We’re playing squash tonight. One thing you notice with squash is that the ball’s momentum doesn’t always carry it in the same direction. Quite often it alters course quite markedly upon contact with what is known as ‘the wall’. The momentum in this Ashes series is similar, it would seem. Only without Rahul Dravid.
When Australia are winning, they look really good. When they’re not, you again become aware of the cobbled-together nature of their team. 61-year-old Chris Rogers is a good, reliable cobble; 42-year-old Adam Voges, less so; Peter Nevill’s on the way in; Michael Clarke’s on the way out; and while Mitch Marsh looks an obvious replacement for Leg Before Watson when he’s knocking out hundreds in a couple of warm-up matches, he then looks like a man who’s only ever played a couple of warm-up matches in English conditions when he later appears at number six in a Test.
Nor does it end there. An injury to one of the fast bowlers and Pat Cummins – a man with a seven match first-class career – could be playing too. Team selection doesn’t seem very elite. It seems to rely more on your local third XI’s ‘see who’s free on Sunday’ approach. This isn’t to say they’re a bad side. Just a weird one.
Jimmy Anderson’s a weird one too. He’s a man who can play a major role in Australia making 566-8 and who can then be equally influential in their making 136 all out. There isn’t really much more to be written about him, which is both a compliment and a sad reflection of his age. Then again, as 76-year-old Chris Rogers proves, age need be no barrier to continued sporting success. Ian Bell’s age remains a neither-here-nor-there 33.7 Appeals
That sounds a little like a crude and edgy, deliberately controversial Off-Broadway show. But it isn’t. It’s a reference to the eldest Mitchell; the man who apparently compels English batsmen to dash their own brains out in fear.
Mitchell Johnson is currently the man with the fifth-best bowling average and strike-rate for Australia in this series. No-one likes facing him – that’s fairly obvious – but we do rather feel that his impact is prone to being overstated. He’s a very good bowler, he’s done great things in the past, but it does sometimes feel like his performances get talked up as being earth-shattering even when he’s taken 3-60.
Don’t get us wrong, 3-60’s good, but it’s ‘well bowled’ good, not ‘cower before me, mortals!’ good. Johnson may also take 5-15 at some point, so why not save all the cooing and fawning for then?
“We’re not going to cross the line, but we’re going to go right up to it and I think there are a few scars there which might open up,” said some fictional amalgam of the Australian team because we can’t be bothered finding an actual quote about mental scars with which to make our point.
It’s a peculiarly Australian obsession, mental scarring. Other nations rarely talk about it, but Johnson in particular seems to believe he’s liable to open up scars in England’s top order by dismissing Stuart Broad with a short ball. Maybe it’s that psychological phenomenon where you project onto others the flaws you possess yourself, because surely if anyone’s scarred by a northern hemisphere Ashes series, it’s Johnson.
Or maybe it’s just a fast bowler talking bollocks because the Ashes is a pantomime. Either way, it’s a really tired thing to say and we’re kind of sick of the self-aggrandising aspect of it.
Meanwhile, Mitchell Starc’s bowling more rapidly and producing a greater number of unplayable deliveries, while Josh Hazlewood’s plonking it on a length and getting more wickets than either of them.13 Appeals
This isn’t really about Ian Bell. It’s about English cricket’s attitude to age and the impact of the international schedule as it is now.
When an England player has a spell of poor form, it is generally described in one of two ways. Young players are ‘found out’ while older players are seen as being in terminal decline.
In recent years, the latter message has been reinforced by the fact that very few England players have played on long past their 33rd birthdays. If you’re dropped at that age, it’s increasingly accepted that you’ll never come back. This then perhaps makes selectors reluctant to pick any player over 30 on the grounds that they don’t have much of a future.
Your mid-thirties run-scorer
But 33 isn’t really so old for a batsman. Sachin Tendulkar, Graham Gooch, Rahul Dravid and Alec Stewart all made over 5,000 runs after their 33rd birthdays. In recent years, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara and Younus Khan have all scored at least 3,000 runs and averaged over 60 beyond that age. Mike Hussey, Misbah-ul-Haq, Jacques Kallis, VVS Laxman – all of these batsmen and plenty more held their own in this period of their careers.
For England? Andrew Strauss can boast relative longevity, having made 1,601 runs after 33; Paul Collingwood made 944; and Kevin Pietersen made 682; but other than them, no-one. We have to go back to Graham Thorpe (1,635 runs) and Nasser Hussain (2,479 runs) to find anyone who’s made over a thousand in recent times and they retired in 2005 and 2004 respectively.
Why so few? There’s surely a tale to be told in the countless broken bodies and minds. But is it also something cultural? A growing impatient lust for the new?
Old man Bell
Bell’s currently the old guy and almost because of this, there’s a feeling that he’s on borrowed time. It’s a battle to suppress the urge to bin him and rush onto the next thing. Who knows whether Bell feels this as well and whether it has an impact on his game. Perhaps that sense that it’s almost time becomes self-fulfilling.
Bell is in poor form, no doubt, but it’s also true that the future will arrive one day and you don’t need to break into a jog to meet it early.
Australia have spent the last couple of years proving that the present matters, unafraid to cling onto 49-year-old Chris Rogers or select 35-year-old Adam Voges for a Test debut. They’ve wrung plenty out of these players – and others – long after England would surely have discarded them.
Neither team has an embarrassment of riches at its disposal, so it’s certainly possible to gain an advantage through making the most of what you have.17 Appeals
Dandy Dan writes:
These are my two labs, George and Rufus.
They’re just over one year old. I’ve been meaning to introduce them for a while but I’ve been busy.
Anyway, their thoughts about Gary Ballance being dropped are difficult to ascertain.
They simply don’t appear to be interested.
If you’ve got a picture of an animal being conspicously indifferent to cricket, send it to email@example.com Appeals
This week David Warner gave many people the impression that he thinks the activity known as ‘reading’ is some bizarre pastime reserved for 17th Century English gentlemen. Of the differences between himself and Chris Rogers, he said simply: “He reads a lot of books – I wouldn’t read a book.”
The reason he doesn’t read, however, is because he’s far too busy writing – because Warner, if you didn’t already know, is a published author.
And he can read. Oh how he can read. If you want proof, look no further than this entertaining video produced to promote his book, The Kaboom Kid. Our stumpy little moustachioed man really shows that autocue who’s boss.
Our favourite bit is: “I’m really exciteage to juice you.”14 Appeals
Time was, if a batsman needed to get a drink in the Last Chance Saloon, he donned his whites and went to number six. If he turns up there now, he’ll find that Ben Stokes has taken out a long-term lease on the premises. The Last Chance Saloon has moved up the street to number three.
Previously at number three, Gary Ballance has been kicked out. Ian Bell, who ain’t in great shape himself, will therefore move up to the spot that is increasingly appropriately referred to as ‘first drop’. Jonny Bairstow will materialise at five, doubling England’s wicketkeeper count and therefore chances of success.
Should Bell fail, England will presumably bring in an opener. This would allow Adam Lyth to drop down a spot to signify he is whatever the exact opposite of ‘next cab off the rank’ is.63 Appeals
Considering that this was to be my first day of cricket in the new season, the day did not start well. The day actually started very badly. Around 5.30 in the morning we took a call from the Duchess of Castlebar, Daisy’s mum, who had been hyperventilating for several minutes and had, in distress, called an ambulance. My first thought was that my day of cricket might be at serious risk. My second thought was that the Duchess might be at serious risk.
In fact, neither of the disaster scenarios came to pass. By the time we got to the Duchess’s residence, 15 minutes after she called us, the wonderful ambulance crew were already there assessing her condition. After a thorough examination, the conclusion was that it was actually a minor turn and that she need not go to hospital unless she wanted to. She didn’t want to.
I was off the hook and soon on my way, albeit an hour or more behind schedule at the end of all that. I decided to abandon my planned session at the gym before Lord’s, instead resolving to walk rather than part-tube it. I got the bread and bagels from the bakers, made up the picnic, including the Richie Benaud-inspired Alaskan salmon, grabbed a fine bottle of Austrian Riesling from the fridge and set off on Shanks’s pony to meet Charley “The Gent” Malloy at the Grace Gate.
“I’ve not had a good start to the day,” said Charley.
“What happened?” I asked. “Considering that you are here and in one piece, I find it hard to believe that your start was worse than mine.”
“I got out a really nice bottle of red wine, as promised… and forgot to put it in my bag. I realised my mistake when I was halfway here.”
“No matter, Chas,” I said. “We can get by with one bottle. I don’t want to drink too much today, in any case.”
“I was thinking, I can buy us both a glass of red in the pavilion at the end of the day,” said Chas.
“Even better!” said I.
We took up position in Chas’s favourite spot for the start of play; death row – right at the front of the pavilion. I told Chas what had befallen me that morning, which made him feel even worse, as I had made the picnic, forgotten nothing and even got to HQ pretty much at the appointed time.
Perhaps it was the psychological discomfort, or the ongoing pain from his recent tumble, or a combination of those and the regular physical torture from sitting on those infernal pavilion benches, regardless of any other cause… but Chas was soon keen to move to more comfy seating.
We followed the sun around the ground, eating our picnic in stages and eking out the sole bottle of wine. In the Grandstand, Chas asked: “So have you got me a ticket for the Thursday or Friday of the New Zealand test?”
“Afraid not, Chas,” I said. “Daisy and I are off on holiday to Ireland, as you know. When the forms came around, I thought we might be still be away that week. Although we are actually now coming back on the Tuesday before the Test. Don’t suppose there’s anything worth buying at this stage for day one or two.”
“Humph,” said Chas. “I don’t feel so bad about the wine now.”
Although very early in the season, it was a gloriously sunny day. It was the kind of April day that makes your mouth water at the thought of a whole summer of cricket ahead. Even though you know that on your next visit you will be probably be wrapped up in woollies, with a hat, scarf and gloves. But in that moment, the whole summer is surely to be that kind of sunny day.
Yet the sun loses its strength early in the day, April time, so we started to feel cold and ventured back to the pavilion before stumps. The Bowler’s Bar was the obvious place to take sanctuary. The Test match was on the TV and the County Championship match was out the window. “Glass of Rioja please, Chas, thanks very much”. Bliss.
“Crikey,” said Chas, carrying two glasses of Rioja and a fist full of change. “I handed over a score, expecting at least an Ayrton and some back.” [Translation note: the gentleman proffered a £20 note, expecting the change to include at least a £10 note]
“Six pounds eighty a glass,” said Chas, to make sure I understood his point. “You can get a whole bottle of wine for that.”
“Indeed yes,” I said. “Lidl Claret is said to change hands for as little as £5.99 a bottle. But that isn’t fine MCC Rioja and it isn’t served at the home of cricket with live first class cricket out the window and the Test match on yon telly.”
“You are right,” said Charley. “This is bliss.”
There was a pause.
“…but six pounds eighty a glass.”7 Appeals
Absolutely true. You don’t possess a bottomless pit of willpower. It’s why New Year’s resolutions fizzle out. It’s why you can only resist easily-accessible snack food for so long. Anything that takes mental effort drains your resources and without time to recuperate, eventually you’ll have nothing left.
Winning is easy. Winning is no effort at all. Once you’re ahead, you need little motivation. You can just play. Losing is hard. Trying to motivate yourself when you know, deep down, that you’re already unlikely to win takes rather a lot of effort. Find yourself in that position for long enough and eventually the well will run dry.
After day one of the second Test, Australia were 337-1. Clearly they hadn’t won, but they were massively, massively ahead. Maybe England retained a 10 per cent chance of victory. It is harder to motivate yourself when you only have a 10 per cent chance of victory.
At the end of day two, Australia had made 566 and England were 85-4. They probably didn’t even have a one per cent chance of victory now and they had maybe a 20 per cent chance of salvaging a draw. It is hard to motivate yourself to play for a draw. It is harder still to play for the outside chance of a draw.
At the end of day three, Australia were batting for a declaration and there was nothing England could realistically do but wait and maybe try and slow them down a bit. It is very hard to motivate yourself to try and slow down the opposition in the hope that you might postpone their declaration for long enough that maybe, hopefully, some bad weather will arrive and save you.
On day four, Australia declared. England needed 509 to win and they needed to find some resolve.29 Appeals
Not much is happening in the cricket at the minute, so we might as well busy ourselves tackling the difficult philosophical questions. If three Mitches play cricket for Australia, is it possible to have a favourite?
For us, this is the order in which we’d place them – best at the top.
- Mitchell Starc
- Mitchell Johnson
- Mitchell Marsh
If we try and explain our reasoning, it seems our preference is largely based on cricketing reasons, which is something of a surprise. In short, we feel that Starc ‘deserves’ success, while Marsh doesn’t.
We remember in the early days of Jason Gillespie’s career, Steve Waugh (or possibly even Mark Taylor) tried to embiggen him before an Ashes series by saying he was the best bowler in the world. It was bollocks, obviously – he was only the third-best bowler in the team – but the captain did at least put forward a reasoned argument.
He said that Gillespie was the perfect fast bowler. He said he was tall, bowled 90-odd mph and swung it both ways, all of which was true at the time. We kind of feel the same about Mitchell Starc, only he’s also a left-armer. We figure if a player has all of those qualities, he should be successful otherwise much of what we believe about cricket is wrong.
As for Marsh, he’s a medium-pacer and an Aussie all-rounder. If they prove effective, it again calls into question much of what we believe about cricket.
On the plus side, there’s a Twitter account about Mitch Marsh that we find funny largely on the grounds that we don’t get it. Merchell Mersh communicates with weird neanderthal vowel sounds and that’s pretty much the joke.
We generally just try and avoid thinking about Mitchell Johnson.4 Appeals
You may have noticed that we didn’t complain about the pitch after day one. That’s something we only allow ourself to do once both teams have batted. Sadly, this policy appears to have been vindicated.
Sometimes it’s not a dead pitch. Sometimes it’s merely in a deep, deep sleep and one of the teams doesn’t have the bowlers to wake it. A shriek from a leg-spinner or a rumble from a truly fast bowler and it stirs, yawns, rubs its eyes and shoos Gary Ballance back to the pavilion.
Perhaps there was a clue for England in how Stuart Broad bowled, which is to say excellently. It’s not like there was uniform helplessness. Weary legs and brains were then confronted by Armitcheddon – the thoroughbred Starc and the untamed stallion Johnson. Also Mitch Hazlewood. (That’s his name, right?) These three often bowled so full that the pitch was basically an irrelevance, but they seemed to get something out of it at other times too.
Counterattacking and playing liberated cricket are tougher things to do when you’re 520 behind and already four wickets down, but Ben Stokes is a game lad, so he’s having a go.5 Appeals