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What we basically had were two inexperienced teams who can’t bat

Joe Root having all of the Ashes runs in big numbers

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Where does 2015 rank in the pantheon of Ashes series? Somewhere in the middle, we’d guess. It was certainly dramatic, but it probably wasn’t even the best Test series this summer.

It was unpredictable from one match to the next, but the same quality wasn’t particularly apparent within any individual Test. There were no plot twists here, just derivative scriptwriting linking together the occasional explosive action sequence. To confusingly and unnecessarily switch art forms a moment, if a Rolf Harris drawing starts out looking like one thing but ends up as something completely different, these Tests had bold outlines drawn right from the outset.

What we basically had were two inexperienced teams who can’t bat, only one took much longer to come to terms with this. Australia’s batsmen didn’t accept that they were inexperienced in English conditions and played as if they knew better. Australia’s selectors didn’t accept that at least one of their inexperienced bowlers should have made way for some less dynamic steadiness.

As for England, they didn’t so much play to their limitations as resign themselves to them. They accepted that the cupboard was more or less bare and so vowed to feed voraciously, like a pack of starved velociraptors, on those rare occasions when they did get to tuck in.

It was playing to your strengths taken to an almost delusional extreme. If a triathlete can’t swim and doesn’t have a bike, you wouldn’t think they could compete. England borrowed their gran’s shopping bike with a basket on the front, did a bit of doggy paddle and then basically just sprinted through the run as fast as they could.

And they won, so yeah… approach vindicated. It will be 18 years since Australia last won the Ashes in England when they next get a chance to have a go.

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Momentum’s back!

As in ‘returned’. It hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything, on account of the fact that it’s an abstract concept and therefore doesn’t have a spine or a rear side or whatever.

Mocking momentum’s the in thing to do at the minute. Typical that it would come into fashion six years after we were indulging. A lot of people have cited the ding-dong-ding-ding-dong nature of this series as being evidence of its meaninglessness, but look a little closer and there momentum is, actually having some sort of meaningful impact.

What is a fightback if not defiance of momentum? And what has there not been at any point during any of this summer’s Ashes Tests?

Each of the five matches between England and Australia this summer has followed a familiar pattern. One team has got ahead; the other team has at no point been able to recover. The winning team has invariably been the one that first gained momentum.

Maybe it was a thing all along.

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Adam Lyth learns that Ashes scores count half

It’s quite an impressive feat to field no fewer than eight batsmen and yet still be prone to comically low scores. You could argue that England have too many eggs in the ‘positive brand of cricket’ basket, but if there were a Venn diagram of baskets, that one would overlap significantly with the ‘young, inexperienced batsman’ basket.

So perhaps it’s just a matter of time. Joe Root seems to have grown into a batsman who can confront most situations. Maybe the batsmen below him will learn to do likewise. Patience is hardly a viable cure in the short-term, but attacking batsmen who can rein themselves in generally make better Test batsmen than those who block but have nowhere else to go.

One change that seems almost certain, however, is at the top of the order. We feel for Adam Lyth and indeed any batsman who is dropped during or following an Ashes series. England v Australia Test cricket is almost a different sport. With the desperation of the crowds and the relentless media scrutiny, young player often buckle.

We sometimes think that Ashes scores should be struck from the record giving a player a chance to be more comfortable, and hopefully more effective, in time for the next series. But in reality, the opposite happens. Ashes scores count double – or half if you’re doing badly.

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England snatch the baton of mass suicide and bludgeon themselves to death with it

At some point surprisingly soon, England and Australia will complete the most one-sided close series in history. Not that it’s been one-sided in favour of one particular side. It’s been one-sided in favour of both of them, just at different times.

It’s hard to know what to make of a close series which features no close results. We can only conclude that London is now part of Australia and that the nominal tourists have therefore had home advantage during those two Tests. How else to explain the marked shift in fortunes when the crowds have roared using different vowel sounds? Not that they roar at Lord’s. They haven’t much at The Oval either, it has to be said – except in frustration.

We went out on our bike towards the end of today’s play. It was only a quick ride, half an hour, but during the time we were away, England lost the Test. It was almost as if they saw what Australia produced at Trent Bridge and went: “Hey! Embarrassing collapses are OUR thing,” before showing them how it was done. Pulling out all the stops, several of them even contrived to get out to Mitchell Marsh.

Shouldn’t it feel more painful than this? Time was we’d be almost in tears if England were bowled out for jack shit, but now it’s just something that happens, like women’s clothing catalogues addressed to the previous owner of your house being pushed through the door each morning, even though she moved out near-enough two years ago. Shameful collapses are commonplace. Humiliation’s the new 86-2 after 30 overs.

If you go behind in a Test match these days, you just race to defeat as quickly as you can, like you’re ripping off a plaster. Truly, if these are Ashes, they have resulted from self-immolation.

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When is a day a fifth of a Test match?

We’re all for the ebb and flow of Test cricket with all its nuance and scope for recovery, but all in all we’d much rather see Australia being bowled out for 60 in the span of time normally reserved for a football match.

There’s a cycling commentator who routinely uses the word ‘testy’ to mean ‘testing’. Quite possibly he says ‘teste’ but that would still be wrong. We’re now going to use ‘testy’ incorrectly in an entirely different way and say that today’s play has been Testy. We mean this in the sense that it was what Test cricket usually is: protracted, patient and slow to ripen. It was almost like they were bothering to set the scene for once, rather than kicking off with a wild gunfight or an attack by Zombeavers (not seen that film yet, but can’t wait).

It was the kind of day when you could find yourself with an opportunity to watch live Test cricket and quite quickly find yourself not watching it. We don’t mean turning off in disgust. We mean just sort of drifting away from it to check out breakfast burrito recipes online or something similarly pressing.

Unless something dramatic happens after this rain break, there are no real headlines. It’s almost as if up to 80 per cent of the match is still to come.

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Duke balls, five-day pitches and the final Test of the summer

Mike Selvey has written a nice piece about balls. The word ‘caresser’ is used at one point.

He is, of course, writing about Dukes balls, the cricket ball used in England which swings for way longer than the crappy, inferior Kookaburra ball. It has a bigger seam too. It’s a bowler’s ball; a good ball.

The headline of Selvey’s piece refers to Stevie Wonder’s classic track, Sir Duke, which means that for the rest of the day, we will be humming that song while imagining that we are on a train in Sri Lanka. The reason for this is that when we were in that country, many years ago, train announcements were heralded by four escalating notes comprising a major chord. In other words, the first four notes of Sir Duke, played at exactly the same tempo, only they were left hanging there, incomplete, demanding to be continued by the human brain. It was an oddly punishing psychological experience.

In many ways, swing and seam have been the story of the summer. England’s bowlers’ familiarity with these arts seemingly matched by Australian batsmen’s unfamiliarity with the effects. But will we get more of the same at The Oval? Balls are of course only one part of an equation that may also hinge on the weather and pitch.

Anyone who’s visited this country for more than half-an-hour-or-so knows that British skies are a law unto themselves. Pitches, however, are a little more controllable – even if they are to some degree influenced by what’s above them. We’ve mostly had green seamers – good pitches – so far, but that could change. With the series secure, is there a thirst for more of the same or will the yearning for a five-day Test outweigh that?

Five day Tests are not England’s friend. The flatter the pitch and the less challenging it is to bat, the closer we are to Australian conditions. As well as all the great players they produced, a worldwide trend towards true, even surfaces partly helped shunt Australia to their position of dominance for all that time through the Nineties and onwards. Quite simply, Test cricket became more Australian. Things seem to be going the other way now and we’d rather like to see that continue at The Oval, even if it means the final Test only lasts a day and a half.

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Shane Warne and friends – the painting

Shane Warne left an important part of his brain somewhere on a cricket field in Hampshire. It’s the part that stops you doing things that your 11-year-old self would have thought a good idea.

Here he is describing a painting he had commissioned.

Here’s the painting itself.

We’d love to know what this programme was and what else was covered. We’d particularly like to hear Warne talk us through the rest of his painting.

During the last Test, there was an unsually laboured spell of commentary in which Warne revisted his ‘Sherminator’ nickname for Ian Bell while working alongside Ian Botham. “He’s not the Sherminator any more,” said Warne. “He’s Stifler” – intending this as some form of bizarre compliment.

It’s a strange sort of 45-year-old whose favourite film is American Pie. It’s stranger still for someone that age to see Steve Stifler – a character who at one point refers to himself as ‘The Stifmeister’ – as being the hero.

Botham dealt with the situation by completely ignoring Warne, despite being asked direct questions on the matter on at least three separate occasions.

Beefy has rarely if ever before seemed so professional behind a microphone.

Thanks to Russell Jackson for pointing this video out.

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Day three of the 2015 Edgbaston Ashes Test – match report

Bert writes:

The final day of the Edgbaston Test wasn’t supposed to be that. In fact, at tea on day two, there was considerable doubt as to whether the final day would actually happen at all. Not that there wouldn’t have been a final day, of course, that doesn’t make sense. What I mean is that the day that ended up being the final day might not have happened. No, hold on, I don’t mean not happened in an astronomical sense, that would be very strange. I meant that the final day of the Test match wouldn’t have been played on the final day, having been played instead on what became known as, with hindsight, the penultimate day, not the final one.

Anyway, thanks mostly to the distinctly untypical efforts of some Australians, the final day did happen. This was good, because I had a ticket. No, not a ticket – a Corporate Hospitality Pass. This is better than a ticket. Tickets go in your pocket, Corporate Hospitality Passes go round your neck. This, together with a casual jacket and open-necked shirt, preferably stripy, mark you out as different from the hoi polloi. Inwardly I raged against the injustice in society that fosters such divisions, but as if reading my thoughts, a lady brought me a bacon sandwich. I relaxed.

At lunch a famous man stood up to introduce two other men, who then talked to us. The first man was missing a neck, which made me wonder where he hung his Corporate Hospitality Pass. The second and third men were also famous, probably more so than the first man, and representative of the two teams playing. They discussed the state of play, each adopting opposing and deliberately provocative stances from which they obdurately refused to shift. We learned nothing.

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In the afternoon I chatted to the man next to me. I didn’t know him, but apparently this sort of networking is what these corporate things are all about. Nice rhythm Hazelwood has got, I said. Yes, agreed the man. He looks like he could do well in English conditions, I offered. Quite, said the man. Perhaps he will come into it a bit more at Trent Bridge, I said, if the conditions favour a bit of lateral movement. Very possibly, said the man. By the way, he added, is this the first Test or have they already played some? I stopped talking to him.

I looked around the stand at my fellow pass-holders. I noticed that they were all just that – fellows. To a man, as it were. It would seem that to get a Corporate Hospitality Pass for the cricket, what you don’t need is to be even vaguely interested in cricket. What you do need, however, is a cock and balls. I looked at my pass to see if there was a genitals code alongside the dress code. I checked my genitals to make sure I conformed. Always a nervy moment, but I was fine. It’s not that there weren’t any women there, just that all the women present were wearing identical pink dresses and handing out bacon sandwiches. They didn’t seem as if they’d been selected for their cricket knowledge, but that might be unfair. I decided to protest at this state of affairs by increasing my rate of intake of champagne. That’ll show ’em.

Ged was also at Edgbaston that day, but I couldn’t get across to see him. I did try, but the man I asked wasn’t sure why I would possibly want to leave the ignorant, misogynistic, smug, self-satisfied atmosphere of Corporate Hospitality to venture into the still-not-very-cheap seats. In any case, while my Corporate Hospitality Pass got me free drinks and food, it couldn’t get me into the rest of the ground. I took this photo instead. Think of it as Where’s Wally, but with Ged.

Ged-in-the-crowd

By the time I got back to New Street Station, it had become more blurred than it was in the morning. I’ve noticed this about stations, which I tend only to use for days at the cricket. I suspect that the constant movement of trains in and out smears reality around a bit. There’s a burrito shop at New Street. I can recommend it highly, ideal for the busy man in a casual jacket with a pass round his neck who is properly drunk at five-thirty. Worth being aware, though, that in this place hot means hot.

There is a prize for the winner of the Spot-The-Ged Competition. Ged is banned from entry, of course. The prize is a week’s holiday in Skegness at your own expense. There is also a bonus prize of a fish supper (in Skegness) for identifying the famous people in the first photo, all FOUR of them. The bottom photo might also contain some famous people, it’s hard to tell, but if you spot any do be sure to let us know.

Send your match reports to king@kingcricket.co.uk. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.

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Rangana Herath is embraced by a grateful planet

You’ve got to hand it to us, we can call matches incorrectly with the worst of them. Almost as if they were goaded into it, Sri Lanka have done everything in their power to make our assessment of them the day before yesterday seem almost criminally inaccurate.

We called them insipid. They recovered from being five wickets down in their second innings and still near enough 100 behind to set India 176 to win. The turnaround began at almost exactly the moment we accused them of ’embarking on a second round of divdom’.

We said that Rangana Herath appeared to have lost the ability to take wickets and lead the attack. He has just taken 7-48 to bowl India out for 112 to win the Test.

The murderous capybara is back and we can again comfort ourselves with the thought that Planet Earth wouldn’t have to consider selecting Nathan Lyon – which is just as well as with his misshapen Mekon head, he’s clearly a Treen sleeper agent.

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Sri Lanka and India are also playing cricket

For those who don’t know what Sri Lanka v India is, it’s kind of like the Ashes, only they don’t make the losing team play a fifth Test. Or a fourth one.

Sri Lanka seem to have turned a little bit insipid. They coped with Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement surprisingly well considering their entire gameplan hinged on him for a decade, but now some cracks are appearing. Mahela Jayawardene has gone and Kumar Sangakkara will follow him shortly, on top of which the surprisingly effective Rangana Herath appears to be becoming less effective just as his wickets were ceasing to be a surprise.

Last year Pakistan toured Sri Lanka. In two Tests Herath took 23 wickets. All that was missing was some boggle-eyed grinning and it would have been just like Murali was still around. This year Pakistan again toured Sri Lanka. Herath took two wickets in two Tests and was dropped for the third. That’s a pretty marked contrast.

Against India, Sri Lanka batted like divs to make 183, conceded 375 and now appear to be embarking on a second round of divdom. It isn’t glorious.

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