Great weather for ducks

The covers remained on at Lord’s until the break – great weather for ducks. And sure enough, just after tea, the ducks arrived in force. Hoggart secured his second for the match while Harmison, Giles and Jones contributed a further zero between them.

Adding to the debacle, Go Jones did not add to his overnight total as England capitulated to lose by 239 runs, losing the last five wickets for just 22 runs – all from the bat of Kevin Pietersen.

McGrath finished the match as he started – taking four of the last five. Adding to England’s woes, Warne bowled very well, also taking four and his confidence is way up. With Lee bowling well, the selectors for the time being, have the luxury of persevering with Gillespie to give him the opportunity to regain top form.

There were few positives for England as it seemed possible to draw the conclusion that after all of the hype, nothing has changed. I believe that England will improve but it will take some digging. One obvious positive was the batting of Pietersen – the game’s best batsman, scoring two smashing half centuries. He was also the only player to clear the rope and did it twice in each innings. There were a few bowling positives, particularly Harmison, but on a pitch like that, one has to expect the bowlers to look good!!

Australia has won a crushing victory with several player performing well and most showing some encouraging signs. As usual, Australia has won at Lord’s and England has it all to do to turn the series around. Also, as usual, McGrath has won the man of the match award. He has had three Tests at Lords, three bags of five (one in each Test) and three MOTM awards!

And a closing word for the umpires. Having watched most of the Test, I was very impressed with the standard. They got most things right on a difficult pitch. True, they missed a couple of lbws yesterday but they could be excused. One was for Warne, and that’s always excusable. The other was the Lee full toss to Pietersen. Pietersen clearly lost the ball, as did Rudi – he even apologised to Lee for doing so and costing him a wicket!

The Ashley Giles Variety Hour

Jim Maxwell, ABC Cricket Ashes Edition (2005), Editorial: “… but team England needs to sustain any advantage, knowing that it needs more than a couple of good sessions to upset the World Champions.” Correct.

Peter Roebuck, ABC Cricket Ashes Edition (2005), p8: “Also, they’re no longer carrying passengers…” Wrong. What is Ashley Giles?

England were in a fabulous position by tea on Day one. By stumps they were shattered. By tea on Day two Australia was in command and had almost done enough to have the match secured. But it was the hour after tea on day one where I believe that Michael Vaughan allowed the match, and possibly the series to slip away, virtually uncontested.

It seemed fair enough to allow Giles a couple of overs before tea to see what happened. But there was nothing doing. To allow him to bowl seven overs of unthreatening, erratic, aimless rubbish in the hour after tea is unfathomable. Many of the commentators were surprisingly understanding, using terms like patience, drying up the runs and perseverance to describe Vaughan’s approach. Giles was achieving nothing accept to give Australia easy runs and playing Martyn (66) and especially Michael Clarke into form. And England did not have time to be patient – in the complexion of the game, Australia’s lead was already imposing. England needed to bring on the main man and blast someone out.

It is rather ironic that the only ball Giles bowled that beat the bat was to be his final delivery. Australia went from 150 to 250 at a run a ball. Clarke’s 91 came from 106 balls and he was dismissed only after Giles was removed, England started bowling to a plan, frustrated Clarke and he played a rash shot. During the hour after tea, not only was Giles ineffective but so was every bowler used. No only that, but the fielding was atrocious. No less than four boundaries were conceded from misfields. I strongly believe that the team morale was effected by the scene being played out before them. The run out of Langer by Pietersen aside, the English fielding was poor all day. The obvious lowlight was Pietersen dropping a simple offering from Clarke when on 22, immediately before tea.

As it was, England rebounded strongly, taking four quick wickets, including the danger man, Gilchrist (10), for less than 20 runs. However, it needed to be an hour earlier. The Australian lead is over 310 and you would have to think that is already plenty.

The pendulum continues to swing

Lord’s, Day one of the 2005 Ashes series provided all of the action and entertainment expected and then some more. In a day that closely followed the trends of the summer so far, England played strongly until tea, thrilling themselves and all of England with their deeds, until Australia hit back hard and finished the day on top.

The day provided all of the thrills and spills that could be hoped. There were also few surprises, some of them nasty, especially the pitch. Also following the summer’s trend, the pitch favoured the bowlers. However, this pitch was not just sporty but it was spiteful, providing steepling bounce on many occasions and uneven, low bounce that would astonish late in the day. Really, the groundsman should be reading the classifieds this morning.

Not surprisingly, Brett Lee got the nod in front of Kasper. Also unsurprisingly, Ponting elected to bat after he won the toss. Most people expected Australia to pile on some runs on what looked to be a good deck, while losing some wickets to a strong English attack. Wrong.

Australia did pile on the runs throughout their brief innings. It was all over in a touch over 40 overs of madness. The Australians scored at a rate of 4.71 and as the wickets fell, the graph actually climbed! Langer (40), Gilchrist (26) and Warne (27) all scored at a run a ball or better, with Langer looking particularly good, punishing anything remotely loose. Harmison and Flintoff both looked fantastic, gaining steepling bounce and carry from the pitch. The English joy was complete as five Australians took blows to the helmet including Hayden, Ponting, Warne and McGrath.

In the end, it was Harmison who demolished the innings, finishing with 5-43 after finishing his first spell with less than deserved 1-32. Of course, all were in awe, proclaiming Harmison as the “real deal” but as the Australian innings lay in ruin, a column of smoke hanging above it, few contemplated just how much assistance the pitch provided. On a day where the Aussies had batted like startled hares, the English were about to imitate rabbits in the spot light. And that part-time pig shooter from Narromine was in the back of the ute with his finger on the trigger.

England rightly could not have been happier to have dismissed Australia for under two hundred, having been asked to bowl. Of course, they still had to match those runs. Nasser Hussain was of the few who raised concerns about the up and down nature of the pitch before the English innings started.

The Australians had six overs at England before tea and while the going was not easy for Strauss and Trescothick, as they struggled to ten without loss at the break, nobody saw what was coming after tea.

Of course, we all knew that the great Glenn McGrath was poised to join the 500 club with his very first wicket of the day. We also knew that he loves Lord’s and is in good form. I also believe that despite English bravado, they are still intimidated by him.

McGrath picked up Trescothick (4) with the very first ball after tea. In fact, I heard McGrath’s 500th Test wicket before I saw it. andrewg had left the radio on and the broadcast was about six seconds ahead of the satellite images! Strauss (2) also departed in that same over and the demolition had begun.

Most of you know that I am a big fan of Glen McGrath. Sure, he has had some blemishes with some very churlish on-field behaviour but he seems to have curbed that in recent years, his last notable outburst being in the Caribbean several years ago. But I cannot let the shoes go. Unlike Warnie, McGrath was not so pretentious as to where the special shoes FOR the big occasion, in anticipation. But I am left at a loss that he had his specially made, gold [brand name withheld] 500 shoes sent out so that he could don them at the fall of the landmark wicket. Oh pullease!!!

At any rate, they seemed to help as McGrath raced to 504 wickets, got his name on the honour board in the rooms for the third straight visit to Lord’s and single handedly destroyed England. All this seemed to happen in a mere twinkling of an eye. Geraint Jones (who I refer to as “Go” Jones, as he is indeed a goer) came to the crease with the score a 5-21. andrewg (who for some reason supports England in cricket (something about the Aussie’s being “arrogant pratts” I think he said)) was now crying into his Boddingtons. And I’m sure he was in good company with millions across pubs in England.

McGrath did bowl magnificently and his accuracy, control and movement off the pitch are unsurpassed. But the dismissals of Vaughan (3) and Flintoff (0) should be of great concern to the Lord’s ground staff. Both were bowled playing well back to balls that they should have been fending from their chests. Instead they saw the ball rocket into off stump, before they could even move the bat. I don’t know what the problem with the pitch was but there seemed to be a significant dead spot on it. And McGrath was able to hit it. My suspicion is that it was dampness, rather than a crack which means that it might improve. Or perhaps it is a ridge on the pitch…. or maybe the gods of gold shoes…

Whatever the case, it was not good. The day saw 17 wickets for 282 runs. Tellingly, damningly, 15 of the wickets came from the treacherous Pavilion End.

In a fitting climax to the day, Go Jones and Pietersen had steadied the ship (if you could call 5-79 steady) and Brett Lee was given his turn from the Pavilion End. Results were immediate as he got Jones with a real snorter, who could only fend a looping dolly to Gilchrist.

In a fitting tribute to what was a psychotic day, Brett Lee delivered a telling blow by dismissing Giles from the very last ball of the day. Not only had Lee dismissed Giles from a no ball in the previous over (also following a rather unfortunate trend for the summer), he dismissed Giles via two modes from the final ball. Giles glanced the ball down the leg slide, which Gilchrist caught well, but not before big Ash had trod on his stumps! Mayhem.

At the end of the day, it seems that the Australian approach was not so mad after all. Perhaps it was a good choice to make runs while one enjoys a brief stint at the crease. England faced just three overs less than Australia but is less than half of Australia’s score and is seven wickets down. Pietersen is the key for England, as is the pitch. If it does not improve, Australia’s 190 first innings runs may prove to be enough of a platform. In any case it may be time to start making alternative plans for days 4 and 5 of this Test match.

“Gentlemen, start your engines”

Today, after a long, long wait and what seems to have been an eternity of one day cricket, the long awaited Ashes series begins. It is a series that promises much. Unlike several other recent Ashes contents, that promised much, but delivered little except for English slaughter, this contest really shapes up as the “the real deal”. But I guess that was said in 1997. And 2001. And 2002-03…..

Of course, we still do not know exactly all of the gentlemen who will be starting their engines. The big talking point of course has been “will it be Kasprowicz or Gillespie joining McGrath and Lee in the pace attack”. Cricket pundits without exception have spoken as if it is a given that Lee will make a comeback to Test cricket. Agreed it seems likely, and deserved, but let us not forget the tour of New Zealand – the selectors are usually keen to stick with a winning combination. And that combination is McGrath, Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Warne.

The difference here is that neither Dizzie nor Kasper have been impressive. That being said, Gillespie’s form has not been as down as the press beat-up would have you believe. Gillespie is a champion, has performed very well on two previous Ashes tours and providing his knee is good, I’m sure he will play.

I believe that the choice is between Kasper and Binga. The warm up match was interesting – I think it will be worrying for the selectors that following a good first innings with the ball, they were flogged in the second innings and did not take a wicket until the openers had put on over 200. Binga did not take a wicket and think the main consideration with Lee is that he has played virtually no first class cricket for over seven months. How will be perform on a pitch that 3-5 days old, with a ball that is more than 50 overs old and when he has to bowl more than 10 overs in an inning? Those question may be answered over the next five days.

We will also see some key players who have been more or less out of sight and out of mind for the past few weeks of cricket. Those players include Ian Bell and Matthew Hoggart for England and Langer, Katich (I think) and Warne for Australia..

Holed up in my hotel room in Brisbane last night, I decided to lash out and pay the $4 for the privilege of watching Fox Sport. It turned out to be money well spent as I saw highlights of the entire 1st Test from 1997. You will recall that was the last time that England has a sniff in an Ashes series since 1986-1987. England won after dismissing Australia for 118 on an Edgbaston green top. I was interested to note that not one Australian from the top seven (Taylor, Elliot, Blewett, Waugh S, Bevan, Waugh M and Healy) is in the 2005 team. Conversely and ironically, the bowling attack was none other than McGrath, Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Warne.

I was also interested to see young faces, no streaks, foils, mullets or hair die (with the possible exception of Warne).

While contemplating that all important first Test, I am intrigued that Lord’s has been chosen as the venue for the first Test. Lord’s is traditionally the venue for the second Test and it is well known that Australia prospers at Lord’s. England has not beaten Australia in a Test match at Lord’s since 1934. That’s 71 years for those of you who do not have a calculator. In layman’s terms, it’s a really long time. A life time.

Even on what were essentially disastrous tours in 1977, 1981 and 1985, Australia were not conquered at Lord’s. In 1985, the solitary triumph for the series was at Lord’s.

Australia’s recent record at Lord’s is below. The draw in 1997 was only because of rain, following England’s dismal first innings of 77 as McGrath took 8-38. I almost forgot: Ooo Ah Glen McGrath loves Lord’s. He also took a five for in 2001 and of course, is poised to take wicket number 500 (and beyond) at the home of cricket.

won 4 wickets won 2nd n 2nd Test in Eng 1985 at Lord’s
won 6 wickets lost 2nd n 2nd Test in Eng 1989 at Lord’s
won inn & 62r won 1st y 2nd Test in Eng 1993 at Lord’s
draw – won 2nd n 2nd Test in Eng 1997 at Lord’s
won 8 wickets won 2nd n 2nd Test in Eng 2001 at Lord’s

The weather forecast is good and note that play starts at 10:30 local time (not 11:00), which is 19:30 AEST.