took our foot off the pedal. Where that was the beginning of the end for the Vaughan/Fletcher combination, I’m hoping this England set up and it’s hungry group of players will go on and achieve more great feats over the coming years.

If they do, it will be a pleasure to witness.


5 Responses to “and finally, some cricket musings…..”

  1. 1 Donna
    January 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

    The devil is in the detail! That is a lot of cricket musing! Seems like its not just England that are back on form????

  2. 2 Martin Chapple
    January 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Wisden should sign you up matey – excellent musings.

    • 3 Pat M
      January 14, 2011 at 8:26 pm

      Great blog Richie ,
      Ahh those long days chilling out in the bars of Gilly T , Paradise all but for the Arsenal result .
      I am a wee bit negative when it comes to England but then again I`ve had my hopes raised and dashed many times by England in the past . My main concerns with England was with the batting , I said before the series “if we bat properly we will win ” and boy did we bat well . As for Tremmers You are right I didn`t fancy him but boy was I wrong , he was brilliant .
      Keep the blogs coming mate , catch you soon ,
      Pat ,,

  3. 4 Matt
    January 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Yo Rich
    Agree with the above – very impressive writing – have you thought of sending this off anywhere (newspapers/magazines)? You might get some sort of gig writing for someone (maybe as a trial over the CWC) – how about for that for a job that allows you to travel the world and do something you’d love?

    Worth thinking about (a lad I met in Pakistan wrote to a load of newspapers, one national one took him on, he wrote a weekly column, and then went on to work as a journalist!!!)

  4. 5 Donna
    January 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I agree with Matt…you might find you get paid for doing what you love doing and what you are also naturally excellent at…writing and well yes travelling…

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