This is the closest representation of Australia’s innings we can find. But why? Why would men whose job it is to bat – and who have been selected because they are supposedly the best at that task – repeatedly try and edge balls that weren’t going on to hit the stumps?
It’s not the first time. It’s far from being the first time. In 2008 we wrote a piece called ‘Moving ball! Moving ball!‘ about Australia’s spectacularly braindead approach in swinging, seaming conditions. Three years later, they were bowled out for 47 by South Africa, with Brad Haddin delivering one of the finest dismissals in Test history. The ball moves; Australia fail. It’s become almost a rule.
It’s the IPL’s fault!
It’s not the IPL’s fault. Despite what some people seem to believe, the Indian Premier League doesn’t actually make batsmen worse. It makes batsmen way better at laying bat on ball in relatively straightforward conditions, but it doesn’t actually dissolve the ability to identify deliveries which are highly likely to get you out if you play at them. What may be more pertinent is that there are only so many days in a year and time spent playing in the IPL is time that isn’t spent combating ‘nibble’ at the County Ground in Derby.
That’s fair enough. It makes sense that this is what Aussie batsmen do nowadays, but there are still consequences to receiving that slightly different education.
Once upon a time, Australia got to pick from the best batsmen in county cricket. Men like Brad Hodge, Stuart Law and Chris Rogers could average 60 in the Championship and they still wouldn’t get selected. With those sorts of batting resources, touring England became a piece of piss.
Was it some sort of golden generation, or was it simply that the top Australian batsmen of that time got a breadth of first-class experience which allowed them to score in English conditions? Straight and true pitches Down Under for half a year and then cruel, capricious seamers in England for the other half gives you a pretty good grounding for Ashes cricket. It doesn’t do a right lot for your ability to combat spinners on the subcontinent of course, but you can’t have everything. That’s the nature of cricket.
The modern Australian batsman isn’t devoid of experience in England. Several of them have played club cricket; most have had some sort of truncated spell with a county. It’s just that they don’t know swinging, seaming conditions quite as well as those who came before them. They lack the same conviction, they’re more liable to panic and they’re more prone to falling back on habits which basically prove suicidal when the ball does a bit. Throw in the fact that when you’re playing at the top level, even the smallest weaknesses can be ruthlessly exploited and bad things happen.
Ten men who are good at hitting the ball
If anything it’s homogeneity that’s an issue. Earlier this week, Chris Rogers described himself as being a batsman who relies on decision-making. He said that most of his team-mates were different and had been selected largely because of their skill. The thing is, sometimes all of the skill in the world isn’t enough.
Sometimes the ball swings and seams and you’d need superhuman reflexes to middle it. In those circumstances, unless it’s going to hit the stumps, you’re better off leaving it. If only one guy out of 11 has that mentality, you find yourself with a lot of eggs in the ‘hopefully everyone’s got superhuman reflexes’ basket. It’s not a wholly reliable basket.17 Appeals
Early wickets are always key and with his 19th delivery, Stuart Broad struck. Of course he already had four wickets by that point and it didn’t take him too much longer to pick up another three.
Was it a rain delay? Were these actually just highlights? No, because rain delays drag on and so highlights have to be stretched out – this passage of play wasn’t hanging around for anyone. “Garf!” said David Lloyd at one point, which seemed just about the only appropriate way to commentate.
There was much talk about Michael Clarke’s form before the Test. He dropped to five to hide from the new ball and that decision was soon vindicated. Emerging for the ninth delivery of the innings, he was soon into double figures, unlike everyone else in the top order.
When Colin Graves was pushing for four-day Tests earlier in the year, we assumed he wanted to shorten them. On balance, you’d have to say it was England’s session.31 Appeals
You can run out of some foods without too much of a problem. You can always use a different kind of vinegar. You can make that marinade without oregano. Chilli con carne without kidney beans is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, playing a Test match without James Anderon is like dropping a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and flicking on the kettle before discovering that you’re out of both milk and butter.
Oh sure, black tea’s drinkable, but the day’s already off to a bad start. Your mood’s never going to recover, even if you go to the shop and get some. It was the start of the day and you had to get dressed and go to the pissing shop before you’d even had a brew. As for dry toast, the less said the better. You could maybe try and salvage it with jam or houmous or something, but your body will know that something’s gone drastically wrong. The day is ruined.
Straightforward, obvious, normal things that work perfectly well as they are simply cannot be replaced. Anyone who’s tried to undo a fiddly bolt with pliers knows that nothing beats an appropriately sized spanner. Anyone who’s played football in wellies knows that you don’t try and play football in wellies.
This is not to demean Anderson’s replacement. Coffee is delicious, but if you want tea, coffee is not a substitute. For precisely the same reason, tea is no substitute for coffee. An awful lot hinges on these daily rituals and they must always play out just so. An England Test will begin and James Anderson will not be involved. It’s pretty bloody ordinary.33 Appeals
Recently my friend acquired a budgerigar, named Amigo.
The second photograph I saw of said budgie was this:
Crammed himself into his feeder. An Australian species of parrot, wearing the green-and-gold, with David Warner’s intelligence. Could you get more of an obvious Australian fan?
I asked my friend to provide a picture of the budgie’s reaction to some Aussie cricketing news, to prove it.
Results so far are inconclusive.
If you’ve got a picture of an animal being conspicously indifferent to cricket, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org Appeals
Dandy Dan writes:
The week before this Test, Will and I had been on a stag WEEK in Dublin. During the planning stages of this trip we had both been excited about this prospect. However, the reality was somewhat disappointing. The kindest thing to say is that the rest of our party weren’t much fun. This culminated in a rather drunken Wednesday evening with Will awkwardly falling out with one of the other guys. The following day we sat on the sofa, quite hungover, watching the first day’s play of the second Test whilst the rest of the stag party drove to the other side of Ireland. For us, it was the best day of the week.
We had tickets for the third day’s play so flew into Birmingham on the Friday to meet Will’s brother and associates. We immediately had more fun than on the stag.
Now despite being a fan since childhood, I had never been to a Test match before so day three was breaking my Test-watching virginity. I was obviously looking forward to this. The sands of time and the flow of ale have somewhat clouded my memory, but this is roughly what I can remember. Bullet point format might be easier here rather than trying to string these flashbacks together in any form of cohesive text.
- The guy who I sold my spare ticket to made the rather poor decision to leave at lunchtime. To be fair, it wasn’t looking good.
- A couple of guys dressed as Eighties wrestlers took turns to power slam each other on the walkways. This was met with huge approval by members of the crowd.
- I danced with a group of strangers at the end of the day’s play behind the Hollies Stand repeatedly singing ‘Michael Vaughan’s Barmy Army!’ (Is this too much cricket chat?) We really did spend a long time doing this.
- Will got on an Aussie fan bus and started singing songs about Freddie.
- Price made a rather poor decision to not join us on the town in Birmingham and got the train back to London (Possibly on demand of his then girlfriend).
- I remember being in the Walkabout and Will having a chat with Jimmy.
The following day I undertook a frustrating journey on a train trying to get WAP signal on my phone to find out what was happening. Will had managed to get a ticket for day four and amusingly ended up sitting next to the Aussie fans whose bus he had serenaded the previous evening.
Alas, this was before the time of the camera phone so no digital memories were captured. Strangely, such a memorable day doesn’t appear to have that many memories (well, within the boundaries of this reporting format). As first experiences of a Test match go however, this was quite good.14 Appeals
Cricket needs to embrace independent governance rather than allowing itself to be run like some sort of 19th Century gentlemen’s club
A couple of months ago, jaynefrancis pointed out to us that large parts of our bleak dystopian episodic cricket story about cricket administration had actually come true.
As satire goes, it wasn’t the most subtle. Again and again, short term decisions are taken by caricatured men in suits with godawful long-term consequences. Their shitty choices all seem obvious, but yet they take them anyway. What’s astonishing is that this has actually happened in real life.
In the story – which we really should have given a name – the bigger Test nations ultimately cut the smaller ones adrift. There are echoes of this in what is now generally referred to as “the Big Three’s carve-up of world cricket.”
The story also envisions the euthanasia of Test cricket by a group of men who cannot appreciate that the format provides the foundations for the two other formats. They don’t get that T20 and one-dayers are enriched by the longer game and nor can they comprehend that Tests provide somewhere to go once people have grown weary of more formulaic, artificially-engineered forms of entertainment.
Which brings us to Death of a Gentleman. Doubtless you’ll have heard about the film by now. If you haven’t, take a look at the website. We were supposed to go to the premiere in Sheffield, but ended up popping to Croatia that week instead, so we still haven’t actually seen it. We don’t doubt its credentials though and we’re right behind the #ChangeCricket campaign it has given birth to.
For all that the issues are complex, the #ChangeCricket campaign has one fairly straightforward aim – to get cricket to embrace independent governance rather than allowing itself to be run like some sort of 19th Century gentlemen’s club. The petition itself is a bit wordy, but this is basically what it says. You can sign it here.13 Appeals
We’re way past Ian Bell 2.0. Being as he’s 33 and batting at three, we’re going to call this incarnation Ian Bell 33.3. Hopefully that won’t prove to be its batting average.
Most of the previous Ian Bells have looked solid only to get out in infuriating fashion when you least expected it. This new version’s different. This one seems hell-bent on scoring at at least a run a ball and consequently its dismissal only ever feels a delivery away. But it’s fun while it lasts. It rattles along at a frightening rate, pinging drives through the covers and slicing back-cuts between the slip fielders like its risk-assessment circuits have malfunctioned.
It was also good to see England attack a victory target with gusto. You can sometimes inch to a win and leave the opposition feeling more uplifted than you are. This was more akin to getting a few bonus jabs in before the next round. ‘Remember last time you bowled to me and I flayed you for three boundaries every over?’ you seem to say as you walk to the middle in the next Test.
Ian Bell.3 Appeals
Once again, Mitchell Johnson rocked England. He took 2-66. (Wickets taken via bouncers count double, it seems.) After that, it was back to England dismissing clueless Australian batsmen, which was really rather delightful.
This Test has brought back memories of the magical folding Australia side of a few years ago. Back then the top order were basically just lamp-posts; insignificant objects you didn’t pay any attention to which you quickly passed on your way somewhere else. Soon enough, Micky Arthur was given the boot. Darren Lehmann received plaudits for resuscitating the side, but he largely achieved this by bringing back a previous generation. It’s striking that several years later, he’s still relying on the same policy.
The thing is, now those same players are much, much older and the generation below are getting old as well. Nature abhors a vacuum, but Australian cricket is unnatural. Nothing seems to be filling the gap. Drop Michael Clarke, drop Adam Voges and bring in… Shaun Marsh?
Steven Smith has risen to the challenge and David Warner has established himself, but it feels rather like Lehmann is driving everyone towards some Clarke-less, Rogers-less precipice. It’ll be interesting to see whether he finds a way of turning the vehicle before the fatal moment, or whether he simply bails out at the last second.
Steven Finn was the main beneficiary of Australian ineptitude today. The word ‘unselectable’ has therefore been receiving a repeat airing to drive home the heart-warming nature of his resurgence. But never mind the heating of internal organs – his return is plain old admirable. He had a tough time, he couldn’t bowl for shit, he despaired, he got over it, he worked, he practised and he succeeded. He’ll probably take 0-200 in the next Test, but let’s frame our story with this as the ending and then start a new tale.
As for the batting, barring one or two exceptions and a few strange passages of silky strokeplay, it’s not been particularly excellent in this Test. Australia have made a point of being worse than England, but the home team had to make full use of their eight batsmen, which isn’t an especially good sign either. Maybe modern Test players as a whole aren’t particularly good at dealing with sideways movement – but then that isn’t really their job. Ninety per cent of the time being a Test batsman is about making as many runs as you can in fairly benign conditions. They get picked on that basis.
Australia are better than England in fairly benign conditions. We’re rather hoping they don’t get to prove that again.5 Appeals
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 33.10 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.15 Appeals