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Game, Set and Match to England

There has been a lot of talk over the past two days about the gap between England and Australia.  Was a 3-0 margin a fair reflection of England’s supremacy?  Dear me, it was almost 4-0.  Would that have been fair?  There have been some stats discussed that showed very little difference between the teams, with Australia ahead in some areas.  Some pundits have gone as far as to question Clarke’s leadership, suggesting that if Australia was better lead, that they could have won some matches.  They are kidding, right?

The sort of stats I am talking about (and I only glanced casually at these some time during day three) were things like Australia had more batsmen averaging over 40 for the series.  Australia had a better average runs per wicket for the series.  Australia had topped 500 once and almost twice.  England’s best innings total was only 375.  It’s all hollow and meaningless when you look at it like that.  This was a series of cricket matches, not a mathematics exam.  The scoreboard never lies.

I see it a bit like a tennis match.  Sometimes you will see a scoreline like 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 and that seems a comfortable win.  And it probably was.  A look at the stats might suggest that the match was very close.  Perhaps the loser might have even won more points.  But it is guaranteed that the winner won the important points.  There are obvious differences between tennis and cricket. In tennis, you can loose a few games to love and it does not matter (there is no concept of total points) but in cricket, all runs count, no matter when in the match they are scored (just have a look at the 1st Ashes Test in 2013).  But the theory holds.  Cook himself said that England scored runs at the right time and took wickets when it mattered.

That’s what good teams do.  They do enough to win.  If the opposition lifts, then good teams do just a little more.  Whatever it takes.

I would suggest that ignoring use of DRS, that Michael Clarke is tactically better then Cook.  Much better.  Chappelli agrees so that is the end of that.  However, Australia does seem to have lost the ability to win.  Is that only because their skills are inferior, or is there an element of leadership lacking?  I don’t know the answer.

Aside from the one Test that Australia was thumped in (Lord’s), they had much the better of two draws (sporting declarations aside), and were competitive in the other two matches that they lost.  In both of those games, they lead on the first innings, conceded too many runs in England’s second innings but with a bit of luck and/or skill, still could have managed those chases.  So, you could mount an argument that with a bit of luck, some justice from the weather Gods and an even break from the umpires, that Australia could have won three Test matches.   If, if, if.  But the scoreboard never lies.

Australia does seem to have trouble bowling teams out in their second innings.   In Australia’s home summer, they had South Africa on the rack in the first two Tests.  They didn’t lose but they could not close out the match.  They could not bowl South Africa out a second time.  This is partly due to not having a class spinner.

In the 1st and 4th Tests of this series, England made the highest score of the match in their second innings.  Australia had a lead on the first innings but ended up having too many runs to chase.  You could argue that if some umpiring decisions had gone their way (Broad at Trent Bridge and Bresnan at Chester-le-Street) that they would have been chasing less runs and could have won.  But I come back England taking wickets at the right time.  It is just as likely that Australia would have caved in, the same distance from the finishing line.

I think Australia should take positives from what might seem a desolate result.  Some players emerged and consolidated.  Harris was magnificent, as he usually is but he went the distance.  Haddin improved as the series went.  Rogers offered some hope at the top of the order.  The bowling overall was good and Bell was the only English batsman who truly prospered.  And the fact is that Australia were competitive.  The gap is not so big.  With some improvement and home ground advantage, they might just have a chance in a few months time.

Selectors go Starc raving Faulken Mad

Breaking with tour tradition, Australia has announced their team on the eve of the fifth and unimportant Ashes Test.  For those of you participating in the new game of Top Six Bingo*, there was yet another surprise.  In a series where the batsmen have failed, the selectors have decided to replace one of the failing batsmen with a bowler.  James Faulkner will make his Test debut for Australia.  Go figure.

James Faulkner is a left arm pace bowler who can bat a bit, whom most had forgotten was on tour.  At the last minute, he has been blooded, at the expense of Khawaja.  I thought it would be good to drop a batsman or two, but only if there was someone better to come in.  This will be a slap in the face for Phil Hughes.  He was admirable in the 1st Test, had a double failure in the second (along with others), and was summarily dropped.

The message seems to be that the selectors are after some spine.  Some toughness.  In the past John Inverarity has described Faulkner as a cricket who gets things done.  Faulkner does have the mongrel factor – some might describe it as bad attitude – and here he is.  We shall see if he has the ability to match the attitude.

Bird, after just one Test has been dumped for Starc.  Starc himself was unlucky to have been dropped twice in the series already.  Bird was not impressive in the second innings at Chester-le-Street but he contributed to an excellent team bowling performance in the 1st innings of that Test.  Just one Test?  How about a fair go for young players?

It seems that the Australian cricket leadership is continuing to clutch at straws with knee-jerk reactions, looking for a quick fix.

* Top Six Bingo is where you attempt to guess the top six, in correct order, of the Australian batting card.

Saving Warner from Himself

The second day of the 3rd Test had two very interesting DRS situations.  In both cases, the batsman in question had the captain at the non-strikers end.  In one instance, Clarke, even though he knew Warner was out, allowed him to review.  In the other, Cook, told his man to leave even though he didn’t hit the ball (but who knows if the decision would have been overturned).  Michael Clarke said he wanted to back his man but in doing so, was he really doing the best thing by him?

Let’s accept that Warner didn’t know that he had hit the ball because he hit is pad at the same time as the ball took a thick outside edge.  But Clarke must have been almost certain that Warner had hit the ball.  Was he really doing the best thing by the team and Warner in letting him review?

I’m sure that if Clarke had told Warner to leave without reviewing, that Warner would not have liked it.  But if he had been shown the door, hopefully, in the cool light of the dressing room, he would have looked at what happened and realised that his captain was right.  In fact, that his captain had protected him from looking like a prize goose.  And that his captain had looked after the greater interests of the team.  If a player can’t see that, then he needs to learn.  They will not learn from being given their own way all the time.

Leaders providing players with guidance and discipline is necessary on a day-to-day basis.  It is the little things that count.  Not ill conceived, theatrical demonstrations such as publicly punishing people for not doing their homework.  Leaders have to look after those they are leading.   The leader should be wiser and more experienced than those they are leading.  There is a time and place for allowing individuals latitude and freedom.  There is also a time and place for over ruling.  In fact, this is often what the person needs, even if they don’t know it at the time.  They need protection from themselves.

Clarke failed Warner and the team today by allowing Warner to review.  It was the time to stand up as a leader.  Australian cricket has put faith in Warner by recalling him to the team.  There was no need to “back” Warner when he was clearly wrong.  If he can’t take correction and respond appropriately when he his unhappy with the outcome, he needs to learn.  Do you think Bresnan was happy when Cook asked him not to review, even though Bresnan must have known he did not hit the ball?  Did Cook not show faith in Bresnan?  No.  He considered the bigger picture and the needs of the team and Bresnan acted as a team member should.

Warner will benefit from submitting to leadership and wise counsel.

Steve Smith Single-handedly Slays DRS

Perhaps some may be saying that it was Michael Clarke’s day.  And I guess they would be right – he did lead from the front with yet another wonderful century.  But he has had enough big days.  I say let Steve Smith have a go.  He personally routed the DRS.  He survived both of England’s DRS opportunities and later, when they had nothing left, was given not out on an lbw that surely would have been overturned.  And all he did was almost get out several times, while playing well in between, be lucky enough to be given “not out” three times in a single day and let England (and the umpires) do the rest.

After the first Test of this series, several people, including myself, observed that DRS was becoming a part of tactics.  Also, that the inconsistencies and foibles of DRS were having as much of a negative impact on matches, as the bad umpiring it was supposed to be addressing.  Is it a coincidence that the first day Australia enjoyed the better of these factors, was the first good day they have had in the series?  Oh, and winning the toss might also have helped.

Ironically, the day started out looking like more of the same with the furore over Khawaja’s dismissal.  But I would say it evened out by the end of the day.   I will say for the record, that while England could consider themselves unlucky not to have Smith out, his two DRS referrals were fair enough.  His lbw was “clipping” although it was a healthy “clip” but at least there is some understanding of the rules around Hawkeye and lbw.  Smith could have considered himself unlucky to have been given out to a ball that spun three feet from over the wicket.  And while my cricket instincts tell me that he probably nicked his catch behind, there was no forensic evidence to support it.

Australia also had some luck.  Clarke exactly replayed his leg slip dismissal shot from Lord’s, expect for two things.  One was that the bowler was Swann and more importantly, and incredibly, there was no leg slip.  And when the leg slip was employed, he teased by deflecting a ball just out of reach of leg slip’s hands.  It was given as runs but replays showed there was no bat, so thank goodness that one did not go to hand.

Onwards and upwards for Smith.  The kids has pluck and deserves triple figures.  He plays with enthusiasm and his whole heart, despite being on the fringe for many years.  I think that he does have what it takes to be a Test cricketer and I hope succeeds.