We figure we’ll formalise the Mitchell Johnson victimisation this year. Might as well. So here it is: ‘Johnson Watch’.
Sounds a bit rude, but only really if you’re American – and as we all know, Americans don’t count.
What passes for Mitchell Johnson news today is the following quote from Australia coach, Tim Nielsen:
“There’s a couple of little things we can work on. We can make sure we jump around the bowling group and each other and make sure he’s in as good a place as he can be.”
No idea what that means. Probably something about Johnson being a cack-handed gifford whose arms are possessed by gremlins.
Please don’t drop Mitchell Johnson.
Sorry for those of you still waiting for match reports to appear, but we thought we’d make an exception to our normal rules about leaving everything in the queue for months on end in order to maintain the Ashes theme.
Remember that this isn’t Sam’s fault when you start the dissing.
Ahead of our attempt at an Ashes all-nighter on Friday we ate pizza, watched Peep Show and two of us headed to Sainsbury’s for supplies.
We purchased a bottle of Bell’s whiskey in honour of Ian Ronald, a four pack of Red Bull as a nod to KP’s hyperactivity, and some vodka and beer because – well, why not.
Returning to the flat we noticed that the other two in our party seemed to have transformed the kitchen into a betting shop, the whiteboard filled with names and numbers that I didn’t understand.
For reasons I won’t go into here we had two televisions in the lounge, neither of which were in working order, so we all crowded round the laptop for the start of play.
After lunch just two of us remained. Several beers, some vodka and Red Bull in a mug and two packets of Pringles – inevitably referred to as Dereks – were consumed before we switched to cups of tea to keep us going.
At tea time we decided we couldn’t take another wicketless session and headed to bed.
A Fan’s Guide to World Cricket is basically a book with which you’ll idly plan holidays. It’s full colour, looks amazing and makes you wish you were overseas even more than you already do.
It covers 55 cities, all of which feature an international cricket ground. You’ll basically leaf through the book, see a picture of somewhere amazing and then think about when you might visit. Unlike other travel books, you’ll also know that you’ll be able to watch cricket on this holiday, so that saves a bit of time.
For each city, there are facts about the ground, a bit of info about the place, average weather conditions and three suggestions of non-cricket things to do. It’s not a wealth of information, but it’s a book you browse, rather than one you use for in-depth planning.
It seems well researched. We checked what we knew and sized up the Manchester page. The caption “Manchester has a rich music history and attracts top bands such as Coldplay” worried us immensely, but the main text namechecks The Buzzcocks and Joy Division among other bands, which is pretty good for a book like this.
Irrelevant Joy Division fact: We were feeding a friend’s cat in Macclesfield the other day when a tourist asked us if we knew where Ian Curtis’s street was. We did, because we’d just been feeding a cat there. “Probably going there for the same reason, eh?” he guessed. Being as we’d been feeding a cat and he’d come to ghoulishly gawp at a house where a man killed himself, you’d have to say he couldn’t have got that more wrong.
Anyway, A Fan’s Guide to World Cricket is a book you’d be happy owning, although we’re not quite sure who’d be moved to go out and buy it.
It might be a good present though. You can buy it from Amazon if you’ve someone it’ll suit.
When have you ever seen an England scorecard that read 517-1? Against Australia as well.
We said that Alastair Cook would be okay and with 235 not out, you’d say we were probably right about that. We also predicted a whole host of series results though – none of which featured a draw.
Defending with an angled bat
Previous TV analysis of Alastair Cook has given the wrong impression. It makes you think that he’s destined to fail if he does anything even slightly wrong, but cricket doesn’t really work like that.
Batting in Australia is more about the batsman’s head than his technique, so the players who have made it to international cricket overcoming technical limitations are actually more likely to succeed. It’s counter-intuitive, but if you’re given a pool of international batsmen and asked to identify who’ll do well down under, pick the guys with the worst technique. They’ve got something about them that makes up for those flaws and those strengths will be of greater importance in Australia than elsewhere.
Cook and Trott on scorecards and in highlights
It has to be said that Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott is the perfect partnership for this tour. We Brits can wake to the fruits of their labours without enduring the detail. Put these two in a highlights package and they’re quite watchable. Or maybe we’re just watching the bowlers’ faces.
You’ve got to break partnerships in Australia. You’ve got to somehow take wickets when the ball ain’t doin’ a right lot.
This Australia bowling attack seems ill-suited to the task. Today one wicket fell – to Marcus North. No matter how flat the pitch, no Australian bowling attack should completely fail over the course of an entire day, but this one did. They even had a big first innings lead to help them apply pressure.
So what are they lacking? Basically, all of the qualities that England always look out for in their bowlers, having learnt from many days just like this one in previous Ashes series.
Australia don’t have a ganglatron of metronomy like Glenn McGrath or Stuart Clark. Their pace bowlers are all over six foot, but elite sport rewards the freaks and there’s no-one you’d spot in a pub and think ‘Jesus!’ about. Their tallest bowler, Mitchell Johnson, entirely negates his height by delivering the ball from about mouth height
We get the impression that the speed guns at the Gabba are less generous than some others. They might even be accurate. Johnson is the quickest Aussie bowler and he’s hovering around the mid-eighties with the occasional ball hitting 90mph (144kph). It’s quick, but not terrifying. More pertinently, it’s not negate-the-pitch quick.
The mystery is how a worthy but essentially mediocre finger spinner like Xavier Doherty ever ended up playing for Australia. To make a Matthew Hayden style statement: his presence is fading the fabric of the Baggy Green.
All are very good bowlers
But none is good enough to operate effectively on a batting track when the sun’s out. It’s probably Johnson’s job to break a partnership on those days, but the unpredictability that is his strength is a last resort for Australia in the absence of the above qualities elsewhere in the attack. Unpredictability is not the greatest strength.
James Anderson started with a blinding spell to Mike Hussey, but as we said yesterday, the cricket after the new ball matters too.
It’s easy to look on the first hour of the third day as being England’s chance to break the Hussey-Haddin partnership, but Test cricket in Australia is really about finding ways to dismiss batsmen when the ball isn’t doing a lot.
Anderson couldn’t have done much more with the new ball, but there are a lot more overs with the old ball, so that can be the difference between sides. The team that’s better with a stroppy, uncooperative waster of a ball is the one that wins.
Earlier, Nasser Hussain said it was a fine line between success and failure, noting how Prior got a first-baller and Haddin got a hundred. In a sense, he’s right, but then again England had another 286 balls to dismiss Haddin after his first and he survived all bar the last one.
Yesterday’s theme was of how bowling success can be about playing well frequently rather than extremely well occasionally.
You remember great bowlers for the occasions when they took 7-20; when the ball was swinging or turning a mile. But often those performances aren’t what made those players’ reputations. It’s often about the times when there was a massive partnership and the ball was doing jack shit. What does a bowler do then? Can he motivate himself?
None of England’s bowlers are greats, but they seem wise to the fact that the 65th over can be as important as the first. Graeme Swann was mauled in his first few overs, but didn’t go to pieces. Steven Finn’s second spell was an improvement. James Anderson has returned to Australia to show that he’s not wholly reliant on swing and that he shouldn’t be typecast as the cannon fodder of four years ago.
Mike Hussey knows you’re sometimes up against it too; that there are occasions when you’re under pressure personally and the scoreboard doesn’t look too smart.
Pre-Ashes analysis tends to treat the players as if they’re machines. If it swings, Jimmy Anderson will be great; if it doesn’t, he’s screwed. Alastair Cook has a technical weakness. He’ll score no runs.
But cricket doesn’t work like that. For one thing, pretty much everybody’s shitting themself of the first morning of the first Ashes Test and decision-making and technique are all over the place.
Cricketers are rarely at their best or their worst. They’re almost always somewhere in between and different players have different extremes.
For example, if we say that a player’s effectiveness can be rated from 0-100, Jimmy Anderson and Mitchell Johnson might operate within a range that is 40-100. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath probably delivered 80-100. Ajit Agarkar gives you about 40-60.
Peter Siddle pretty much gives you 80, every day, every ball. Maybe on a bad day, he might slip down to about 78 and on a hat trick day, he might get up around 81, but he’s not someone who’s going to bowl unplayable 94mph swinging, seaming deliveries.
Nor will he bowl any shod.
The thing is, Peter Siddle is also up against players who have their own performance range. Ian Bell played amazingly well on day one of the first Test and we wouldn’t have put much money on Siddle getting him out, but that’s not what Siddle’s there for.
If a batsman slips below a performance level of 80 at any point in his innings, Peter Siddle WILL GET HIM OUT.
You don’t have to be superhuman to succeed in Test cricket, you just have to be better than your opponent at any given moment. Peter Siddle is better than most batsmen for at least some of the time. That’s all you need.
What we learnt last night:
And here’s a question for you:
- Shouldn’t Mitchell Johnson’s tattooed arm be ‘the doing arm’?
With his Ming the Merciless collar and his mercilessly minging face, Peter Siddle barrelled in and dismissed Alastair Cook, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad in successive balls.
We got through the experience by pretending it was a cartoon. Siddle looks like a cartoon character somehow.